MARCH 2015 PM NET WORK 29
Setting unrealistic goals can doom a
project manager. Instead, build budgets
and schedules from the ground up.
BY GARY R. HEERKENS, MBA, CBM, PMP, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Gary R. Heerkens, MBA, CBM, PMP, president of
Management Solutions Group Inc., is a consultant,
trainer, speaker, and author and has 25 years of
project management experience. His latest book
is The Business-Savvy Project Manager.
targets are not derived from carefully developed plans.
They are not based in reality; they are based in desire.
The most damaging of these imposed targets are the
unrealistic ones. According to a majority of project
managers I meet these days (and I meet a large number through my training activities), unrealistic targets
are disturbingly common. This creates an environment of high stress and frustration for project managers who are often well aware that they are heading
down a dark path of project performance.
From a business perspective, the impact is noteworthy. When imposed deadlines are unachievable,
projects are delivered late, which triggers a delay in
the realization of financial returns. In situations where
both the delay and the estimated financial return are
sizable, the result can be an enormous overall reduction in realized economic gain.
When imposed budgets are not achievable, the result
is turmoil as money must be acquired elsewhere, which
can affect the timing and funding of other projects.
But there’s also a human cost to this situation.
When project managers spend the majority of their
time trying to achieve the unachievable, the result is
frustration and potential burnout.
The core lesson is simple: Organizational managers
who want an environment of predictability and fiscal
responsibility will avoid imposing unrealistic solutions, deadlines and budgets. PM
As my gray hair clearly suggests, I’ve been
around project management for a long time. I
began leading projects more than 35 years ago, and
I’ve noticed many changes in my work and in the
profession. Some of the biggest changes involve
how project timelines and budgets are developed:
These responsibilities seem to have drifted away
from the project manager’s role.
Years ago, project managers were given problems
to solve based on the needs of the business. They
would work with their teams to investigate those
problems, and then recommend a preferred solution
to senior management. They would also provide
an estimated budget and timeline. And while there
may have been some give-and-take between project
teams and senior management, it was common to
be granted the requested amount of time and funding (after a proper costs-versus-benefits analysis).
The payoff for all parties was an exceptionally high
percentage of on-time and on-budget project deliveries. Project outcomes were reasonably predictable.
Over the past decade or two, there has been a
slow and steady shift in senior management behavior. Many executives now appear to believe that
a legitimate part of their role is to tell the project
manager what the best solution is, when the project is to be completed and how much to spend.
The reality for many of today’s project managers is
that they are no longer asked to generate authentic, bottom-up schedule and cost estimates. They’re
instead given those values as targets and then have
to force-fit their plans to suit the situation.
It is crucial to note that in many cases these
the result is