Planning Backwards for Project Success in Tight Deadlines

Category Project Management

Planning is key to project success as they are time-sensitive, where each task and goal across stages have a deadline. However, despite careful planning and scheduling, sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we need to rush implementation resulting in added cost and waste of man hours. Given the highly competitive and fast-paced business landscape, most of the times customers have pressing business needs, which leads to a very tight schedule and seemingly impossible deadline for the team. In such situations, based on my personal experiences, planning backwards has helped my team not just meet stringent deadlines but also ensure customer satisfaction. Here are a few fundamental aspects to consider while planning backwards.

Understand the business context and the clients’ expectations

As the name suggests you have to start from the end. In other words start by understanding the business context, requirement and client’s expectation on that planned delivery date. You may find that they might have committed a demo to certain stakeholders on that date or planned a major release where they want it to go smoothly as per stakeholders’ expectations.

What we need to understand is the expectations and here are a set of questions that can help gather relevant information:

· What are the major features they are planning to demonstrate?

· What are the key areas they will be focusing on during the demo?

· What are the problems they are trying to address with this solution?

Get to know all the stakeholders involved in the project and their areas of responsibility. Identify the key decision-maker, build rapport, this not only helps gain support but also understand the business context and their expectations clearly. The key decision-maker can be a person who is going to demo the feature or the one leading the team from the client side. Whoever it is, key decision-makers are the ones who can give you the right insights required to align your schedule as per timeline and expectations.

Make an exhaustive list of tasks and prioritize

The subsequent step is to make a list of stories which are expected from the client. Have the complete list of stories with priority assigned against each story. For instance, you can arrange them in the sequence of priority by marking Priority ‘0’ on top and Priority ‘5’ at the bottom.

This allows you to deprioritize some features as and when needed. For example, let’s a take a scenario where some applications will only have few targeted users who need login feature but Signup is not mandatory. Such requirements can be handled from the admin portal and self-signup can be done at a later point of time. Identify such stories or workarounds and deprioritize. This way you will have the bandwidth to accommodate more critical and pressing tasks and ensure timely delivery.

Estimate timeline, set right expectation and highlighting uncertainties

Before you begin work, it is extremely important to discuss and estimate time for each feature in the same priority sequence. Match the effort required vs effort available and find out how much is the deficit. In case the deficit is high, discuss with the client and check if any feature/stories can be deprioritized or swapped with the other story which can cover your deficit. In simple terms make the client understand and negotiate accordingly.

If the deficit is reasonable, then call out the story with the low priority as a stretched target that the team will try to complete within the said timeline and communicate it to the client. Needless to emphasize, always plan to kick start with the high priority feature or story.

Apart from this, find out if there are any unknowns/uncertainties in the stories, call them out separately if any and communicate to the client while working on those unknowns as a spike and try and get them unblocked.

Ensure everyone is onboard with the plan

Lastly and most importantly, get sign-off from the final decision maker/s. It is a key aspect that should not be overlooked or missed. Sign-off ensures that everyone is on the same page and know exactly how the project is going to unfold.

These are but some of the best practices that enabled us to successfully meet deadline across various projects, helping us meet clients’ expectations and in turn offer an outstanding experience. That said, I believe, managing a project successfully is an ever-learning process. So, it will be great to know about your experience or best practices that you follow/ed when you need to manage tight deadlines. Please share your views, recommendations or tips, we would love to hear from our readers.

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