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I joined a company a few weeks ago. I'm a team manager responsible for several projects managed my PMs.

One of them is sponsored by very senior stakeholders at my company. The stakeholders and my predecessor signed the plan, participated in the steering committee, etc.

There were several issues with the project that came up in the last weeks. All of them are now solved. The senior leadership celebrated that "we are getting forward!" and is expecting the launch by the agreed deadline.

I think that's totally improbable.

When I look at the project plan, the regularity with which the issues come up and how much it takes to solve them, I don't believe the go-live will happen on time. There's nothing super critical, but in the planning phase the PM seems to have gone for the best-case scenario. The problem is this doesn't work for most projects and we currently see that. The issues we've had show that the project is much more complex than previously expected. At the same time, the project wasn't planned very well, which means that there are no clear missed milestones or KPIs.

The project has a huge visibility so if I now raise a red flag and tell the sponsors that I don't believe the project will succeed by the date planned, this will come across badly. Also, there are no huge red flags - no missed milestones, etc., just my "gut feeling" and expertise in projects, which obviously isn't a reliable thing.

If I don't mention that, the project will probably fail at least by 2-3 months, maybe much more.

What is the most politically savvy way to approach that? I suck at politics, so any tip is welcome.

  • Does this answer your question? Should I propose a big change as a newcomer? – gnat Jun 2 at 19:50
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    @JoelEtherton, true. But it's also true that when the project fails in several months I won't be able to use the "I wasn't here when this crazy plan was accepted" argument. I won't be seen as a newcomer anymore. I will become responsible for a massive failure. I wouldn't even think about sharing my view if it was a project in another team, but it's a project I'm responsible for. – BigMadAndy Jun 2 at 19:53
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    You say you are responsible for projects. So are you actually responsible for the deadline of this particular project or is it the PM? – nvoigt Jun 2 at 20:03
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    So, it's one of your direct reports who is responsible to keep the deadline and you think they are not doing a good job, because they are too optimistic, would that be a correct summary? – nvoigt Jun 2 at 20:06
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    @nvoigt, yes. He's a good guy, but in my opinion thinks short-term seeing every issue as an independent occurrence and an exception and forgetting about it as soon as it gets solved neglecting the fact these issues repeat really a lot and that they show some factors haven't been considers when planning the project. – BigMadAndy Jun 2 at 20:10
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If you have not already done so, I would speak with your PMs and ask them to assign dates to all of the project milestones ( not just the go-live date ). This way, any time an issue arises you will have a clearer measurement of how it is ultimately affecting the project. If the next milestone needs to be pushed back because of an issue, then you will likely have to push back the rest of the project.

Your gut feeling based on your experience may be fine, but when your peers do not know you that well the best solution is to provide facts.

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With the added context that you're responsible for the project itself, it makes sense to follow the guidance of @sf02, and then take it to the nth degree.

In addition to the milestones, require them to provide concrete data that the milestone is achievable. Disallow the usage of Well, {X} thinks that it can be done in # of days. It needs to be a measurable thing backed up by current team velocities. If they can't then instruct them that estimates need to be revised to account for slippage.

There is no such thing as a project that has zero slippage. If you identify the areas where you expect items are going to slip and call it out ahead of time, timelines and expectations can be adjusted early.

You've mentioned the regularity with which issues have come up. That's data. With that previous data, you can coherently extrapolate the number of expected issues per milestone and the amount of time things will slip. It won't be purely scientific, but it'll be numbers that you can use to support your position that the go-live is in danger.

Another data point would be overtime or extra hours being worked by staff currently to meet objectives and prevent milestones from being missed. When you add all of that up, you have a tangible differential between current project and project delivery expectation. That number will likely only increase as the milestones become more impactful and closer to full delivery. Over the next few weeks you'd be able to plot that on a graph to show the expected drift in timelines.

All of this is data. Some of it may ultimately turn out to be smoke screens. In the absence of political capital you only have 2 options: Find the data or figure out how to manage the fallout of a failure.

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The project has a huge visibility so if I now raise a red flag and tell the sponsors

These would be the wrong people. There is no need for drama yet.

The project managers are the ones to approach as you are in charge of them. Talk your concerns through with them before anything else. You should be able to set your mind at ease and it's the professional way to handle things.

You may still need to escalate but at least you will be doing so on more than gut feelings. You shouldn't start drama unless you have professional answers to what you will be asked.

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  • I talked to him and he didn't put my mind at ease, the opposite is true actually. – BigMadAndy Jun 3 at 5:55
  • So make the changes necessary, you're in charge – Kilisi Jun 3 at 8:59
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This is what I'd say to your management.

Boss, this project is very exciting, challenging and complex. Given its importance, I'm going to give a special glance to it. I'll frequently report you updates to avoid any possible problem.

You are there from a few weeks and likely you might not have a full and clear picture of the project. However, your experience and feeling are of big value and you could be helpful in avoiding a potential disaster. You now think that the project will be late, but you should also be prone to change opinion as things unfold, given the overall situation.

The key here is monitoring. See what happens, collect evidence that can go in both ways and present them to management. Change idea if necessary.

As a general note, you should bring strong opinions only if backed with strong evidence. You don't have the latter, so don't bring the former. The strength of your message to the management should be proportional to the data you got.

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