Ask, Don’t Tell; Listen, Don’t Direct: Schedule Recovery

How working backwards from the desired result can help with program schedule recovery when the situation looks hopeless.

By Dan Harrison

A manager, Lee, who I had worked with before, caught me in a hallway and asked me to attend a meeting on software preparations for the Ground-based Missile Defense (GMD) program’s upcoming second Integrated Ground Test (IGT-2). I was happy to assist if I could.

The presentations took about an hour, with the first one setting the tone. We were behind schedule with no hope of recovery. I had been to meetings like this before, and I started taking notes. I just listened and noted what milestones each presenter had identified.

After all of the presenters, Lee got up to review the program plan, which we obviously were not meeting. I took the time to develop a network of the delinquent (and the few, on-schedule) milestones that had been presented.

At the end of the meeting Lee turned to me and asked if I had anything to add. I said I’d developed a network of the milestones, and maybe we should review this on the white board. He offered to write on the board as I read them off. Once we had the milestones spread out appropriately, and had added connecting lines and decision points, I suggested we add dates for completion of each milestone.

There were a lot of objections as the dates briefed were all over the place. So, I suggested that we start at the bottom with the scheduled date for IGT-2 and work backwards, reiterating until we had “reasonable” dates for each milestone and decision point. Following the usual dissention, we finally got it done and everyone was ready to leave again, starting to stand up and stretch. I suggested that we still needed to assign names to each milestone, with the usual objections. Lee, for whom they all worked, insisted that, since it was so obvious and so easy, we take a few moments to complete this network.

Lee would have it made up and distributed, but I would still get an occasional question from one of the managers or leads: “Are we really expected to meet these dates?” “Do we really have to do this?” I would, of course confirm Lee’s expectation. After all, everyone had agreed to this before we closed the meeting.

We met the IGT-2 test date having a very successful test, with much better performance than on IGT-1. The customer was very pleased with our recovery.

Dan Harrison is an SMA Principal Associate in our Technical Management & Engineering Services Practice, and has over 35 years of experience in aerospace engineering.

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Published on May 8, 2020 by

Dick Eassom, CF APMP Fellow