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How Can I Create a Schedule Before the Project Has Even Started?

Have you ever been asked to create a project schedule for a project that has only just started? You know the scenario; a business leader or product manager comes to you and says "hey when could you create a schedule for the project because I really need one." You find yourself looking at them with your mouth open wonder "how in the world can I create a project schedule when I don't have any information."

In my experience, this request seems pretty typical in high-profile new product development projects. The request is somewhat innocent enough because your product manager may not even know everything required to actually build a schedule. The motivation behind the request is not based on when tasks are going to get done or when certain activites are going to happen. The motiviation is usually driven by the project needing more capital funding. Every product manager knows that if they can show dates and give the appearance of precision, then additional funding is almost guaranteed.

So, what do you do? Do you argue with the product manager and say "there is no way I can do this"? Or do you construct a schedule with the sole purpose of getting the funding?

Well, as a credentialed project manager, our behavioral conduct is governed by our Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Our code should provide us the clarity and direction we need when situations get confusing or conflicted. Let’s look deeper into our project management code for guidance.

Chapter four, Fairness, specifically states the following: “Fairness is our duty to make decisions and act impartially and objectively. Our conduct must be free from competing self interest, prejudice, and favoritism.

In addition, our code states that we must provide accurate information in a timely manner. We must make sure that we take appropriate steps to ensure that the information we’re basing our decisions upon or providing to others is accurate, reliable, and timely. This includes having the courage to share bad news even when it may be poorly received. Also, when outcomes are negative, we avoid burying information or shifting blame to others. When outcomes are positive, we avoid taking credit for the achievements of others. These provisions reinforce our commitment to be both honest and responsible.

So how does this translate into what you should do? In my experience, what I try to do is work with what I have. Build the schedule based on known facts and state assumptions where appropriate. I provide conservative estimates but also try to identify acceleration points along the way. I do the best I can and state the facts as they are best understood by all parties.

This approach may not get you that funding required to continue your project. But it's the honest and responsible mode of action required for any project manager!

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