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Wiggle Room Is Key to Meeting Deadlines, Research Suggests

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Wiggle Room Is Key to Meeting Deadlines, Research Suggests

Research from the University of Michigan highlights how making room for uncertainty can result in more successful outcomes on projects at work.

· Agile Zone ·
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Wiggle in the street

Your inner child will be thrilled to learn that you really can wiggle your way to success at work.

The old business trope posits that no plan survives contact with the enemy, and so most goals should have sufficient flex built into them to reflect the uncertainty inherent in them.

And now, research from the University of Michigan highlights how accepting this uncertainty can result in more successful outcomes for the project.

You may also like:  Stop Estimating: The #NoEstimates Movement in Agile

The researchers conducted a number of experiments to test the technique of teams, and found that by having a more flexible approach to deadlines, the success rate of projects rose by up to 40 percent. This success included timely completion, a better match with the original specification, and even higher profitability.

"A deadline is just another stakeholder requirement, and we all know that stakeholder requirements hold a certain amount of uncertainty," the researchers explain. "We can't eliminate that uncertainty, but we can often quantify it. And I've found that the value of doing that is very big."

Smarter projects

The hardest part in taking a more flexible approach to your work often arrives at the outset as it requires moving beyond setting projected completion dates for your project, even if they take into account an optimistic and pessimistic perspective. Indeed, it requires a thorough examination of the reasoning behind these deadlines.

"Stakeholders are always dealing with a complex set of uncertainties, but they are rarely shared with project managers. The goal is to bring the two worlds closer together and incorporate the knowledge that's uncovered into the management process," the researchers say.

Once armed with this information, the next step is to incorporate the uncertainty that you've identified into the deadline. The authors propose doing this by adding an extra virtual activity to the project. This activity begins on the optimistic deadline day, and ends on the pessimistic deadline day. This provides you with a 'bullseye' to aim for, and as long as the project is completed within this window, it's considered on time. The greater the uncertainty, the larger this window will be.

Managing uncertainty

With this information, the manager can then begin to make more informed decisions based upon the relative level of uncertainty in the project. If the uncertainty is low, and therefore the target window is large, then resources should be focused on projects with more certainty.

This process can also occur on the fly as the certainty of the project changes throughout its duration. By having a running forecast of the uncertainty involved in the deadline, it helps the project manager to plan accordingly.

"This technique can save a manager from spending a lot of time and resources on a deadline that might not matter much in the end," the researchers say. "If it's soft, the manager can quickly see that it's soft and focus resources on other requirements that are less likely to change."

Further reading

Three Reasons to Stop Talking About Time and Deadlines in Agile Environments

You're Doing It Wrong: Deadlines

Topics:
framing ,targets ,uncertainty ,goal setting ,agile ,work smarter not harder ,wiggle room ,meeting deadlines

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