In the project management role your job is to ensure deliverables are completed within budget, on schedule, and as per requirements. The Kings or Queens have deliverables too and this means their delivery must be managed too; regardless of their title or standing. Sometimes they aren’t called Kings and Queens – maybe they are just called Subject Matter Experts, or Management Consultants; recognized experts in their field; someone that is critical to your project. But they are the Kings and the Queens. Everyone looks to them for help and everyone defers to them for approval.
The project management challenge here is that experts can sometimes get overbooked and over committed. Occasionally they make a commitment on a project and the project goes longer than planned and now it runs into other projects and they get overbooked. When they get overbooked they miss deliverables, or the quality of deliverables suffer. We are all human and can only handle so much before the rain barrel overflows and no matter how small of a drip of water you add, it just flows out, and things get dropped. No more work can be accomplished and that which is promised is destined to be late or even substandard; and something begins to give.
When a critical resource is overbooked and begins missing deadlines your project management plan will be impacted. The question is not a matter of if it will impact you, it is a matter of when and what are you going to do to mitigate it.
I was recently in a project management role when this happened. A very key resource was extremely busy and the project they had been on was delayed past the end date; and when I took it over this resource had just been given an extension to work to the end of the project. When I provided deliverables to this Queen, she promised her return analysis and value-add in 2 business days, because she recognized the timeframe crunch we were under. This deliverable was already late and impacting the technical staff. She was busy but adamant that she could turn it around in that time period. The delay went on one day at a time, each promise leading to another, until 9 business days later the deliverable was received. Upon detailed review it was found to be with some inconsistencies and errors. This was not the first time that a delay in turn around had been experienced at the hand of this expert. At this point now I needed to make a decision. I was at a fork in the road.
My choice was to continue to depend on this critical resource and risk additional delays and a delay in the overall completion date of the project. Or could I explore finding another avenue for completion of those deliverables. A word of caution here. In this situation you need to ensure your decision framework and actions will be objective to arrive at the best alternative, and you won’t get there if you blame the expert and obsess about their late delivery. Think about it from their perspective first; put yourself in their shoes and you may see a different picture and arrive at a better conclusion.
In my case the expert had tried to accommodate the client’s slipped schedule; and was doing their best to provide a continuation of the knowledge they had already provided on the project. No doubt other deliverables elsewhere on other projects were slipping too. We identified an alternative for the skill set and for the deliverables and weighed the risk and realized we could complete these through a series of meetings with the staff. So I basically contacted her and explained that I was already impacting the technical team, and unfortunately they often take the brunt of project time compressions, being asked to deliver more in time periods that are shorter than what they had initially promised. I also said that I had made a personal commitment of quality to the business team and I felt that with the most recent deliverable we had not achieved that. I said that we would give her two business days to turn it around, if she wanted to “fix” the deliverables. On the second evening if I had nothing from her, we would go with the most recent version and meet with the client the next morning for continual sessions until all inconsistencies and errors were resolved. Essentially what I was telling her is that this time we were going on without her whether or not she was coming. However, and this is very, very important, the deadline was not my own, but a deadline that was impacting other people she had worked with. I was creating the context that other people were experiencing a negative feeling from the delay. To resolve these negative feelings, we had to go on with or without her to resolve the problems. That was the line in the sand. That if she couldn’t commit, we couldn’t wait.
What I was really doing was asking her to evaluate her time on the project and the comfort level of us going on without her against the likelihood of her being able to get it done by herself in a drop-dead timeframe.
Sometimes on projects we start to believe that people are irreplaceable, that we can’t go on without them and their knowledge. However sometimes you have to. Sometimes you have to look at the contribution of your Kings and Queens in the event of a delay of their deliverables and ask how else that can be accomplished. Sometimes you have to find another way. In project management you have to continually be open and flexible to finding alternatives to getting key deliverables done. You have to always be vigilant to seeing if you are at a fork in the road. Always remember that you have to manage your Kings and Queens too.