On Project Timelines.

I have a deep skepticism on project timelines, unless we are talking about a project that has been done before many times, and it is part of a standard.

But, the problem is that many important projects are important due to the very fact that they have never been done before. And this is where it gets close to impossible to predict precisely how all the pieces come together, and how long they will take.

In fact, it can even get difficult to know what all the granular steps of the project are going to be, as requirements and issues come up along the way.

I get the feeling that this is especially applicable to technology projects due to their level of abstraction. Often stakeholder demand the equivalent of redoing the foundations while half the building has already been built. While this would be an obviously ridiculous request if we are building a skyscraper, this is not such an obviously ridiculous request if we are doing a technology project because there is not a foundation made of literal concrete that needs to be dug up.

But when you count the amount of rework required, it may actually take longer that digging up a foundation.

So what is a project manager to do? Create and constantly maintain timeline charts that need to be updated each week, that provide a sense of comfort although everyone knows that apart from the next couple of weeks, what is in the chart will not match reality? Perhaps — at least a plan is better than no plan.

Or, perhaps we should focus more on scoping, and ensuring that we get this right and that we are doing the most important tasks first.

I don’t yet have an answer to this, but it is something that I am thinking deeply about lately.

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