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Sunny Day Scenarios
Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
You’re a project manager tasked with putting together
the schedule for a new and critical project. You are told by senior
management that this is an extremely critical project, and that it is
essential to the company’s future success that it is delivered as quickly as
possible and that whatever delivery date you come up with absolutely must be
met. You are told that Sales is basing their forecasts on the availability
dates you provide, and that Finance is basing their revenue and net income
projections based on your schedule. The whole company is depending on you
delivering on your commitments without fail.
You know you want the schedule to be as aggressive as possible to get
products to market as soon as possible, but recognize that it must also be
realistic and achievable, and that it must be met. You meet with all
of the appropriate people, define all of the necessary tasks and their
anticipated durations and dependencies, and incorporate the critical
interactions among and between organizations (including organizations within
and outside of your own company). You do your best to push back on people
to make sure what they tell you is truly achievable and can be counted on.
You apply what you feel to be an appropriate level of contingency on
critical path tasks. Still, you have some level of discomfort that you’re
missing something in the schedule you’ve put together.
Before you finish and present the final schedule as complete, do at least
one more check (really considerably more than one). Make sure, to the best
of your ability, that no part of the schedule is based on “Sunny Day
Scenarios”, where the people giving you task duration and dependency
estimates base their estimates on everything going just right, or on other
people providing what they need just in time. “Sunny Day Scenarios”
can and will kill a schedule, and over time you will watch your carefully
put together schedule fall apart, and your credibility in the organization
with it. [See also
eN-031023 – Development Methodology: Failing to Plan Means You Are Planning
eN-040702 – Project Management: What Gets Measured Gets Done!,
eN-041104 – Project Planning: Plan Based On What You Do Know, And On What
What are some of the “Sunny Say Scenario” pitfalls you need to
look out for? They can be categorized as Schedule, People, and Management
► Have you truly defined all of the necessary tasks? What tasks are you
missing? What dependencies are you missing? Recognize that you can’t be
perfect, but look hard and long to ensure that you aren’t missing key
schedule tasks and dependencies."
► Have you included all necessary tasks and dependencies within the group
(e.g. hardware engineering, software engineering, QA, etc.), and between
organizations within the company (e.g. engineering, product management,
technical writing, marketing, manufacturing, tech support, etc.)? Do you
fully recognize the importance of handoffs within and between
organizations? Is the importance of those handoffs fully understood by all
► Have you included all necessary tasks and dependencies between the company
and outside companies (e.g. industrial designers, PCB layout companies,
manufacturing companies, agency test companies, etc.)? Are the tasks and
dependencies in all of these cases truly understood? Recognize that you do
not have direct control of outside resources, and that other demands
unrelated to your project could force them to take actions that are contrary
to your needs. Make sure you have commitments from them to meet the demands
that have been placed upon them. Their failure to deliver on time may have
little impact on them, but a huge impact on you, and you don’t have any
People Related: You need to recognize and
account for the following in your schedule planning:
► Engineers (and others) tend to be, by their nature, optimists.
► They tend to think that things can be done more quickly than is often the
► They often assume that their work will go well, without any major
problems. They also tend to think others’ work will go well.
► They tend to see what can go right much better than they can see what can
► They tend to assume they and others will do everything right the first
time, when in reality that will not always (ever?) be the case.
► They project that others on whom they will depend will deliver what is
needed on or ahead of time.
► They do not foresee the ongoing support activities that they will be
called on to handle. They do also not foresee other demands that will be
placed on them.
► They do not account for the (often endless) meetings that they will be
asked (forced) to attend.
► They do not foresee the “demos” they will be asked to prepare to “show
progress” (vs. “making progress”). [See also
eN-070405 – Showing Progress vs. Making Progress Syndrome]
► They often do not incorporate contingency into their planning.
► They often don’t account for vacations, holidays, or being sick. This is
the case not only for themselves, but for others on whom they may depend.
► They tend to assume that they can “invent” on a schedule, when in
reality “invention” is unpredictable at best, and often frustratingly
► They often don’t think through the way the end user may actually try to
use the product versus the way they think the end user should use the
product. They often think in terms of the ways other engineers will think,
rather than in terms of the ways mere mortal, non-technical end users will
think. [See also
eN-051208 – The Inmates Are Running The Asylum!, and
eN-060105 – How Do I Get This D@#% Thing To Work!]
► They often don’t think through all of the error paths, exceptions, etc.
► They often cave in to pressure when a manager, project manager, senior
manager, etc., says it must be done in less time.
► Management is most interested in seeing a profitable new product out in
the market generating new revenues. They will push hard to see this happen,
and generally do not understand the complexity of the product or of the
project. They simply want it done (think of Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s
frequent statement, “Make it so!”). You need to inject a sense of
reality into their expectations and not cave in yourself to unrealistic
expectations. [See also
eN-060608 – Unrealistic Expectations]
Everyone involved in a critical project wants it to be a success. Careful
project planning can help make this so. While many people, especially
management, will initially demand that the product be delivered yesterday,
they will often accept a delivery date later than they would like if they
can have confidence that it will actually be delivered per a published
schedule. Once committed to, however, and especially when they have not set
the delivery date but you have, they expect delivery on time. Failure
to deliver at that point is unacceptable. Consequently it is imperative
that you meet your promises. Avoiding “Sunny Day Scenarios”
is one way to help ensure you can.
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