When you run a project team, establishing deadlines can be one of the trickier aspects of the job, especially when you lead a remote or hybrid team. Stakeholders may be scattered across time zones. Some may work on a contract basis. Others may be part-timers. You may be leading people who don’t directly report to you.
One tested tactic for ensuring that you hit your objectives is to use a backward timeline, recommends the folks at Netrist, who use it as part of their Fractional CTO services, where they play the important role of CTO helping companies develop and execute (and more) an IT strategy for as long as a company needs them to do so.
The process is simple: You start with your ultimate deadline in mind and work backward to create your task list and actions item and apply due dates to each. The benefit? You learn almost immediately if you are working with a realistic finish date. Plus, you establish a clear plan that prepares people for the workload ahead so that team members can adjust the rest of their workload accordingly.
To work with a backward timeline, Netrist recommends these seven steps:
- Bring your goal into focus. What exactly do you want to accomplish? Define your goal and write it down in as specific terms as possible. Once the goal is clear, set a deadline for meeting it.
- Identify every step required to get there—going backwards. Think major steps at this point. You will need to identify your last step, next to last step, third to last and so on until you work your way back to the very first step. That forces you to think and prioritize differently than if you were using a forward-thinking approach.
- Drill down. For each major step, list even the most minute tasks. It’s often overlooked trivial tasks that cause issues and hold up projects, so give it some serious thought.
- Estimate the time it takes to complete each task. Some tasks will take minutes; others could take weeks or even months. Thinking through this part ensures that you start on the project early enough to finish on time without causing overwhelming stress as you near the deadline.
- Attach a deadline to each task. Assign specific due dates for each major step and supporting task. Start from your end date, and work backward until you’ve set a deadline for Step 1. To ensure that you don’t overwhelm the team or any individual member, consider other deadlines as you determine this project’s deadlines.
- Outline the resources you will need to complete each task. Note the people, tools, budget and anything else you will need to complete each task. Also note which resources you currently have available, which you do not, and what you need to do to ensure that your team has access to everything it needs, when it needs it.
- Seek feedback from other stakeholders. Ask them to review your outline and offer feedback on the steps, timeline and sequence. They will likely be able to point out anything you missed, unrealistic turnaround times and unnecessary steps. Once you’ve collected their feedback, update your outline as necessary, and lock in the deadlines.
Netrist creates customized web applications for companies of all sizes, developing software that does exactly what you need it to do. For more information on what they can do, including their Fractional CTO services, check out Netrist.com or call 1-855-NETRIST.