Sometimes we're in the situation where the deadline is near.. e.g. 2 days away, but as a PM, I see a high risk of not completing all the work on time. Particularly if our engineering lead is not actively scrambling the troops.

Do you have some suggestions for how to approach and coach our engineering team lead and the engineering team when I don't feel they are doing enough to ensure all is completed in the allotted time?

Project mgr.

jess's picture

Do you have past evidence that you're team cannot meet these short lead time deadlines? If so, you should be applying the feedback model when deadlines have slipped to have the team lead resolve the issues leading to these missed deadlines. That way next time you can be more confident that they will meet the deadlines.

Planning is important for short-term projects. When assigning the project have your lead describe the plan of attack and then you can later follow-up on it to see if they are on schedule.

I suggest that you have a frank discussion with the team lead along the lines: "I know that the deliverable is due in two days and given that this is a short lead-time deliverable what is your plan to complete make the deliverable on time and what do you need from me to make it happen?" If you see weaknesses in the plan provide some coaching to address the problem.

By all means, you need to make it clear that missing deadlines is not acceptable and that if there is any issue with making deadlines they need to speak up.

swpm's picture

thanks for the feedback.. in this particular case.. I'm actually referring to a software release that has been in development for a few weeks, and as the deadline, 2 days from now, looms.. I can see we have several cases in our bug tracking system to complete. More cases than can typically be handled in 2 days.

I think your suggestion for near term deadlines applies equally as well though. thanks.

Also, you referred to the "feeback model". Can you point me to a particular podcast where this is described?

jess's picture

The feedback model is discussed in the June 18th, 2005 podcast:

You're going to have to make an assessment if you can meet this deadline and have a frank and open discussion with the lead to determine if it is possible. Can you have staff put in some overtime and meet the requirement? Are there some of the lower priority items that are not essential to meeting the deadline? If so, go for it. If not be realistic and responsible and give some heads up that the schedule is going to slip (not the desired outcome, I know - so make sure you do everything possible to meet the deadline). If you have to go back with a revised deadline make sure that you can meet it.

Also take some lessons-learned from this that there is a need to track progress more closely or some schedule adjustments that need to be made next time. Don't let the lesson go unlearned.

Hope this helps, I've been there many times and am still trying to learn from the past.

swpm's picture

Thanks.. Good stuff. Love your podcast. I loaded a few up on my mp3 player before I flew here to Europe this past week. Your show really helped to make the long flight from California go by fast. Great job and I look forward to hearing and learning more.

I just loaded the feedback show from 2005. i hope my mp3 player's battery is charged for my walk back to the hotel :)

jess's picture

These aren't my podcasts, I'm a manager just like you. I've learned a lot from Mike and Mark and am just trying to share what I learned. Best of luck in your current situation, and please report back. We'd like to hear how things are going for you.

citius's picture

In the absence of further facts, I am going to take a shot in the dark...

Who set the deadlines? Did you get buy-in from the engineering team in advance?

I have seen these kinds of frustrations before. Is the situation that the people you need to perform to the schedule had no hand in specifying the schedule (these people specifically, not their bosses)? If so, they are not committed to it. Furthermore, if the schedule imposed upon on them seems unreasonable to them they will tend to ignore it. I would even argue that it is in the long-term best interests of the organization that they do so, but that is the topic of another discussion.

So, my best recommendation is to have a meeting with the team. Ask them if 2 days is a reasonable time in which to complete the work. If they agree, remind them how important it is that the work be completed on time and you are done. If not, ask them what is reasonable. If they come back with something you cannot support, work with them to explore the alternatives.

So, to summarize, if the engineering team fails to meet a schedule that they set, shame on them and they should be held accountable. If they fail to meet a schedule that you set, shame on you. Trying to push another team to do what you want is like trying to push rope. It just doesn't work.

-- Paul

swpm's picture

thanks for all the tips. in this case, it was a version update we'd been working on for several weeks, and deadline was approaching in 2 days.

in the end, with the aid of the advice here and on the podcasts, and lots of roll up the sleeves work.. I was able to lead the team to freeze development pretty much on time.. to their original commitment. Granted, some code reviews didn't make the deadline though as engineering was coding right till the end. So we discussed that for future, all engineering, including the code reviews must meet the freeze deadline. QA has progressed nicely, we have found a few issues, but team is jumping on them and we should be on our way to deploy to production on schedule.

I have a question.. regarding this concept of holding people accountable.

What are some examples of this? . besides the extreme of letting some one go.. what are some ways of making those who miss their commitments pay the consequences.. i.e. helping them to help themselves avoid the "pain" in the future.

bflynn's picture

[quote="swpm"]I have a question.. regarding this concept of holding people accountable.

What are some examples of this? . besides the extreme of letting some one go.. what are some ways of making those who miss their commitments pay the consequences.. i.e. helping them to help themselves avoid the "pain" in the future.[/quote]

The first step is feedback. Remember that you're not holding them accountable. They are already accountable and you use feedback to remind them of that. Feedback tells them the effects (in a way they care about) of their missing the target. Repetitive feedback establishes a pattern, which requires coaching to correct. If you fail to coach effectively, coaching moves to late stage coaching. If you fail at coaching, you're left with the extreme solution of letting them go.

I'll refer you to podcasts 2 and 3 for more on feedback.


Mark's picture

An example of holding someone accountable is giving them feedback. Holding someone accoutable means actually providing consequences (and yes, feedback is a a consequence) when they don't do what they say they're going to do.


Mark's picture


That was a compliment! He thought they WERE your podcasts...and if you've internalized them well enough to answer like that, in a way they are yours.

And we've stumbled too, trust me. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

Well done!