The Pressure Wave

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

Name : The Pressure Wave

Outline :
Projects sometimes face a fixed deadline for completion. Where sufficient notice is received, such projects can be run normally, but where notice is too short, significant schedule pressure can build up. Sometimes the short notice is in fact self-inflicted. Although the organization had advanced warning of the deadline they fail to act until it’s too late. Every day of delay in initiating the project decreases the amount of time left to complete the work.

By waiting too long to initiate work a pressure wave builds up. Once the project is initiated, the team is already under schedule pressure, which brings with it the corresponding problems that arise where people have too little time to do the necessary work.

Typical sequence of events :

  1. Organization faces a fixed deadline for a project to be completed. Although organization is aware in advance they fail to act
  2. Eventually organization realizes deadline is rapidly approach and initiates the project
  3. Late start results in project being under schedule pressure right from start
  4. Schedule pressure results in the team making mistakes.  In addition, the schedule pressure reduces the emphasis placed on quality, which in turn allows the errors to go undetected
  5. Effect of mistakes appears towards end of project (typically during integration and test)
  6. Team scrambles to address errors and omissions late in the game creating significant additional schedule pressure in the face of the looming deadline

Negative effects :

  1. Quality compromises made in an attempt to meet deadline
  2. Late breaking rework as a result of errors made due to elevated levels of schedule pressure
  3. Very high levels of overtime result in fatigue and further errors
  4. Poor quality product at the end of the project

Common Root Causes :

  1. Failure to see long term implications of a delay in getting project initiated
  2. Student syndrome (the tendency to leave things to the last minute)
  3. Long project approval cycles prevent project being initiated (such delays are often caused by the fact that the person doing the approving lacks an understanding of how much time is actually required to do the work)
  4. Pressure of current project squeezes out taking any action of future projects

Suggested Actions :

  1. Ensure those approving project initiation have a clear understanding of the lead time necessary to complete the work
  2. Find ways to create “schedule pressure” on those initiating the work, such as by tying due dates for outstanding approvals to the final implementation date (i.e. if approval to proceed is given on date x, we will delivery on date y).  Ensure responsibility for the final implementation date is shared across all stakeholders.
  3. Actively manage the approval process