Do projects ever end early?

For a while I was an active participant in the StackExchange Project Management beta site.

One of the 6 questions I asked was Do projects ever end early?

The fascinating part of this was that it has been viewed about 6,400 times and generated 14 answers! 
(That's a lot of traffic for a site that has been in beta for almost 6 years because it averages a mere 1.5 questions per day. It needs 10 new questions per day to get out of beta.)

It seems that a lot of people are wondering the same thing: Do projects ever end early?

The question I posed was:
When scheduling, I tend to add a lot of reality into the guesstimates I am provided with.
I always add in generous amounts of probable sick days for manpower and extra time for integration and bug fixing. (All this based on decades of experience.)
As a result, my projects tend to deliver on schedule. But they never finish earlier than expected.
Now I'm wondering if the projects would deliver earlier if I didn't pad the schedule as much.
Would everything move a little faster if the teams had the incentive to meet deadlines based on the data they provided, as opposed to the padded ones I provide?
Or put another way: Does work expand to fill up available time?

To see the diverse answers, you'll have to go to the site - way too much to paste here.

But the bottom line remains that with a realistic schedule you could finish on time and possibly early.

A realistic schedule is not based on when the customer (or boss, or calendar, etc.) wants it done.

A realistic schedule is created by finalising the spec and then having an experienced Technical Project Manager create a schedule based on input from those doing the work. This schedule will include time for integration, testing and sick leave, amongst other things.

Note that I wrote based on input from those doing the work. An experienced and Technical Project Manager will have a pretty good feel how to take those guesstimates and morph them into a schedule.

E.g.: An experienced and Technical Project Manager will know that people do not realistically work 9 full hours a day, and that no task can take less than a few hours. More about that another time.

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Do Projects Ever End Early?

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