Everyone has seen these safety warnings on car mirrors. They are there to tell you that even though something appears small and far away, the object is really much closer and coming up faster than you think.

Is there a better analogy for looming project Due Dates than that?  Nope.

For all the griping we do about our precious dates (no one pays attention to them, nobody meets them, we just keep deferring them), we still keep plugging them in. Why? Because without dates, you have no schedule. And without a schedule, well, your project is just a big ‘to do’ list without much structure and no end date to work towards (just knocking off all the tasks is not good enough). We’re project managers and dates are what drives us.

So how can you have your dates and not drive yourself and your team crazy?

  • Avoid bogus dates (as much as humanly possible). Planning 101 – get the folks together for an old fashioned WBS session. Organize the tasks, get the team’s estimate on effort required, identify any dependencies and assign timelines.  At least with input and buy-in to the schedule, there should be more commitment to meeting the dates.
  • Make Milestones out of molehills. We know tasks don’t always get worked in order, and who really cares as long as it doesn’t impact anything else.  Your worker bees may appreciate having a Milestone to work towards, with a group of tasks that can completed in whatever sequence makes sense to them .
  • Avoid the ambush. You still need to monitor dates – that’s your job. Projects don’t go off the rails over night. It happens over time. Scan your online project management system daily, use your digests as a forecast and check in with team members routinely to make sure planned work will be completed as expected.

Since we live in the real world, we know slippage, reprioritizing, the unknowns and other pesky problems will always plague our projects. The trick is to stay way ahead of those objects in the mirror.

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