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Aim For The Boat So You Miss

April 24, 2014

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(Photo credit; Hellomrowl.wordpress.com)

When we were kids, my friends and I used to build boats out of blocks of wood and float them down the rain gutters. We would man the boats with little plastic army men and then stand a ways away and attack them with rocks. The evasive maneuvers the boats executed were quite impressive. Sometimes the army men would even survive undrenched.

We quickly learned that if you aim at the boat when you are getting ready to throw, you’ll miss every time. Instead, you had to aim a ways ahead. The farther away you were, the more of a lead you had to give the boat.

I have friends at Microsoft who use this technique to schedule vacations. A software project like Windows, or Office can last for one to three years. During that time you have tons of release dates: Alpha, Beta I, Beta II, Pre-view, Release to Manufacturing, Ship.

Project and program managers spend long hours in Excel and Microsoft Project software to calculate exactly how long it will take to meet each date. They really put a lot of time into these projections. . .and they are always, ALWAYS wrong.

And just like my boats in the gutter, the further away (weird that this is one time where farther and further are almost interchangeable) anyway, the further away the target date is, the more likely it will be to slip.

So, what’s this have to do with vacations? A lot.

As you near a major milestone the entire development team puts in long hours. You see a lot less of your family. You pay a neighbor kid to mow the grass because you never see your house. You basically go on a death march to meet the deliverable. Once you’ve hit the milestone and the software is off to Beta or Manufacturing or whatever, you take a breather. That’s when you schedule some quality family time.

That’s especially true with the final release to manufacturing (RTM) version.That is your shipping version. Once that is shipped, you’re done until you start on the service packs.

Most people would schedule some vacation for the time after you ship. Maybe take the kids to Disneyland. Maybe reserve tickets for a trip to Hawaii. Maybe a cruise.

The problem is PM’s dates ALWAYS slip. If you plan your vacation in advance for the week after the ship date, you’re going to miss it. You’re going to be working that week. If you plan it for a month after ship, you might still be working. So, how do you figure it out? How do you pick a vacation date?

Easy. You schedule it for the week you are planning to ship.

On the surface this looks crazy. And the first couple times I saw someone try it I thought they were nuts. . and very lucky that the product slipped enough that they didn’t lose their deposit on the Disneyland tickets.

And then I realized that these PMs weren’t lucky, they were just experienced. The time you can guarantee you won’t have a conflict is on your ship date that is six months in the future. You will still be in the development mode at the point your vacation comes up, but if you plan it far enough in advance the ship date will have slipped far enough into the future that you won’t be in death march mode yet.

So sometimes you need to aim for the boat knowing you will miss.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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