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The Only Times You Should Extend a Deadline

The Only Times You Should Extend a Deadline

Deadlines are funny things. They’re supposed to be the absolute final word in a project schedule—the time when all tasks are completed and all deliverables are ready for prime time. And yet many organizations and PMOs extend a deadline without a second thought.

Why bother setting a deadline if you’re just going to move it back? What’s the point? Having a “just extend it” mentality encourages poor project planning and promotes a lax, complacent attitude when executing projects.

Project managers shouldn’t extend a deadline as a first resort. Instead, deadlines should only be moved if:

The Scope Drastically Changes

As much as we hate scope creep, it is a very real factor in project management. Not changing a deadline after changing the scope will only burn out the team and encourage rush work that will destroy project quality.

Extending the deadline may increase the client’s costs, but the client should be fine with it if you’re honest about the rates and how many additional hours the changes will take. (And if the client wants to implement the changes even after seeing the new estimate, then you’ll know he really wants that new feature.)

The Project is That Bad

Sometimes a project will still be in such rough shape that releasing it at that stage would be a bigger disaster than not releasing it.

If you’re too far along in the timeline and the project sponsor isn’t willing to cancel the project, then you’ll have to keep working until it gets to an acceptable state. Assess where you are, where you want to be, and come up with a revised (and hopefully more accurate) timeline.

The Project Could Be That Good

But what of the opposite scenario? What if the project is already at a release-ready state, but the team is in the middle of adding a feature that could take the project from good to great? Should you release an average product on time, or release an excellent product later on?

This balancing act affects all project managers and perfectly illustrates why the final project stage is the most dangerous.

If the Benefits Outweigh the Costs

Every delay is going to have some sort of impact—whether it’s users unable to use the system to extra supplies to finish construction. What the project manager needs to do is assess the costs and see if the benefits of extending the deadline (and taking the project as is) outweigh the costs.

The project manager isn’t going to make this decision alone, of course. For a major decision like this, the project manager needs to consult with the project sponsor the stakeholders, and even get input from the team.

Image credit, Flickr, Joe Lanman

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