mythbusters ran a pirate episode once where they tried to see if you could escape from being burried to your neck in sand. as they found out, it’s impossible to escape from wet sand because as you move some sand away to clear space to move, more water and sand will fill up that space. it provides you with no wiggle room to free your limbs and your body from the sand.

perhaps the most important part of projectmanagementwhen creating schedules for work is the inclusion of wiggle room. there are issues that occur when working on projects—large or small. some of these issues are known, and some are unknown, and some are even known to be unknown in that you know the issue will occur, but not when or what impact it would have on the project. as much as we’d like to—the fact of the matter is that we cannot fully remove all risks and issues from a project. what we can do, however, is to study those risks and issues and minimize their effects. one of the best ways to do this is by scheduling wiggle room.

on a project, you might come across a piece of work that takes too long. a task that—for whatever the reason—doesn’t go as you expected that it should. it could be as simple as having your main resource who’s working on the core programming come down with a cold or virus that leaves her out of the office sick for 3-4 days. it could be something as drastic as funding suddenly being removed from your project because it needs to be allocated to something more important. this is actually fairly common in my experience, and one of the only recourses to help guard against the entire project becoming derailed is to include time into the schedule to deal with these kinds of unforeseen issues.

think about it as buying shoes. sometimes you find a shoe that fits when you’re standing. it hugs those parts of your foot that a shoe should hug. it provides support for your ankle, or your arches, or is either narrow or wide enough to fit the top of your foot comfortably. and sometimes that shoe, when you walk, becomes too tight andabrasive. it causes pain,calluses, sometimes bleeding if the sore is bad enough.

you wouldn’t buy that shoe, would you? so why would you sell that kind of a project to your team and to the client? if you look at a project’s schedule, and say “best case we can make deliver this on [x] date,” don’t ever give that date to the client. i can almost guarantee you that—like the shoes—you will feel an instant pain and pressure, suffer long-term stress and discomfort, and possibly ‘bleed’ your company through losing a client, or damaging other projects because of having to scramble to get the project back on schedule.

wiggle room should be built-in. the schedule should be in keeping with the expectations of the work, but also have some time allocated for dealing with issues that you might find in doing the work, problems found in testing, problems during the implementation, or problems like the unforeseen issues i had mentioned above.

bad situations happen in project management, and you’ll find yourself up to your neck sometimes. but you can breathe a little easier next time knowing you have that wiggle room to get yourself out of a tough spot.