If you are planning a complicated project, anchor dates and milestones are important tools for preventing project slip, missed client deadlines, and late-project cram sessions that burn out personnel and lead to mistakes.
Anchor dates allow you to set an absolute deadline for a task, even when that task is not the end date for the project. And milestones create sub-deadlines along the way so important things happen in order and on time.
These tools, when used together, can also help you understand how much time you’ll need to accomplish a lengthy project so you can intelligently negotiate delivery dates and know when you need to start working on specific tasks to meet a hard deadline.
Planning for a hard deadline
To meet a compliance deadline or to have a product demo-ready for an announcement or conference, for example, you need to schedule backwards from an immovable date. And that date might not be at the end of the project.
Let’s say, for example, you are implementing a software update for a customer-facing online service, such as a bank. The plan looks like this: Purchase hardware, install software updates on that hardware, customize that software, take the bank website offline to upload the updated software, configure the site, and train the bank employees on the new features. Each of these project steps has dozens or more tasks embedded into it, each one assigned to someone on the team.
Because the bank has to tell its customers when services won’t be available, the date you take the site offline is a hard deadline. You want to be certain you’ll be able to meet it before you agree to it.
Acquiring the hardware, completing the software customization, and taking the site offline are all milestones – as are many other important tasks in this complex project. Most don’t have firm deadlines, but all have a duration – the length of time it will take to accomplish them. And some tasks are dependent on the completion of other tasks. You can’t install the software on the computers until the computers arrive, for example. When you add up all the durations and the lag time between tasks and consider the dependencies, you can see how much time you’ll need to be ready to take the site offline.
Perfect Project will do that calculation for you, and it will put the entire plan on a schedule based on that hard deadline date.
Using an anchor date to know what’s possible
Each milestone that leads up to the day when you take the bank’s website down is important. But that task – taking the bank offline – has to happen on a specific date. And you can’t change that date once you agree to it. Once the bank announces to its millions of customers when services will be offline, you can’t change it.
The bank has suggested a date for taking the site down. To find out if that date is possible, use an anchor date.
In your plan, tie that milestone – take the site offline – to an anchor date and select the date that the bank is suggesting. Perfect Project will calculate when you need to start every task in front of that hard deadline. It will take into consideration things like weekends, holidays, and the schedules of the resources who will be working on those tasks and display the entire plan – with start and finish dates for each milestone – on the critical path.
You can’t go back in time
If you have plenty of time before that date to finish everything that leads to taking the site offline, you can tell your client that the date they are asking for is not a problem. And you can say it with confidence because you aren’t working from a rough estimate. You’ll have a precise calculation that adds up every task duration as well as the white space around those tasks, with dates tied to every piece of the plan.
If the critical path calculates everything and tells that that you should have started this project last week – or last month – to meet that date, you have some work to do.
Maybe you can trim from generously padded durations or lag times, or some tasks can be accomplished more quickly. Or perhaps there are tasks that can be worked on simultaneously instead of one waiting for the completion of another. You might need to talk to people and gather more information and then tighten up your estimates.
Data for your negotiations
If you pare down your estimates and still can’t meet that date, it’s better to know that now – before the bank announces the date and you commit to meeting it.
If the date the bank chose is impossible, you will have solid data – in shareable dashboards – to use to persuade your client to choose another date or to help prevent decision makers in your own company from committing to a deadline that is impossible.
Anchor dates and milestones can help you plan more carefully and to know, well in advance, when deadlines are possible – and when they aren’t.
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