Advice for Project Managers: Stepping in to Manage an Ongoing Project and Promoting Ranged Estimates
Dear Elizabeth: I work on a project team for a manufacturing company. For the last year we’ve been using ranged estimates to build out our schedules. For the most part our customers love it. We have one customer who is putting up a fight, saying they want a hard deadline. How do we convince them to go with a two-point estimate? –Living in Reality
Dear Reality: Ranged estimates are awesome, so I’m totally with you on that one. I’m not surprised that most of your customers love the way you schedule.
I would start a campaign of education: Talk to your customers about why two-point estimates are actually a more mature and realistic way of scheduling and why that should give them more confidence. Talk about transparency and managing risk. Talk about why your other customers like it and the benefits that they have seen because they’ve used dynamic planning. Using case studies and real examples are also a winner when it comes to convincing others.
In this conversation go back to the beginning, and talk about why your customer chose you: because your company has a mature and professional approach to doing the work, supported by cutting-edge tools and methodologies including ranged estimates, which puts you ahead of competitors (and by association, gives them a boost too).
In the event you fail to convince your customer to go with ranged estimates, here’s something to consider. Could you use ranged estimates for your internal planning and then only publish the later of the two points to your client? They’ll get the worst case scenario but it meets their requirement of a single date and gives you the flexibility to use ranged estimates as you intend.
And if you come in earlier, you’ll have fair notice to let them know. They might even be pleased about it!
Dear Elizabeth: I’ve just taken over a long-running project from a PM who’s left the organization. This is my first time stepping in to an ongoing project. I have to learn the history of the work progress, the team, the customer. It’s overwhelming and I worry I’m over my head and I’m going to blow it. Can you tell me how and where to start, especially in a way that I can build trust and respect from my team? – Over My Head
Dear Over My Head: First, you are not going to blow it.
Second, I wrote a guide about taking over a project that includes a free checklist. It covers all the tasks you need to do to pick up work from someone else. So go and get that, I’ll wait…
Now you’ve got the guide in hand, let’s think about how you can take over the project in a way that builds you trust and respect.
Being honest with the project team will take you a long way. Be straight with everyone about the fact that you need time to get up to speed and that you need help to do so. Don’t ever pretend that you have all the answers as I bet your team members are more technically versed in what to do than you are at the moment, and they will see through any blustering and attempting to know more than you do.
Make building relationships a key part of your strategy to take over this work. Try to get to know the people on the team and their areas of expertise. Ask how you can help them and then do it (if you can’t, go back to them and explain that you tried and why you weren’t successful).
I’d highly recommend a book called The Accidental Leader: What to Do When You’re Suddenly in Charge by Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley. It’s easy to read and really inspired me to step up when I found myself in a leadership job, which is where you are now. Give yourself three months and you won’t remember what it felt like to be in over your head because you’ll have it all in the bag. Trust me :).
Wait, there’s more! If you want some insightful and practical solutions to common PM problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”