how to teach managers to forecast

how to teach managers to forecast

Greeting! I am Natalya Tarasova, head of the project office at AGIMA. Today I want to talk about one of the most important qualities in custom development — the ability to forecast. To say otherwise is to fall into expectations, and first of all, into your own. It will be useful for all project managers and their supervisors.

In custom development, we hone the skill of forecasting every day, and the longer a specialist has been in the agency business, the better he is able to do it. A question along the lines of “How can we make developers give more accurate estimates?” — almost always from the guys not from the commissioned development, but from the product.

But the team leaders will tell you better about the developers, and I would like to talk about the managers.

How we forecast at AGIMA

At AGIMA, all project managers participate in management accounting: forecasts of project volumes are expected from each RP. Moreover, the volume of work is not as important as the accuracy of forecasts, because it is easier to deal with a drop in volumes than with unexpected falling volumes.

Unexpected growth also has its pitfalls. Unexpected growth can create a collapse in production, as well as a less obvious but serious problem – errors in planning by the company’s management.

For example, the RP was not sure that the customer would entrust us with more work on the project and informed the management that money could not be expected. In the meantime, managers were deciding whether or not to hold an important meeting that would attract new customers. Since money is not expected at the moment, they decide not to hold the meeting. As a result, the customer extends the contract and brings money, but the right moment has already been lost. Thanks, of course, but the sediment remained.

And this is the lightest example. Company managers simultaneously solve a huge number of different issues, mostly with the help of money. In order to make decisions, managers must know in advance about the arrival/care of this money. Hire a new expensive specialist? Should we keep the current one by increasing his salary? Or maybe buy a second refrigerator for the office, which everyone has been waiting for for a long time? All this needs to be planned. And here you, as a manager, either help this process, or put cogs in the wheels.

How to achieve effective planning

How to make a plan is clear: you set the rules, organize the process, regularly monitor it. Everyone does it one way or another. But how to achieve effective planning from each participant?

Almost everyone uses the same method, but either they don’t want to admit it, or they adapt it and call it something else. Probably, there is a special term in psychology, for example, manipulation (I don’t like it), but I called this method. controlled self-conflict.

The main task of self-conflict is to make the person to whom you ask a question doubt all possible answer options, but grope the boundaries and emerge with an accurate prediction.

At AGIMA, we plan three months in advance: the current month + the next 2. It is during this period that the RP must clearly understand what to expect from the project: what is the customer’s backlog, will there be changes in the team, when we agree on the final result and receive the acts?

If you are an inexperienced manager, all these questions are terribly intimidating. How can I name the exact time when the customer will agree to everything? What if he doesn’t want to? What if we don’t have time? Out of fear, an inexperienced manager becomes pessimistic, or on the contrary, has too much faith in people and promises too much. Both options are non-working.

Here one cannot do without the help of the manager. His task is not only to get answers to questions, but to teach the manager to make predictions and defend them, up to a fight.

Training can be soft or hard – it depends on the manager. I am in favor of the option where it is effective, so at the beginning it is worth understanding the manager’s motives and character. Here are some examples:

Here it is important to recognize these behavior patterns in time, not to confuse them and to understand what exactly the manager is protecting – the accuracy of forecasts or his personal motives. The manager needs to achieve the first.

Next is the pulp. It is necessary to ensure that the manager:

  • realized that each of his predictions can be questioned;

  • began to doubt his decisions;

  • together with the manager, and he himself, adjusted the forecasts;

  • gradually calibrated and improved his ability to forecast;

  • eventually learned to prepare answers even to questions;

  • learned to forecast better than the manager.

Example 1: “Let’s throw another month”

Introductory: design concept works. It is planned to close with an act of 200 thousand rubles in two weeks.

At this moment, the manager made RP strongly doubt his forecast (and also the adequacy of the customer). And now the RP is ready to push back the project handover date. But the project is at the final stage, and waiting another month for its completion is not a thing at all. Here the manager starts to spin the flywheel in the other direction:

In this completely fictional, but similar to real dialogue, we were able to do the following:

  • put risks in the project;

  • emphasized the responsibility of the RP for the result and terms;

  • they did not allow the project to go into a quagmire, when no one knows when it will end;

  • forced the RP to think about aspects that may affect the project;

  • emphasized the importance of risks by showing the difference between adequate and not.

Example 2: And how to predict it? Any. But you can foresee the risk”

Introductory: developer N has been working on the project for six months. It consistently performs tasks and closes volumes.

We cannot know 100% what will happen tomorrow even with the most reliable developer. Not to mention the prospect for months ahead. But we do not reject the “reliability level”, on the contrary, we set it as one of the criteria when planning work.

10-15% will not spoil the overall picture in planning. And RP should take into account that this is precisely pessimism, and not a hundred percent plan. It should be clear to the manager and everyone to whom he shows his plan.

At the same time, you should not play around with risk management and offer the safest minimum of work in the event of a volcanic eruption. Plus, you should always keep in mind the possibility of project development, which moves planning in a positive direction.

Example 3: “It turns out, we risk in a square”

Introductory: we are preparing a plan-schedule for the customer. At the same time, he already has exact project delivery dates. RP made a schedule that exactly coincides with the customer’s expectations. Suspicious? Wrong word.

You did not break the result of the RP’s work and did not make him afraid of difficulties on the project. On the contrary, you agree that the schedule is not bad, but there are dangerous places in it that can be fixed without sacrificing time. You also increased the RP’s confidence in quality processing, but provided for force majeure.

Checklist for self-conflict

Of course, at first you will have to conduct such Socratic dialogues often. But then your questions will become a checklist in the head of the RP during budget planning. These questions to yourself are a self-conflict. They may differ, but they are united by the doubt “Am I sure that…”:

  • Will the task be completed by the deadline that I marked (I was marked)?

  • will the task be agreed on the deadline according to the contract?

  • won’t the contractors let us down?

  • Do our expectations and the customer’s budget match?

  • Are there any controversial issues that may arise in the task?

  • will each participant in the process justify the percentage I put on him?

  • is everyone subject to the arrangements aware of and in agreement with the arrangements?

And the reverse doubt. “Am I sure that…”:

  • is that all we can do?

  • will it take us that long?

  • do we not have the opportunity to improve efficiency?

  • Are you expecting new ideas and suggestions from us?

  • will the customer not like new ideas and proposals?

  • do I know all the participants in the process so much that my ideas about them correspond to my plans?

  • did I make a plan rationally, and not from the pressure of responsibility?

Incredibly annoying questions, right? But you have to learn to answer them first to yourself, and then boldly defend the decision in front of the manager.

I gave in my examples mixed method of planning, but it is better to do it in stages:

  1. At the first meeting, you talked about all the pessimistic risks and made a pessimistic forecast.

  2. At the second meeting, let’s say in a week, you consider opportunities instead of risks from the position of a pessimistic forecast.

  3. The further you go, the more you calibrate and come to success.

It may seem that you push the RP into an emotional swing and drive him into eternal doubts. But it is from this position of internal self-conflict that a manager can become a real pro and fend off attacks better than his boss.

And the main thing is not to overdo it. You should find your own approach to each person. Good luck!

We write a lot about project management in our TG channel. So come if you are interested 🙂

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