I was recently asked, "What is the time frame for total project completion?" The time frame for total project completion is the time when all project work is done, and all project resources, including the project manager, can be released. Total project completion should include the thoroughly tested product, service, or other results that meet all client needs and expectations. This time frame is a moveable target.
Initially, it is the time frame the project sponsor states in the initial charter, contract, or other document used to document project initiation. Sometimes the time frame is aspirational, and others, it may be a firm deadline. Be sure you understand what the project sponsor is seeking. I always recommend asking the sponsor, "What does project success look like to you?"
After initiation, the team gets together for planning to define better the scope, time, budget, and resources needed. The critical path of the team-created schedule now defines the time frame. The final schedule is determined by a combination of team decisions and discussions and negotiation with the project sponsor. If you and the team believe a requested deadline is not possible to meet, be sure to involve the project sponsor early to find acceptable solutions.
As the project begins execution, planning mistakes and other deficiencies (e.g., resource issues) may be uncovered. There will be some variance from the plan and the team-defined schedule, but the time frame does not change. In the event of severe project issues creating an ongoing trend where the time frame may be missed by a vast margin, re-planning may be necessary. This re-planning may (or may not) reset the time frame.
Keep in mind, however, that a need for re-planning is often seen as a project manager's weakness, so you will only want to use this in rare instances. All other means of corrective action (e.g., crashing, fast-tracking, de-scoping) should be explored first.
If you come close to the time frame and you are not able to meet all goals, be as forthcoming with the project sponsor as possible. They may or may not want to change the time frame. For a large custom software project, I was the project manager for integration, quality, and testing. I communicated to the sponsor that the software product met all their current needs. However, within one year, they may see a reduction in performance that was below their stated goals. I supported this with the testing data my team produced.
In this case, the sponsor accepted the project and indicated they would address the issues at a future time. This turned into an opportunity for me. In six months, the project sponsor asked me to manage a re-architecture effort to fix the identified and some other newly identified issues and change requests.
In conclusion, be sure you understand the time frame for total project completion and manage expectations about it throughout the project.
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