Why Optimism is BAD for the Projects?

Pessimist – We are going Down.

Optimist – We cannot go down any further. Now the only way is Up.

Realist – Let us analyze the current situation and decide what best can be done.

Humans, by nature, are usually optimistic. Project Managers (unless they are from another Galaxy) follow the same trait. Recently, I wrote an article “A project is scheduled to FAIL – http://www.pmbypm.com/2013/08/a-project-is-scheduled-to-fail/“; it was based on same theme.

The article discussed how PMs and other stakeholders are Overtly Optimistic while creating project schedule and how Optimism is a recipe for a failure. Current article continues on the same theme.

Many times, while doing a project, project team falls behind the planned schedule.The completed work is less than what they had planned. It would be realistic to take a stock of current situation and re-plan in such a scenario. However, the Project Manager and other team members ignore the situation as if nothing has happened. They continue to work with original plan (timelines). They are either themselves optimistic or are forced to become optimistic (due to internal or external pressures). They start believing what happened in past was just an aberration and future will be better.

This unfounded optimism leads to worse situations which is, sometimes, impossible to recover. Let us understand this with the help of an example.

Consider a project having a scope of 100 work units (WU) to be completed in 100 duration units (DU). It was estimated that each WU will require 1 DU for completion. Let us assume after 50 DU only 40 WU were completed.

The project is clearly behind schedule. But false bravado and stakeholder (implicit and explicit) pressure leads to sheer optimism. The Project Manager and team members get into false sense of overachieving in future. They start believing that remaining 60 WU can be easily completed in 40 WU. They just ignore the sitiuation and do not revise the original plan. Let us analyze what would be the end result of such sheer optimism.

The project is currently moving at a efficiency of 80% (40/50). If the Project Team decides to complete the remaining work within the original timelines, the future efficiency should be increased to 120% (60/50). There is a major difference between the current performance (80%) and the future projected performance (120%).

In simple terms it means that a team that was producing 8 hrs of work per day would have to produce 12 hrs of work per day.

Would it be practical? Don’t be Optimistic, be Realistic.

Note: Using above example I have given a very simplistic overview of Earned Schedule concept.

Praveen Malik, PMP is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) with a rich 20+ years of experience. He is a leading Project Management Instructor and Consultant. He regularly conducts Project Management workshops in India & abroad.

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