On Time – On Budget, and Completely Worthless

    On time - on budget
    On time – on budget, but not always successful

    I’ve interviewed many people for the position of project manager. I’ll bet 90% of them had the term “On time – on budget” on their resume. I’ve had it on mine before too.

    It’s kind of a code word for project management success. But it doesn’t always translate to true success.

    The task master

    Most of us know a project management task master. He has the Microsoft Project plan with a detailed list of tasks, assignments, start and end dates, and many other details he chose to enter and track for each task.

    Every week – or day – or hour – he checks in to obtain your status. If you’re late, he’s on you to catch up. It’s been said that God is in the details. For the task master, God is in the due date. It drives everything that gets done.

    The only constant is change

    If missed due dates are a task master’s nemesis, a close second is the scope increase. The project team defined the scope of the project at the beginning of the project. The project manager wants to manage things based on that scope. If the business changes while the project is in process, why should that be the project manager’s problem?

    Likewise, new requirements that the business thought of after sign off. The project manager will fight to keep any of these changes out of scope. He may try to defer it to another phase or release of the project. The last thing he wants to do is modify the project plan in any way that will affect the due date or budget.

    The message to the project team: The bus is leaving the station on this date. You had better be on it. Never mind if you don’t have all of your luggage or if the destination has changed.

    On time – On budget

    The task master generally finagles the scope and tasks of the project in any way she can to make sure her project ends on time – on budget. It is her driving force. It’s hard to blame the project manager. Many, if not most project managers have incentives to finish on time – on budget. Bonuses are tied to it. It’s also become a badge of honor within the project management community. No self-respecting project manager wants to admit that they had to extend the date or went over budget.

    For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

    A different perspective

    The business has another view of the project. On time – on budget is certainly on the radar. But they want the project to be correct. If requirements are defined in August and legal requirements change effective January 1st, we need to make changes to the project to accommodate those new requirements. Completing the project on time – on budget without any consideration of the legal requirements is an empty victory.

    A solution

    Instead of providing bonuses and other incentives to simply finish the project on time – on budget, quality and customer satisfaction should be the top priority. Many projects end with a satisfaction survey. The key question should be “Were all business requirements implemented?”

    Sure, there will be some business users who demand that new functionality gets stuffed into a project without regard to the due date. The project manager needs to negotiate hard in those situations or escalate the issue to someone of more authority if he is unable to get the issue resolved.

    When I interview someone for the role of project manager, I look for those four words on their resume. If I see them, I make sure to ask them how they define project success.

    It’s a great way to filter out the task masters.

    How do you define project success?

    If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

    Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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