How to Manage Scheduling Surprises During Customer Validation

Surprises? Never. When it comes to scheduling, we always know exactly when our releases are going into delta. We’re never caught off guard by unexpected critical issues. Our releases roll out continuously, without disruption, just like clockwork. In fact, we write our schedule in ink (or we would if we weren’t, you know, using a computer).

Alright, that’s not how it works. As an engineering project manager at Centercode, I’d love to sit here and say that I always know when a build is going into Customer Validation months in advance. And don’t get me wrong — working closely with the dev and CV teams makes my job a lot easier. But when you’re working in an agile environment, even an amazing team can’t guarantee a bulletproof schedule.

It takes a lot of effort to stay on top of our sprint release schedule. A sprint affords plenty of time to discuss the release with our testing team and lean on their expertise before we set up the test. Realistically though, things don’t always run smoothly. Unexpected disruptions (bugs escaping automation or stakeholders’ insistence at rearranging the test schedule, for example) have at times forced me to compress our schedule from weeks to just days.

As a project manager, you know you can’t avoid surprises during your regularly scheduled programming. What you can do is use basic project management tactics to keep the lines of communication open, mitigate risks, and steer a clear path forward. Here are a few tips on using those skills to keep your team calm, productive, and moving forward in the middle of a scheduling crisis.

Number One Scheduling Tip? Don’t Panic.

Continuous Customer Validation is our core competency, but that doesn’t mean we don’t run into challenges. We recently caught a critical issue in one of the features we believed would take a few days to fix — not ideal when you’re planning to release the new build in just a few days.

At times like this, teams will feed off the attitude of the person in charge. So, to take a tip from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: don’t panic. Staying calm is the first step toward controlling the situation.

Our company mantra

Communicate with Your Team

Giving bad news is sometimes part of the project manager’s job, but keeping everyone on the same page softens the blow. I meet weekly with our Customer Validation team so they’re familiar with the new releases before they go into delta. When critical issues like the one I just mentioned pop up, they aren’t blindsided because they’re already in the loop. In this case, I let them know we wouldn’t be able to test that particular feature and they understood the situation immediately.

Minimize the Risks

Our CEO Luke Freiler often says, “The only constant in beta is delay.” You can’t foresee surprises, but you can mitigate adverse effects by establishing protocols ahead of time. Building buffer time into your schedule, thinking critically about your contingency plans, and communicating those plans to your team are all part of proactive risk management. Like an earthquake drill (yes, we have those in California), it’s important to have a pre-established plan just in case.

Within the weekly conversations I conduct with our services team, we discuss potential risks and brainstorm ways to minimize their impact. That’s why we were able to pivot so quickly when this critical issue surprised us; we had already established an action plan. Once I communicated that a critical issue had forced us to change our test schedule, the CV team was able to adjust the release test plan without sacrificing much time or effort.

What You Can’t Do (and What You Can)

As it happened, our dev and QA teams crushed the critical issue and we were able to keep to the original schedule in the end. It doesn’t always work out this well — but it always helps to maintain constant communication, minimize risks, and keep a cool head.

It’s no one’s fault when scheduling surprises pop up. Bugs, delays, and other unexpected issues are par for the course. While you don’t always know exactly what’s coming, you can hone your project management skills to get better at handling it. You’ll sleep better knowing you’re taking steps every day to prepare your team for worst-case scenarios.

Hear more project management experiences from inside Centercode by joining a live Q&A session with Bryan Foley and Tom Peelen, PMP, on Tuesday, December 17th.

Register Now for the Live Q&A on December 17th

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