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"Kind of" Immediately

Blindtarget I couldn't believe my ears.  I was on a phone call with the project stakeholders who were driving the requirements of our project. They were the only ones who could answer our questions and resolve our issues, and also the ones who were forcing the project in the first place to make us compliant with their regulations.

And when asked when they would get us a response on a critical issue, the barely-out-of-project-puberty spokesman on the other end of the conference phone squeaked, "Uh... we'll get on that kind of immediately."  (For the record, emphasis here ended up being more on the "kind of" and less on the "immediately.")

(NOTE: my wife loved it when I took up blogging, as it has become a form of therapy for the occasional silliness of project management.)

Let's take a step back here and look at date commitments. Simply put, when asked for a specific milestone date, here are some of the responses to avoid:

  • "I'll work on that as soon as possible."
  • "I'll get at it when I can."
  • "It's in my inbox." (Not even a real response here.)
  • "Who are you, and what do you want?"  (Trust me, it's happened.)

Instead, attempt to focus your stakeholders to give clear, unambiguous answers which involve dates:

  • "That will be started on Aug. 2 and will last two weeks."
  • "We will finish no later than Oct. 1."
  • "If no assumptions are violated, we expect a finish date the last working day of this month."
  • "We will release new versions of the software every other Wednesday between now and year end."
  • "That has to coincide with the quarterly sales meeting scheduled for Nov. 15."

Sometimes a date isn't possible because of other tasks or activities going on.  That's alright as long as those dependencies are clearly stated:

  • "We cannot start the requirements until Project Zebra's testing is complete." (Followed up by asking when that date is, so you can talk to Project Zebra's team.)
  • "This task has to coincide with the completion of unit testing." (Again, ask for dates, but you at least know what the dependency is.)

In the case of clear dates or dependencies, all should be tracked and communicated via project plans, communication plans, and/or issues logs.

And at no point in the management of your projects is the phrase "kind of immediately" ever acceptable.

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