Just recently I received an invitation to a wedding shower that required an RSVP. Yet the invitation did not include a date in which the RSVP must be made. I thought that this was interesting, and it triggered another thought in my mind of the numerous projects that are taking place that have no clear due dates.
Over the years, I have witnessed a number of clients that are struggling to keep their projects on track and progressing in the right direction. When we begin to discuss some of the challenges, I find a number of patterns with respect to some of their activities. One of those patterns is the reluctance to set a firm schedule for the project overall, and the various activities that are taking place in support of that project.
As an example, when we set out to remodel, and expand upon, our kitchen we were presented with a schedule, including due dates, by the contractor. Due to the scope of the effort, he needed to make sure that we were in compliance with the schedule so that he could manage his resources efficiently and effectively. Including, but not limited to, his team and his equipment, both of which would be required for other jobs.
In order for the contractor, and his team, to stay on schedule we, the client, also had to stay on schedule. We had specific due dates for requirements of the remodeled kitchen and for the addition as well as selections, if not samples, of materials, appliances, electrical fittings etc. Being a Project Manager myself, I really appreciated this work style and completely understood the contractors’ purpose in managing the schedule.
However, I have worked with a number of organizations that do not provide due dates to their external clients or stakeholders. Instead, they will take the time to continuously remind these clients of information, data, requirements, decisions that are required in order to move forward with the project. When the external client, or stakeholder, finally complies with the request, the organization usually jumps through hoops to try and make up for some of the time lost due to the delays in the schedule. This leads to internal teams being frustrated and burned out trying to catch up on the schedule.
Yet I continue to work with organizations that do not provide a due date. Is it because they are not comfortable supplying a due date? Or are they unsure of what the schedule really looks like so they cannot provide anything meaningful? For those organizations that do not want to provide firm due dates, my recommendation is to provide an overview of the project process with a schedule estimate that identifies the various tasks associated with the project and clearly defines the required tasks on the part of the external client.
For instance, I have created a sample schedule for clients by using a process mapping tool. You can easily identify the 0-30 day schedule by providing a visual of the tasks that will take place in the first 30 days of the project effort. You can repeat this with a 31-60 schedule of tasks, 61-90 day schedule and so on.
All of the tasks can be clearly identified in the process map with the use of color coding to differentiate whether the tasks are “owned” by the organization or the external client. Lastly, to ensure that the external client is fully aware of what is required from them in order to kick off the project or to keep the project on track, I add an “*” to those client tasks with a note indicating that in order for the project to proceed, the organization will need this information from the client.
This high-level project process map can be customized for various clients depending on the project efforts and who will own which tasks. There are several benefits to having a visual image of the project process.
- By reviewing this project process map with the client up front, they will have a better understanding of how the project will unfold, which tasks they will be responsible for and the dependencies of various tasks.
- Your internal team will also have a better understanding for the overall project process relating to this particular client and where their responsibilities will be contributing to the effort.
- A visual depiction of the project process can significantly reduce any misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the project, the tasks, the dependencies and the ownership of those tasks.
Lastly, by having a visual representation of the schedule, the tasks and the dependencies, the organization does not necessarily need to provide “due dates” to the external client. However, by reviewing this visual representation at the beginning of a project, the organization can point out the dependencies on the part of the external client. This will help with any discussions on scheduling delays, if needed, later on.