(Re)Planning the Next Project Phase
By Johanna Rothman
Even for an iteratively-planned project, some tasks are clearly defined in each phase. For example, if a formal beta test is planned, then all the pre-beta tasks need to be completed before beta can start. These tasks can and should be planned in the initial project schedule. Any tasks that can be planned in advance should be planned.
One of the benefits of not doing detailed planning of the next major phase is that the project can advance more quickly. Some people are intimidated by a large schedule with many tasks (Maguire, 1994). Either they think they can’t possibly make any progress, or they figure since there are so many tasks, if their task slips, it’s not a big deal. However, any task slippage diminishes the ability to replan the rest of the project. If the project manager shows people a project plan with less detail, and continually asks them for more detail, they are more motivated to complete their tasks. My experience has been that people are anxious to complete their work, and get the next batch of work. When there is huge task list of everything that needs to be done, people get bogged down.
By planning the current phase in detail, and gradually increasing the detail on the next project phase, people can see how progress is being made, and they come up with possibilities the project manager may have missed to accelerate the project.
In a fixed-ship schedule, the project manager is always looking for ways to advance the project. All too often in traditionally planned projects, project advances (tasks finishing early) are wasted (Goldratt, 1997). The reasons for this are the following:
- There is no rush to start this task, so the task owner starts at the last minute. (Goldratt calls this “Student Syndrome“, waiting until the last possible minute to start the assignment.)
- When people multitask between different tasks, they waste time changing context between tasks. (See (DeMarco, 1987), (Weinberg, 1994), and (Weinberg, 1997) for an excellent explanations about the damages of context switching on effective work.)
- Dependencies between steps can waste all advances, if the dependencies between steps and resources are not uncovered and planned for before the tasks are started.
In an iteratively planned project, no one person has a huge list of tasks, so lack of progress is more visible. Since there are fewer tasks, there is incentive to start each task as quickly as possible, so that forward progress can be reported.
A fixed-schedule project has a deep sense of urgency, so the project manager can reduce the requests for and effects of multi-project multitasking. Using an iterative planning approach, the schedule becomes more and more detailed over time. The dependencies are uncovered early, and replanning can occur when more dependencies are uncovered.
This article is an excerpt from the article “Iterative Software Project Planning and Tracking”, which can be found at: http://www.jrothman.com/Papers/7ICSQ97.html
Johanna Rothman consults, speaks, and writes on managing high-technology product development. Johanna is the author of Manage It!’Your Guide to Modern Pragmatic Project Management’. She is the coauthor of the pragmatic Behind Closed Doors, Secrets of Great Management, and author of the highly acclaimed Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People. And, Johanna is a host and session leader at the Amplifying Your Effectiveness (AYE) conference (http://www.ayeconference.com). You can see Johanna’s other writings at http://www.jrothman.com.
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