CTO Compass

Hitting your target: Identifying the final decision point to maximise project success

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Have you ever found yourself scrambling at the eleventh hour to deliver a project on time?

If you know when the point of no return is — your final decision point (FDP) — you will have an easier life, and your project’s stakeholders will be happier.

The Stoic Archer

One of the central concepts in Stoic philosophy is the circle of control—knowing what is up to you and what isn’t. The Stoics illustrated this concept with the great analogy of an archer.

Up until the point at which the archer lets the arrow fly, the archer is in control of how much training and practice they can do. They can ensure their equipment is in good order – that the bow is tightly strung, the arrowhead is sharp, and the fletches on the arrow are straight. They can practice controlling their physiology and how much they strengthen their bodies, and they can choose exactly when to release the arrow, given the environmental conditions.

It is up to them to decide to do everything possible up to the point of releasing the arrow, but when it’s loosed, then it’s down to fate. That moment is their final decision point.

Planning as a discipline

As leaders and managers, that means looking at what we have control over. For example, we can dedicate time and effort to coaching and improving our team’s skills, identifying and working on the most important ones. We can choose to invest in good quality equipment and its maintenance to ensure that the skills can be put into action to execute the project without breakdowns, etc. Perhaps we mitigate the risks of that further by having spare kit ready to go with systems and processes in place to ensure it can be replaced quickly. For us, that also means we take the time to automate the application’s project setup so that the team member is back up and running quickly without hassle or further wasted time.

Planning is all about what control you have over a given situation. While planning, as an activity, is often uncomfortable, research has shown that compared to just imagining you’re a winner or that the project is a success, visualising and having a more realistic idea in our minds about the steps and work needed to get it done not only helps you perform better, but it boosts your motivation for the project as a whole.

Defining your project’s Final Decision Point

In software development, especially as an agency, it’s in everyone’s interest to deliver a software project on time and on budget. Clients always have a budget and/or deadline they want to hit. We will have the next project lined up and ready to begin, so knowing that the current project will be all wrapped up with no loose ends means that the next one can start on time, and the team won’t be distracted by having to switch to mop up the final pieces.

To do that, we need to know when we must have it ready. It’s not the project’s final due date. That’s when the budget runs out or when there is a hard deadline for the software to be live in production.

The application must be ready long before then because the client needs time to review and potentially request changes. There has to be time for handling any bugs or other snags, which is somewhat unknowable, but we can make reasonable estimates based on our prior experience and the project up to that point.

Similarly, we aren’t in total control of how much testing the client actually does and when they will approve all the work, so we have to factor in for these uncontrollables and do what we can to manage the client.

For us at Foxsoft, we’ll also want to ensure that project knowledge is documented and shared to be formally handed over into the support and maintenance phase. This is how we deal with any final issues post-launch promptly without derailing new projects that are starting.

Taking these and other things into account, we know when our final decision point must be. Knowing that we can plan ahead and make better decisions leading up to it. We can use the FDP and progress toward it to know when the scope might need to be cut or find acceptable alternative solutions to a given problem.

Plans matter, but the most valuable thing is not the plan itself; it’s the act of planning. Inevitably, for anything remotely complex, the plan will need to change when new information comes to light. It is a constant, dynamic dance that requires continual planning, reflecting and communication.

All projects carry some risk; otherwise, why bother doing them? However, like the Stoic Archer, by taking a disciplined and organised approach to our work, we can think ahead and be prepared for the things we know are likely to happen and mitigate them, as well as have preparatory plans for the unknown so that when we reach the inevitable point of releasing the arrow, we can comfortably say we did everything we could to make the project a success.

⚡️ Thinking Time ⚡️

Use your Thinking Time to consider how you currently tackle projects. What strategies are you using to plan your projects, and are they working for you?

If you have a project that needs planning, consider using the FDP strategy to help you identify when things must be done and consider potential risks and mitigating actions you could take or be prepared for should they occur during the project.

Plan for what you know will happen or must happen. Account for things you don’t know will happen but are fairly likely to happen (or at least some of them). Assess the risk and likelihood of these events to decide how much effort you should spend to mitigate them (or not).

Account for things that you can’t know with contingency time. This is an assessment to cover some of the less likely things and for other things that will crop up that you cannot know in advance. There’s always a risk here to under/over estimate, but clear lines and continual communication to stakeholders so they can assess and make good decisions is central.

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