As part of my series on simple business metrics, I write this elaboration on metric #6 – Project Length., to wit, how long should a project last from start to finish. This might sound like an odd thing to track, but hear me out. And yes, I know that longer project lengths can be a sign of larger projects.
I’ve found that I usually set (within certain limits) the duration of my projects. The client then modifies the duration based on my starting point, and then the actual duration drifts in either direction. I’ve found that I am well served by getting the initial project length right. Here are some positive and negatives I’ve come across over the years:
Positives of a short project length
- You get paid faster
- Less time for scope creep
- Fewer chances for the client to shift project managers
- The problem remains fresh and painful, so the client will be grateful when you deliver
- The assumptions you are basing your solution remain true
Negatives of a short project length
- They are much less pleasant
- You can’t time shift (for example if you get a change to bid on a new project, you simply can’t fit it in)
- Less room to adapt to sudden problems
- External disruptions are costly
- Less time to pay off your technical debt
Positives of a long project length
- A moderate project pace is pleasant
- You can be thorough
- External disruptions are more manageable
- You can work new opportunities into the project schedule
Negatives of a long project length
- You get paid later than you would otherwise be
- Far more time for scope creep
- Project managers can change at the client
- New project managers can be added to the project
- The assumptions you based your solution on will get out of date
- If the project lasts for a sufficiently long period of time the client will get resentful of having to pay for something which is (sort of) out of date.
So, why is measuring project length important? Since project length is largely a collection of trade offs, it’s best to get the trade offs you prefer. If you find yourself never able to pay off any technical debt like you used to, or beset by problems with new project manages at the client, see if you average project length is increasing.
This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog - as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.