Tomorrow (Almost) Never Comes

Tom looked at his watch.

“Midnight,” he said to himself as he sipped coffee. The milestone review for the second phase of the project was the next day. While updating the project plan, he encountered the organizational change management tasks that were supposed to be carried out in the first phase that were pushed to the second phase. He saw that the missions were still zero percent complete.

“We’ll pick them up later,” he told himself as he added the tasks to the third-stage work plan.

During a review of the milestones the next day, Tom’s manager, Gail, asked about the tasks of managing the incomplete organizational changes.

“Time’s running out,” Tom said. “We’ll do them in the third stage.”

“Is not that what you told me three months ago during our first stage review?” Asked Gail.

Tom looked down. “Um, yes,” he said.

“Phase III is even more intense than Phase II, what makes you think you’ll have time to complete the OCM tasks in Phase III if you do not complete them in Phase I or II?”

“Gail, we’ll make them,” Tom said.

“Okay, I’m holding you to this, Tom.”

Three months later, in the third stage of the milestone review, Tom went over the work plan, then got to the OCM missions. Tom knew what was going to happen.

“I’m not done yet,” Gail said as Tom evaded her gaze.

Before we move on, I want to express a principle that I have not only seen in countless projects but also personally experienced:

The closer you get to the project delivery date, the less time you will have to complete tasks that resulted later on from the previous project stages.

It is rare that the availability to perform work increases as the project approaches its final delivery date, and tasks that have been postponed during the project now have more time to perform. Typically, the project team works hard to perform the most important tasks to meet the delivery, when other tasks are postponed after release or not performed at all. The approach is that these tasks can be completed later when there is more time. I have two problems with this:

  1. If the task was important enough to include in the original plan, then why is it not important enough now to be pushed to tomorrow (or not to do it at all?)
  2. Tomorrow (almost) never comes.

To avoid the temptation to kick tasks down the road just so they die on the vine, take a look at the following five takeaways:

  1. Do not shorten planning – Choose your quote: Not to plan, to plan to fail; You do not have time to do it right, but you always have time to do it again; Measure twice, cut once. The bottom line is that you will have a realistic and reliable program that focuses on products, has an understandable critical path, explicitly referred to as task owners (not “staff”) and clear dates. Just make sure the program supports the project and does not become a project in itself.
  2. Resist the urge to postpone tasks – Okay, sometimes you have to make difficult choices and maybe you have to push something to a later date. This becomes a problem when it is more the rule than the exception. If you postpone tasks chronically because you run out of time, maybe something in your planning needs to change.
  3. When you need to push tasks, formulate the consequences – Postponing something to a later date or cutting the task altogether means that the project will carry cumulative risk (assuming the task had added value in the first place). Care must be taken to reduce any cumulative risk management.
  4. Adjust the plan when things hit the fan – I’ve seen it many times: a project starts great, the program is tested on a regular basis, life is good. Then something goes wrong. Not infrequently, the program is not updated to reflect reality or it is completely abandoned. Keep the program up to date and make decisions about difficult choices when tasks have to be postponed. Just remember to articulate the consequences (see Take Away 3) of choice. Keep the plan up to date and realistic.
  5. If it’s really not necessary, then cut it out – When planning your project, conduct a reality study to ensure that only mandatory tasks are included. Ask yourself, “What are the consequences if this task is not carried out?” If there is no clear result, consider not doing so. Just make sure the project team agrees to cut the job before it goes into the shredder.

Remember, the closer you get to the project delivery date, the less time you will have to complete tasks that are caused down the road. Resist the urge to postpone tasks until tomorrow, because tomorrow almost never comes.





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