Episode 7 Week 3 – Monday

Episode 7 Week 3 – Monday


Alice had committed to delivering the project on November 30 but now – due to a series of unfortunate events described in the previous episode – the plan now shows it’ll be January 15. What’s she to do?


Alice had spent the weekend pondering her November 30 / January 15 problem, but was no nearer a solution. As she roller skated to work, she found herself thinking about dates. No, not those kind of dates – rather the dates that were the bane of every project manager’s life.

There was nothing got a project manager going like a date. You gave a date to a project manager and they almost started twitching.  And they started twitching because it seems like every project manager assumes that every date is a hard date I.e. that it can’t move.

Alice had made this mistake herself when she first started out in project management. But she’s smarter now:

Alice has worked out that the key to dealing with any date a project manager is given is to start by assuming it’s a soft date – i.e. that it can move.

Hard dates, she’s realised, only come from one of four places. They’re:

  • Set by the government (state, federal, national or EU if your country is part of that).
  • Set by ‘the system’ i.e. we always do this at this time every year
  • Set by a boss so far up the chain that there’d be no point in arguing with it
  • In a contract i.e. legally binding.

And there are some other things she’s realised:

  • When they (bosses, stakeholders) give you a date, check what day of the week it is. If it’s a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday, there’s a good chance that they’ve just plucked it out of the air and it can move – it’s a soft date.
  • If they give you a ‘fluffy’ date i.e. they don’t give an actual date e.g. October 29. Instead they say things late ‘late November’ or ‘Quarter 2’ or ‘the first half of the year’, then clearly the date is a soft date and can move.
  • There may be cultural reasons why certain dates are suspect – for example, July in all of the Nordic countries, August in France – many / most people are on holidays.

And it’s while pondering all of these things, as she whizzes along on her skates, that it comes to her – the solution to her November 30 / January 15 problem.

Alice studied twentieth century history in university – it’s a whole other story how she got into project management – and her final year project was on the idea of things being ‘over by Christmas’. Her thesis was that this is an idea that is deeply rooted in the psyche, certainly of the Western world.

When the First World War began in July / August 1914, combatants on all sides believed it would be a short, sharp war and be ‘over by Christmas’. (Instead it would go on for four years.) In late autumn 1944, after the success of D-Day, the Liberation of Paris and the deep and rapid advances into Nazi-held territory, the Allies believed that the Nazi regime would crumble any day. (In December the Nazis launched a huge counter-offensive in the Battle of the Bulge and wouldn’t surrender for another six months.) In short, ‘over by Christmas’ = probably not in touch with reality.

When she started working in project management, Alice realised that this ‘over by Christmas’ thinking was hugely prevalent. Bosses and stakeholders would give teams target dates of December 31 or December 24 and Alice quickly realised that this was ‘over by Christmas’ thinking.

But now – almost magically – Alice realised that ‘over by Christmas’ could be a two-edged sword and could be the solution to her November 30 / January 15 problem.

She came to a halt outside the building. She quickly removed her skates and hurried upstairs. Dumping her stuff in her office, she found B-Bob in the coffee room. He was looking more hang-dog than usual.

‘I think I’ve found the solution to our problem,’ she said.

She explained:

‘If we were to finish on November 30,’ said Alice, ‘that would mean there’d be about three working weeks to go before Christmas.’

B-Bob acknowledged this.

‘But we probably wouldn’t want to release the product in the run up to Christmas. There are too many other things going on – companies trying to wrap up their operations for the year, people busy with Christmas and all its trappings. A much better time to release it would be in January.’

Almost like a sunrise, B-Bob’s face started to brighten as he realised where Alice was going with this.

‘So that’s what you say to V.B.B. – Very Big Boss,’ she continued. ‘To get clear of all the noise of Christmas and the start of the New Year, we recommend a release date in the second week of January – say the tenth of January. I’ll then try to peel a few days of the current schedule and we should be able to hit that January 10 date.’

Alice has never thought of b-Bob as a demonstrative man but now he jumps up and heads towards Alice with the intention of hugging her. He thinks twice about this and instead shakes her hand, pumping it up and down.

‘You’re a genius, Alice,’ he says.  ‘As soon as the sun is up on the West Coast, I’ll call VBB.’