How to sabotage a project schedule.

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the right projects - done right

Mastering Projects Series

How to Sabotage a Project Schedule
A Student’s Dilemma
Several years ago, one of my graduate students told me about a puzzlingproject schedule problem. He had been a project manager at a custom job shop. Because of his experience, he had a good idea of how long each new project should take. “After giving a quote where we barelycompleted the job on time, I added an additional safety margin of 20% on a similar job to make sure we wouldn’t repeat that experience. We barely completed the second job on time as well. I increasedthe margin on the next quote by 33%. It was Déjà vu all over again.” This is a consistent theme on projects. No matter how much buffer is in a project schedule, it never seems to be enough. Why doesn’tadding more buffer improve the odds of completing a project early or on time?

Padded Estimates
Dr. Elihu Goldratt thinks he knows part of the answer. He believes that project team members pad thetime estimates that they publish for their tasks. As my student explained, “Everyone wants to be viewed as successful (or more pessimistically, avoid being singled out as the reason for failure).”Therefore, team members add some private buffer time to their “most likely” estimate, increasing their confidence that they will be able to overcome surprises and changes that confront them.Unfortunately, the unintended side effects of this padding actually increase the likelihood of schedule problems because of two human behaviors known as Student Syndrome and Parkinson’s Law.

Student SyndromeStudent Syndrome is the tendency to start working on a task as late as possible. A busy person may delay starting a new task because he knows that there is hidden buffer. He uses up all or most of thebuffer before he finally begins Student Syndrome … the tendency to use hidden buffer to start as late as possible working on the task. With the buffer used up, the work must go perfectly “Most...
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