It was another dark and stormy night. I was sitting at my desk, reading the stenciled letters across my frosted glass office door, yrrebpsaR ylnatS, evitceteD etavirP, when I got a call from my point of contact at the Project Homicide Division, Cameron.
“Get down to the Monolithic Mansion Project Office – there’s been a bloody overrun. I’ve collected all of the suspects in the Hatfield Conference Room.”
“The what conference room?”
“It’s in the basement. It’s named after some obscure ProjectManagement.com blogger. Just get down here.”
I drove through the rain to the Project Office, and was escorted down to the basement conference room where the principals from the Project Team, executives from the customer’s organization, and Cameron were gathered around a large table. The room had been converted in to some sort of project “war room.” Gantt Charts on ANSI E-sized plots and those insidious traffic light charts hung on the walls, like giant garish but unframed children’s art projects. Another Gantt Chart plot was on the table, the subject of everyone’s interest. A quick glance revealed why: the bright red status bar extended well beyond the Project Complete milestone. A nearby Cost Performance Report (Format I) showed, in the lower right-hand corner, a humongous negative Variance at Completion. Yes, a gravely serious PM crime had been committed, and everyone in the room seemed to have a different opinion about who was responsible. I took a seat near the wall, and listened as Poor Initial Estimate was in the middle of a heated exchange.
“I know everyone likes to believe that I’m responsible for this project disaster, but it couldn’t have been me! I’ve been completely consistent with all the commercial project cost databases for this type of project from the get-go!”
One rather slovenly fellow was quick to respond.
“If that’s the case,” began Poor Performance, “how do you explain your presence in almost all of the Variance Analysis Reports?”
“All of you always blame me, but it’s virtually never my fault! At this point, it’s almost as clichéd as the butler committing a murder in a mystery novel! Even though I get most of the blame, it’s been my experience that it’s you, Poor Performance, who’s usually guilty, but no one likes to admit it!”
“Not so” Poor Performance began. “It’s been my experience Changing Rates is usually the culprit.”
“Which one of us?” one of a pair of pretty twins queried, “Changing Labor Rates…” with a nod to her sister, “or Changing Other Direct Costs Rates?”
“Either. Or both.” sniffed Poor Performance.
“Well, it wasn’t me” began Changing ODC Rates. “I can prove that I wasn’t a factor – none of my changes were above the inflation rate. You did adjust for inflation, didn’t you, Poor Initial Estimate?”
“Well, I did change” began Changing Labor Rates, “but the Project Team adjusted the labor mix among senior and junior personnel to compensate, so it couldn’t have been me.”
“That also seems to vindicate me” added Poor Performance.
“Not necessarily” interjected Scope Creep.
“Don’t think so?” snapped Poor Performance. “What about you? Do you have an alibi?”
“Yeah” replied Scope Creep. “It’s called the Change Control Log.”
“Change Control Logs track formal changes to the baseline, which really has nothing to do with you, does it? You’re all about informal changes” Poor Performance needled.
“Nobody thinks I did it, do they?” a small child’s voice asked. She was so young and small I didn’t notice her when I walked into the room.
“No, sweetie” replied Poor Initial Estimate. “Nobody really thinks that No Risk Management Plan could ever bring down a project.”
“Then, who? The responsible party is in this room” Changing Labor Rates stated coolly.
“I think I can help narrow it down” I stated, as everyone turned to look at me.
“Raspberry! I’ve heard of you, some sort of PM Detective hot-shot.” Scope Creep stormed. “Since you’re such an expert, why don’t you tell us what happened?” he taunted.
“A little process of elimination is in order. Poor Initial Estimate is right – she couldn’t have done it. I’ve been comparing the original Performance Measurement Baseline against the estimates databases for similar work, and she’s telling the truth. The initial estimate, if anything, was a bit on the high side. Changing ODC Rates’ story is also consistent with the facts—she didn’t change significantly, and her sister Changing Labor Rates is also being truthful. Cumulative labor costs are consistent with the original estimate. That leaves only…”
“Me and Poor Performance!” spat Scope Creep.
“Do we have the minutes from all of the project review meetings?” I asked.
“Why do you want to see those?”
“Because they would show if there were ever any communications along the lines of asking for more work than what was captured in the original Scope Baseline.”
Everybody started looking at each other, nervously.
“No, we didn’t make it a point to have those communications documented” Changing Labor Rates explained.
“Then Scope Creep had the opportunity, and we know he had a motive. Did he have the means?”
Scope Creep gave Poor Performance a look that could curdle milk. Almost reflexively, Poor Performance gave a sideways glance to Poor Initial Estimate. All who saw it instantly recognized what it meant: that, if Poor Initial Estimate didn’t take the fall, things would go badly for everyone in the room. Poor Initial Estimate began, “I suppose I should have taken into account…”
“Taken into account the poor weather conditions!” interjected Scope Creep. “I just remembered that I have access to some Contingency funding that will cover this entire overrun, which means that this project has not overrun its Total Project Cost, after all. We can all go home now.”
* * * * *
As I walked out of the Monolithic Mansion with Cameron, I felt strangely ill-at-ease.
“What just happened in there?” Cameron asked.
“I’m pretty sure I know, but I’m also pretty sure it’s best left unsaid. I’m going home. I feel like I need a shower.”