It’s every manager’s nightmare scenario: the day before a big deadline, and…there’s no way you’re going to hit it. Everyone is running around like headless chickens, trying their best, but you know that the chances of a happy ending are slim.
As unpleasant as it is, we’ve all been there — but if it’s happening over and over again, there’s probably a root cause you need to look at. When your team continually struggles to meet their deadlines, usually it’s one of three things:
Time estimates are tricky, it’s true. And estimation is a skill you learn through trial and error, while on the job — which is all well and good, except for when you’re in an error stage and it’s throwing off the rest of the team.
Is your team not factoring in for approval/feedback/revision turnaround time? (Meaning, the time spent waiting on any of those, and then implementing the requested changes.) Or they could be underestimating the “work around the work,” where they’re checking project specs and making sure that the features are on track. Or, it could be something else entirely.
The only way you can find out is to sit down with one of their time estimates, have them talk through the process of how they reached that time estimate, and see what went wrong. If they’re lacking in hard data to create time estimates with, having them track their time for a few weeks could be a useful exercise. And, of course, remind them to always pad their time estimates by a factor of 1.5–2x.
As hard as it can be to acknowledge, sometimes the fault isn’t with your team — it’s with the timelines you’re giving them. If your team is working hard and there aren’t any bottlenecks in the process, this could be the root of the issue.
This is especially likely if you’ve recently switched fields or don’t have a ton of hands-on experience in whatever it is your team is doing — something that seems like it should be an easy-breezy task often isn’t.
A lot of the solutions that apply to problem number one also apply here, just from a managerial POV instead of an employee one. The best thing you can do is get hard data from your team on how long each part of the process is taking them and then use that data to create future time estimates (and remember: don’t forget to pad it!).
Tell me if this sounds familiar: there’s four stakeholders for this particular project, each with important insight on how the project should be completed.
Your team provides an iteration for the stakeholders to look at. Stakeholder A says “Oh, that’s nice, but let’s change this to be more like that.” Stakeholder B is fixated on a different aspect of the project. Your team implements that feedback while waiting on feedback from Stakeholders C and D…who wind up wanting it more like the original, and then your team has to try and find a compromise between all the different stakeholders and what they want.
Kind of a mess, right? And once you multiply that entire process by the number of iterations or stages your project is going to go through…well, no wonder your team isn’t meeting their goals!
The solution to this particular problem is threefold:
There are our solutions — but if you’ve experienced another reason for bumps in your product development timelines, we’d love to hear it and hear what you did to fix it - let us know @Shortcut on Twitter.