The Time Frame for Total Project Completion

schedule management Sep 27, 2020
The Time Frame for Total Project Completion

I was recently asked, "What is the time frame for total project completion?" The time frame for total project completion is when all project work is done and all project resources, including the project manager, can be released.  Total project completion should include the 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 plans to define the needed scope, time, budget, and resources. The critical path of the team-created schedule establishes the time frame. A combination of team decisions, discussions, and negotiations with the project sponsor determines the final plan. 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. As a result, there will be some variance between the plan and the team-defined schedule, but the time frame remains the same. However, if severe project issues create an ongoing trend where a vast margin may miss the time frame, re-planning may be necessary. This re-planning may or may not reset the time frame.

However, remember that a need for re-planning is often seen as a project manager's weakness, so only use this in rare instances. Other types of corrective action (e.g., crashing, fast-tracking, de-scoping) should be explored first.

If you come close to the time frame and need more time 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 example, I was the project manager for extensive custom software. 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 is 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 issues and change requests.

In conclusion, be sure you understand the time frame for total project completion and manage expectations throughout the project.

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