Project Management

Is Your Date Do-Able? Try Rough-Cut Timeboxing: The Work-Back Model

Lonnie Pacelli is an Accenture/Microsoft veteran with four decades of learnings under his belt. He frequently writes and speaks on leadership, project management, work/life balance, and disability inclusion. Reach him at [email protected] and see more at

As project managers, we’ve likely been faced with getting a one-line explanation of what a sponsor needs—along with a deadline. Depending on the organization, there could be a range of responses—from doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation, getting people in a room to estimate the work, or using a comparative initiative to assess feasibility.

Now, I’m not here to criticize your organization’s approach, but I have found that having something that enables the PM to rough-cut an initiative using some standards can be helpful in providing a lens on whether a date is even remotely achievable. This is where the work-back timebox model comes in.

I’m a huge fan of rough-cut timeboxing, where you subdivide the software development lifecycle into discrete chunks of work, rough-cut estimate the discrete chunks, then aggregate up to an overall rough-cut schedule. Doing so helps take some of the guesswork out of a rough-cut schedule and ensure major chunks of work (like UAT, for instance) don’t get forgotten when developing the rough-cut schedule.

Now, I would never say that rough-cut timeboxing is the magic pill that allows you to commit to dates without understanding the detail; you still need to go through the requirements and design process and put together a detailed schedule to execute the work. This just gives you an idea when you …

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"Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious and immature."

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