Project Management Institute

The day after



The project manager should not allow project-related problems to drift.


How does a project get behind schedule? “One day at a time,” wrote Frederick Brooks in his classic, The Mythical Man Month. Many of us have been associated with projects that completed late or not at all. It is not unusual for projects to be days or weeks late, but some projects are—yipes!—months or years late.

Reflect on this for a moment: Based on recurring industry statistics citing that a large number of projects finish late, the likelihood is high that you will experience—perhaps cause—one or more of your future projects to finish late. Not a comforting thought.

Obviously, there are many causes for late projects: incomplete/misunderstood requirements, poor planning/estimating, weak change control that allows unmitigated scope creep, ineffective project tracking and problem management, and weak project sponsor, to name a few. A big problem is that, in spite of our desire to have an effectively run project, it is not unusual for the project to “get away from us.”

A powerful tool to help keep your project on track is to reserve one day each week for work and escalation meetings. The day that immediately follows your project tracking meeting is best. All project members should be available on this day if called upon. By reserving the day after the project tracking meeting, project managers also buy a few more hours (between the tracking meeting and the scheduled work/escalation meeting) for the principals to resolve the problem. However, avoid scheduling the day before or after a weekend because it is common for project members to be away from work due to holidays and vacations.

Let’s say that in last week’s project tracking meeting, some project members were behind on completing an activity, but appeared to have reasonable explanations and plans to recover by next week’s project tracking meeting. Next week has arrived, and they still have not recovered as committed.

A project gets late one day at a time. But a project also remains strong or gains strength one day at a time.

The project manager now becomes directly involved as a catalyst—a facilitator—to ensure that these problems are resolved appropriately and as soon as possible. The parties involved had the first crack at resolving the issues, but failed to do so. The project manager is not upset with anyone. It’s not personal, it’s business. The team members may have performed as well as they could. However, the project manager has no intention of allowing these problems to drift any longer. As the last action of a project tracking meeting, the project manager schedules the appropriate work or escalation meetings for the next day to help move the problems to closure.

Reserving one day each week to conduct work and escalation meetings does not mean allowing problems to drift until that day arrives. On the contrary, problems should always be resolved with the sense of urgency they require for project commitments to be successfully met. The one reserved day per week is a safety net to address the problems that escaped a quick resolution and may require special attention.

When a project manager reserves one day a week for closing out problems that are drifting, the project can reap noteworthy benefits, which include:

  • Resolving problems that could eventually delay or sink a project
  • Instilling a sense of urgency for project stakeholders to deal with their problems
  • Providing a support system to help stakeholders obtain the attention they need
  • Demonstrating a level of discipline that project stakeholders expect and need from the project manager.

Brooks is right, of course, to say that a project gets late one day at a time. But a project also remains strong or gains strength one day at a time. The reserved day can provide a gate for project stakeholders to open and use when problems require special attention. This gate can significantly help project stakeholders corral their problems before they fester and cause serious harm to the project.

Now go make a difference! PM

Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group, is a speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor and author. His books include The EnterPrize Organization: Organizing Software Projects for Accountability and Success, published by PMI.


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