Dear PM Advisor. Aug 26, 2013

Dear PM Advisor,
How do you handle overly optimistic folks - those who commit to deliver too much in an impossibly short time?
How do you handle them when senior management loves what they are saying?
If I object - I'm seen as 'not having a positive attitude.'
Just Another Engineer
Dear Engineer,
I love those optimistic folks. I'm one myself. But I imagine your concern is that they commit themselves to unrealistic timelines which ends up delaying the overall project. So let's focus on that aspect of their personalities.
As a Project Manager, during the planning phase, you need to have Team Members commit to hours of effort and duration for the tasks for which they take responsibility. They should make those commitments in front of their peers so that they are more likely to live up to those commitments. If you don't believe their commitments are doable, now is not the time to say so.
But when the project is fully planned, you need to look at their time committed to this project based on all these individual commitments and compare that to the time they are actually available on the project. And when they are over-committed, you need to increase the durations or slip tasks to ensure they can work within their resource constraints. But that did not address any low estimates they may have made. Once again, now is not the time to say anything.
Wait until the project gets going. Then manage their time on task more carefully than you would manage those whose time seemed more reasonable during planning. If they live up to their commitments, you are golden. More likely, they will not be able to meet those aggressive timelines. Gather your facts.
When you have enough data to convince them, show them the facts in a Gantt chart with Baseline Start and Finish Dates. Your conversation should go along these lines. "On the first three tasks you actually completed them in twice the duration you planned. Is this a systemic problem or a one-time problem? If this is systemic, what do you say we double the durations of all your subsequent tasks and put it down to being overly optimistic? If it's a one-time problem, what was the exact nature of the delay and let's figure out how to prevent that happening again in the future."
That should solve the immediate problem and force them to make better estimates on future projects.
As to the management who loves the optimist's estimates, make sure they are copied on the status report that shows that we are doubling the optimist's estimates in the future and why.
Good luck,
PM Advisor
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