Liberal Timelines and Our Failure to Meet Them

In retrospect, the question was probably rhetorical. A colleague asked me, “Why do we under-promise and then under-deliver?”  Despite my less-than-coherent answer, the question is worthy of some thought.

The question restated is, “Why do we set liberal timelines and then fail to deliver results?” The poignancy of the question should not be lost in its sarcasm.  First, why are we overly risk-averse when it comes to making commitments?   And secondly, given the fact that we under-committed, why do we STILL fail to deliver the results on time?  Logically, hedging on a timeline would give ample opportunity to deliver on time.  So, when both happen (over-estimating and failing to deliver), there exists a perfect storm of futility.  Why?

Now that I have had time to reflect, I may have better answers.

  1. Inexperience – If we do not know the amount of work involved in completing the individual tasks of a project, there is a 50-50 chance we will overshoot the project timing.  Solution:  Always identify tasks and estimate the workload as a team.  Team buy-in to the project’s deliverables creates a solid foundation from which to build the project plan.
  2. Pulling a fast one – Be honest-why would we put ourselves under the gun to commit to a timeline if we don’t have to?  In the absence of a hard deadline, we tend to give ourselves an excessive amount of time to accomplish the goal.  This lackadaisical attitude in committing to the project carries over into our ability to execute the project.  Lazy is as lazy does.   Solution:  If the project is important enough to take on, put together a solid timeline and execute the project.  If not, don’t bother.
  3. Poor performance – Sad but true.  Even the best timelines require a project manager who can keep the team on task, mitigate risks, and manage resources.  If the project owner will not own the project, the project will fail.  Successful projects have an accountability structure that expects projects be on time and on budget.  Who’s to blame if poor performance continues to exist?  {Insert definition of insanity here.} Solution: As the leader, hold yourself accountable to keep the project manager accountable.

As leaders and stakeholders, our businesses depend on getting results.  In order to escape the hamster wheel of ineffectiveness, we must determine the root cause and take action to correct.  Give your team the opportunity to succeed by committing to critical projects and delivering the results.

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