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Want to hack your deadline? Admit it's uncertain

Source: University of Michigan

Embracing the uncertainty of deadlines could be key to more successful projects, researchers have found.




  • Deadlines tend to radiate a sense of existential finality, but project managers know that they're rarely set in stone.

  • While it might sound counterintuitive, embracing that uncertainty could be key to more successful projects, University of Michigan researchers have found.

  • The team devised a way to peek under the hood of deadlines, map out their uncertainty and fold it into a project management system.

  • In a series of experiments testing the team's technique, it improved the success rate of projects by up to 40 percent. That improved success rate can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including more timely completion, projects that are better tailored to their original requirements and improved profitability.

A deadline is just another stakeholder requirement and we all know that stakeholder requirements hold a certain amount of uncertainty. We can't eliminate that uncertainty, but we can often quantify it. And I've found that the value of doing that is very big
  • The hard part comes first, managers should ask for more than just the optimistic and pessimistic completion dates that are part of Project Evaluation and Review Technique, the statistical tool that underpins modern project management.

  • This requires an honest sit-down with stakeholders and some digging to learn the reasoning behind those dates.


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