Forcing functions

As a manager you are responsible for meeting schedules, for software development, for product launches, for raising capital, for whatever. Schedules are a fact of life in startups. So is schedule slippage.

As a product manager faced with this problem I discovered a useful tool: the forcing function. What is a forcing function? It’s an external force that acts as a force multiplier to someone struggling to keep a project on schedule.

The best forcing function can be an external date, set by a 3rd party over whom you and your company have no control. For example, setting product release schedules based on launching at an industry trade show works very well. Those dates are set well in advance, rarely if ever change, and missing them can carry a high cost to the company. There are dozens of these every year. Make use of them.

Another forcing function is a VIP visit. Companies always want to show off their latest and greatest stuff to visiting VIPs. The bigger the VIP the further out that visit date usually is, and the more important having your product perform flawlessly.

New projects or products on the company’s roadmap can also be a forcing function, assuming your team is working serially. Development has got to end in order to start something new – on time. Developers tend to like building new stuff rather than debugging and optimizing old stuff.

Scheduling is tough. Keeping programmers, who by the nature of software, have difficulty projecting completion dates, to a pre-set time table is very difficult. Yet another reason to develop small modules quickly rather than large, monolithic products slowly. The shorter the interval, the higher the probability that the projected time to completion will be accurate.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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