I recently sat through a status presentation. The team lead explained that the project was late and they would complete it in December. That was not the best news, but it wasn't too bad: just about a month slip. Or was it?
What was the project leader trying to communicate by saying December? When we give dates with a month granularity, such as December instead of December 18th, we play a little game with our audience. We are trying to give ourselves until the end of the month, while allowing the audience the hope that an earlier date is possible.
In this case, with the date only a month away, there is no excuse for the project leader not to have a better handle on the schedule and provide finer granularity on the date. Note that with a December date, November is early and January is late. But with a December 18th date, December 12th is early and December 22nd is late.
My challenge to leaders is not to fall back on the trick of giving dates with month granularity. If you want to give yourself leeway to use the whole month, show some integrity and say December 30th. This gives full notice to your audience to object if the 30th is a problem.
You can also extend this to quarter granularity estimates. Rather than saying Q4CY07, say December '07. Note that in this case the date is far enough out that you may really want to communicate that slips are on the order of months not days. By saying December '07, you are communicating that a schedule slip moves you out to January or February. Saying Q4CY07 is not a commitment to get the project done by the end of the quarter at all costs. It sets a granularity of a quarter on the accuracy of the estimate. That is, a slip could be out to Q1 or Q2CY08. A project leader shooting for the end of the quarter at all costs should be giving estimates of either October '07 or November 30th, 2007.