Schedule Pressure Failure

The following entry is part of the Pattern Library. The Pattern Library records the common patterns of behaviours and events that have the potential to lead to project failure.

Pattern name : Schedule Pressure Failure

In brief :
An excessively aggressive schedule results in mistakes being made from which the project never recovers.

Description :
Excessive schedule pressure  can cause an otherwise capable team to make mistakes that ultimately end up causing serious damage to a project. When a project is given an overly aggressive schedule two side effects occur;

  1. The amount of “think” time the team has to do analysis and planning is reduced.  This in turn has two side effects ;
    1. When making critical decisions, the number of options the team has the time to identify and consider is reduced.  This can result in the team taking a sub-optimal approach to the project
    2. The chances of making critical mistakes is increased
  2. When placed under excessive schedule pressure, quality pressure (the emphasis the team places on quality control) is often reduced.

The combined effect results in a dangerous combination.  Critical mistakes are made and those mistakes remain undetected.  Ultimately the effect of the mistakes does show through (typically in the later integration, testing and deployment phases of the project) and the project encounters serious turbulence.

Typical sequence of events :

  1. Underestimation of elapsed time required to complete the project
  2. A fixed deadline is imposed
  3. Pressure to meet the deadline results in the team making critical mistakes
  4. Because of the rush to move ahead, appropriate quality checks are skipped or skimmed resulting in the defects remaining undetected
  5. Problems as a result of the mistakes become manifest towards the later stages of the project
  6. Project team comes under additional schedule pressure as they try to correct the problems
  7. Additional schedule pressure leads to yet more mistakes and potentially a downward spiral

Negative effects :

  1. Mistakes are made that would not have been made if sufficient time had been allocated
  2. High rework costs as a result of errors remaining undetected until late in the project life-cycle
  3. Due to high rework costs, project timeline gets extended beyond not only its aggressive target, but also beyond its optimal schedule.

Example :

  1. DEFRA
  2. Northern Island Rate Collection


Related patterns

  1. The pressure wave

Suggested Actions :

  1. If forced to work with an overly aggressive schedule check priorities to see if any parts of the project can be bundled into a later phase which can be completed later and under less pressure
  2. Look for alternative solutions to the problem being solved that can be implemented in less time
  3. Learn to push back.  Sometimes Project Managers try to be too accommodating and that tendency can be the root of many problems.