Managing Schedule Slippages

Suppose that your project has, for some reason, slipped far behind. You' ve just now come to grips with the issue, and you' re trying to determine the best way to get back on track. There' s really no other way to get back on schedule than for your team to work some overtime.

You' l l find that software developers are fairly used to overtime. You may have noticed that they voluntarily stay long after hours working on code. Dor some reason, overtime seems to be a part of the developer' s shtick—they can ' t stand leaving a module of code five-eighths of the way done! It ' s the same thing musical composers deal with: If they stop in the middle of something, they' re going to "lose the muse" and the rest of the song (or code) won' t be as good, won ' t carry the same themes as what has already been done. (Or, they' l l just forget where they were and what they were doing.)

Contrarily, others may not be so delighted at your suggestion that everyone must work some overtime.

First of all, assess who actually needs to work the overtime. If the web developers are the ones who are behind, it makes no sense for you to keep the server administrators after hours watching the developers slave over a keyboard and monitor. Chances are very good that if anything slips, it ' l l be the development side of the project that needs the extra time.

Next, you have to ask people to be willing to put in some extra hours. You can't tell people that they' re expected to be there fourteen hours a day, six or seven days a week. That just won 't go over very well. But what you can do is see if there are allowances you can make so that people feel more comfortable while they ' re working the long hours, thus helping them feel like they at least have some control over the problem. I' ve heard of software development companies that allow their developers to bring in their fish tanks, a favorite rug—one developer I knew brought in his electric guitars and played heavy metal rock ' n ' roll for an hour just to shake the cobwebs out of his brain! Give people ownership over their lives while they ' re on the job, and you ' l l find that they ' l l be more willing to stick around through the long hours.

Also, see if you can figure out some rewards for the extra work. It doesn' t have to be anything really complex—a half-day off where everyone brings a picnic lunch, throws a Drisbee, and drinks some refreshments will do. The idea is that you give folks something to strive for. Some companies who have a lot of money at stake in a project will pay out huge bonuses to people once they' ve brought the project in. Microsoft has generated a lot of millionaires by providing stock options as an incentive for getting code out the door. Maybe you could talk to management and see if you can sweeten the pot a little bit in order to get the project back on schedule.

Finally, it ' s important that you lead them through the process. That means that you probably need to put in some hours yourself—be there for your folks, working overtime with them, if for nothing else than to bring them coffee or to work through some problem-solving dialog with them. But you have to lead, not push, which means you show sensitivity to people and their needs and people see that you, too, are committed to making the project work. (Hey, who said being a PM would be easy?)

There ' s an opposite problem you' l l have to deal with in situations like this: Some people don 't know when to go home! I can remember leaving my job one night at nine o ' clock and seeing a young man and his wife sitting side-by-side—he at the computer, she with her hands clasped waiting for him to finish working! Both were Oracle DBAs, and they had been plugging away at the system since early morning. She had finally put her coat on and was ready to go home, but he wasn' t quite so ready. Since he had the car keys, she waited while he finished up. I thought two things at once: He' s really a dedicated employee; and, if he doesn' t knock it off, he ' s likely to be divorced soon! There' s an old saying: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Truer words have never been spoken. Get your workaholics out of the office and home for dinner once in awhile.

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