The Challenge Game

The underlying concept is to track schedule trends and use the movement to predict future events and/or to generate energy today to influence the future.

Challenge Targets are the most aggressive form of a schedule goal. Many times, Target Dates are confused with the “real” schedule. The Target Date is when something is “wanted,” but this is not always when it will be delivered. Knowing the gap between when it is wanted and when it can be delivered is one of the key factors that differentiated fast teams from the norm. Further, knowing this early, gave them enough time to take action to close the gap by; changing the way they did the work or how they defined the work effort—before-the-fact.

Let me explain with this simple example.

Working backwards from the final deliverable—Its Released—on project day 15, I have three macro activities that are required to release my new product. The duration of each task combined with the finish-to-start dependencies cause my product to be Released on day 15.

Now lets introduce a Target Date at day 12. This is my market-window for my new product. I must hit that date. I’m three days late given my current schedule. Notice I did not schedule backwards from the Target Date. This often leads to a schedule that “fits” the available time frame, but, at the end of the day does not finish on time—failing to recognize the real gap.

I’ll now introduce an even more aggressive Target Date called a “Challenge Target” on day nine. We use these to reflect an aggressive cycle-time reduction target. I’m challenging the team to accelerate the schedule even further.

One way to solve this schedule-gap is to Design and Build simultaneously. I get a pull-in to my Target Date. I would continue this process by Challenging assumptions, boundaries, and dominant ideas in order to pull the schedule back to the Challenge Target Date. We’ve achieved major breakthroughs in cycle-time acceleration using this Challenge Method. When you have enough time to solve a problem, you usually can find a solution. This before-the-fact behavior is a key characteristic of high performers.

Lets see how this concept is implemented using fastProject.

In this example the green arrow is the Challenge Target, the red star is the Target Date, and the blue diamond is the calculated end date. As I change the duration of the tasks, we can see how the schedule is pulled-in. We want to keep the end date flexible so we can see how it moves, either in or out depending on the progress of the project. What I really need to know is, “What is the Trend of this milestone, is it good or bad?” If is it slipping, and I have enough advanced warning, I will be able to take actions today that will improve my chances of finishing on time.

This is what the Trend line looks like on the Wigglechart. The yellow dot is the end of my project (i.e. the blue diamond.) My Challenge Target Date is 3.11, while my Target Date is 3.16. As of 2.28, looking forward this is my outlook going forward. Above the line is bad, below the line is good.

Jumping ahead in time, I’ve updated the Design task, indicated by the green bar up to the Current Date. This actually caused a pull-in since the Remaining Duration of the Design work will take less time than anticipated. I now realize I can get it done faster. This pull-in is reflected on the Wigglechart as a second dot, recorded today. A yellow dot indicates that I have 2 or less days to pull-in per week, a green dot would mean that I have 1 day or less per week to pull-in, and a red dot would tell me I have greater than 2 days per week to accelerate the schedule in order to hit my target.

I’ll continue updating to see how the model behaves. In my second update, I’ve started the Build task sooner than I’d planned and I’ll overlap the Validate task to get another schedule pull-in. Notice that my third tracking dot on the Wigglechart turned green as I get closer to my Target Date.

Speeding up time, I’m now on Tuesday morning of the second week of my project and have updated to Monday night. The Validation task has a Remaining Duration that has increased. Lets look at the impact on the Wigglechart. My chances of hitting the Challenge Target are low at this point in time, but I still have a chance of meeting my Target Date. This is all about seeing problems early enough, so I have time to fix them, before-the-fact.

Notice the slip is indicated by the forth dot, which is going up and away from the target line.