3 Strategies to Forecast Delivery Dates and Manage Stakeholder Expectations (for Software Development Teams)
It’s Thursday evening, almost 6pm, and I’m just wrapping up my workweek. It’s been a long one!
I can hear my husband pulling into the driveway. Our two little troublemakers jump out of the car, giggling and screaming with excitement.
“Mommy, mommy, I’m hungry! I’m hungry!” Oh no. There’s nothing in the fridge that can be prepared in less than an hour. And honestly, cooking is the last thing I want to do right now. Pizza time it is!
So here I am, browsing through the menu of a local pizza place. Alright, I need a classic Margherita pizza (you know, just tomato sauce and mozzarella). And it needs to be delivered in less than 20 minutes. Ah, there it is, they have a “20-min delivery guarantee.” Perfect!
Fast forward 40 minutes, and the pizza still hasn’t arrived. I’m growing increasingly impatient as the kids argue over every little thing.
Finally, the doorbell rings. Despite the delay, I still give the delivery guy a tip. It’s not his fault, and I have a soft spot for people who deliver the work (occupational hazard, you know?).
Time for a reflection. Will I order from that restaurant again? Absolutely not!
Don’t get me wrong, the pizza was delicious, but that’s just not enough. They failed to fulfill their commitment. They lost a customer.
Why Teams Miss Deadlines
Now, let’s talk about something that might sound familiar to you:
Your team constantly underestimate how long it takes to complete certain features. As a result, you struggle to meet deadlines, and it’s hard to gain trust and credibility with your stakeholders.
If this rings a bell, I want you to take a step back and think about the root cause of the problem.
You may think that the reason is they just overcommit.
The main reason teams fail to meet their deadlines is that they don’t manage their work effectively.
Many times, the focus is solely on the end date, and little attention is given to team efficiency and delivery speed.
You need to keep your finger on the pulse of the work and identify and eliminate the obstacles that slow you down. This process is continuous and begins as soon as your team initiates their work.
3 Strategies to Avoid Delivery Delays and Meet Stakeholder Expectations
Let’s explore three effective strategies that can help you proactively prevent delivery delays and ensure that your stakeholders are consistently pleased with your outcomes.
#1 Stay on Top of Your Work
Making accurate delivery commitments becomes a whole lot easier when you have clear visibility and reliable data to guide your decisions. The key lies in tracking the progress of your work.
Our aim is to ensure that each bug, improvement or feature stays within a reasonable timeframe.
Enter the Aging Chart. It follows the same visual format as your Kanban board, with columns representing different stages in your workflow. It provides a snapshot of how long each task has been in progress.
The chart includes colored zones which serve as a timeline. They visually represent the time your completed work items have spent in progress as they move through each stage.
Now, pay attention to the red zones. If any of your tasks venture into these areas, it means they are taking significantly longer than previous tasks. These tasks are being delayed.
By regularly monitoring your work in progress, you’ll quickly identify any issues in your workflow and find where they are coming from.
This knowledge alone will enable you to have productive discussions with your team on how to effectively collaborate and resolve any challenges that arise.
Deal with the items in the red zones directly and prioritize moving them through the workflow.
By quickly resolving these issues, you’ll inevitably keep up your delivery speed.
#2 Make Probabilistic Forecasts
Probabilistic forecasting is a game-changer when it comes to meeting deadlines and managing expectations. It’s a method that takes into account the uncertainties and risks involved in product development.
Instead of relying on single certain delivery dates, which are often inaccurate, probabilistic forecasting provides a range of possible outcomes based on historical data and statistical analysis. This approach allows you to make more informed decisions and set realistic expectations.
When it comes to forecasting delivery dates, we use the Cycle Time Scatterplot.
This chart shows completed tasks as dots on a plot, with their finished dates and durations.
The horizontal dotted lines on the graph are called percentile lines. They help us understand how much time is needed to finish our work.
For example, the 50th percentile on the Scatterplot points to 2 days. This means that half of the tasks took up to 2 days to finish. So, there’s a 50% chance of completing any task within 2 days. We also know that there’s an 85% chance of delivering any item in up to 8 days.
Now, let’s clarify something. We’re not saying it will take exactly 8 days to finish the work. We’re committing to delivering it in less than 8 days, and there’s an 85% chance we’ll meet that target. It might even take less time, but it won’t exceed 8 days.
By embracing probabilistic forecasting, you can make reliable data-driven commitments and effectively mitigate risks. You gain a deeper understanding of the factors that can impact delivery, and you can plan accordingly.
This method empowers you to communicate with stakeholders more confidently, as you have a range of possible outcomes to discuss. It helps build trust and credibility with your clients and team members, as you demonstrate transparency and a data-driven approach.
#3 Acquire and Analyze
At this point you may be thinking: “I get why probabilistic forecasting makes the most sense for our product – but what if we don’t have enough data right now? What if we have the data but it’s not relevant at all?”
Then you go and get the data.
Here’s the thing. You don’t need a year’s worth; quality over quantity is what matters here. 20 to 30 completed items should be enough to get you started.
Keep in mind that if your team is totally new to using probabilistic forecasting, you’ll want to introduce it gradually. Here is a very simple, yet effective strategy to get you started. Your team needs time to transition and adapt.
Here’s the thing, the one and only prerequisite to making probabilistic forecasting work is to optimize your system for predictability.
As you take control of your management practices, the numbers and results will come to speak for themselves and you, your teams and stakeholders will notice your performance improving and your delivery commitments becoming much more predictable.
Here’s what you can do today: If you haven’t done so yet, connect Nave’s analytics suite to your current management platform (you can try it free for 14 days) →
Once you’re all set up, analyze your data and make a probabilistic forecast. Then, reach out to me on LinkedIn to share your observations. I’m eager to hear what you uncover and give you some tailored advice on how to make the most of your data.
Making reliable delivery commitments requires a proactive approach and the right tools. Remember, it’s not just about delivering on time; it’s also about delivering with quality and reliability.
By implementing these strategies, you can build a solid foundation for your management methods and create a positive impact on your team’s performance and stakeholder satisfaction.
So, my friend, take a moment to reflect on your current practices and consider incorporating these techniques. You’ll save yourself from unnecessary stress and achieve better outcomes with your products.
I hope these insights help you on your journey towards building better products faster. If you have any questions or need further guidance, feel free to reach out. Wishing you a productive and fulfilling project management experience and I’ll see you next week, same time and place. Bye for now.
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.