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How to Set Realistic IT Project Deadlines

Hope and optimism won't help you establish a realistic project deadline. Thoughtful insight and careful planning are the keys to setting a practical schedule.

Once an IT project has been proposed, constructed, and approved, there's always the next question: "How long will it take?"

Building an extremely buttoned-up project plan at the outset is the key to deadline success, says Juliet Siro, director of national professional services for Toshiba America Business Solutions. "This way, you know what the deadlines are and can plan around them, making them realistic."

When considering a project timeline, it's important to understand exactly why the project is necessary, both for the organization as a whole and for individual stakeholders. "You'll need to understand this and communicate it to various team members and suppliers to ensure they understand the project's importance," advises Rodney Heath, consulting director at Agile software services firm Nexient.

Initial Steps

Begin the estimation process by breaking the effort into smaller, more manageable pieces. "These will be easier to estimate than a larger multi-stage effort and will shed light on the type of expertise you'll need to provide input to key activities, sequencing, and durations that will lead to more realistic project deadlines," Heath explains.

It's also a good idea to solicit advice from colleagues, preferably those with prior project scheduling experience, who can provide rational duration/sequencing insights, allowing realistic milestones to be generated. Also identify any internal and external dependencies that could derail or delay your project, Heath suggests.

Be prepared for change, Heath warns. "If there's one constant in life, it's change," he notes. "Change will happen despite your best planning efforts, and … you may want to set aside a portion of the budget as a management reserve to help with any contingencies that may arise."

Prioritize Deadlines

Fully understanding the scope and complexity of each project task is essential. "Finish the hard stuff first," Siro advises. "You’ll feel much better when doing so, since you'll have plenty of time to complete the project."

Read the rest of this article on InformationWeek.

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