By Lynda Bourne
As you may know, any monitoring and control process has three components. The first is establishing a baseline that you plan to achieve, the second is comparing actual progress to the plan to see if there are any differences, and the third is taking corrective or preventative action. Corrective actions fix existing problems, while preventative actions stop problems from occurring in the future.
This post looks at the middle phase. Before taking action to bring performance into alignment with the plan, make sure the variance you are seeing in the control systems is real. Corrective and preventative actions take time and usually involve costs, and there is no point in expending effort where it is not needed.
The variance is the difference between two imprecise elements: the planned state and the actual situation. The plan is based on estimates and assumptions made some time ago about what may occur in the future. All plans and estimates have a degree of error built in; it is impossible to precisely predict the future of a complex system such as a project. Similarly, the measurement of the actual situation is prone to observational errors; key data may be missing or the situation misinterpreted.
So how do you decide if the measured variance is real and significant enough to warrant corrective action? I suggest considering the following:
1. Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?
2. Is the variance significant?
3. Is a solution viable?
Let’s explore these in depth.
Does the reported variance line up with your expectations?
Try looking at a couple of different monitoring systems, such as cost and time. Do the two systems correlate, or are they giving you very different information on the same group of activities? If they correlate, perhaps your expectations are misplaced. If they are giving you different information, there may be data errors.
Is the variance significant?
If the predicted slippage on the completion date for a key milestone over a series of reports is bouncing around, any single measurement within the noise factor is likely to be insignificant.
Trends, on the other hand, highlight issues. Sensible control systems have range statements that indicate the variance is too small to worry about if it is inside the allowed range. This general rule is modified to take trends seriously and to require action to correct negative variances close to a milestone or completion.
Is a solution viable?
Other situations are simply not worth the cost. There is no point in spending US$10,000 to correct a -US$5,000 variance. However, this decision has to take into account any effect on the client and your organization’s reputation. Cost overruns are generally internal, whereas late delivery and quality issues may have a significant reputational cost, affecting stakeholder perceptions.
Where a viable option exists to correct negative variances, corrective and preventative actions need to be planned, prioritized and implemented. There is no point wasting time on a controls system that does not generate effective controlling actions.
Second, implementing corrective and preventative actions requires the resources working on the project to do something different. Variances don’t correct themselves, and simply telling someone to catch up is unlikely to have any effect. Sensible management action, decisions and leadership are needed to physically change the situation so there is a correction in the way work is performed. This is a core skill of every effective manager.
I’d love to know: How do you deal with variances in your projects? Please share below.
By Ramiro Rodrigues
The term path is used for a sequence of activities that are serially related to each other.
Imagine, for example, that your colleagues have decided to organize a barbecue. After dividing up the work, you are responsible for hiring the catering services. For this task, you are likely to have to look for recommendations, check availability and prices, analyze the options and then choose the best one. These four activities are a path. In other words, they are a sequence of activities that must be carried out sequentially until a final goal is achieved.
A project manager’s job is to estimate the duration of each planned activity. And if we return to our example, we could consider the possible durations:
This sequence of activities will last 40 hours, or five workdays. And since the whole barbecue has been divided among various colleagues, other sequences (or paths) of activities—such as choosing the venue, buying drinks, organizing football, etc.—will also have their respective deadlines.
The critical path will be the series of activities that has the longest duration among all those that the event involves.
Let's imagine that the longest path is precisely this hiring of the catering services. Since the process is estimated to take five days, the barbecue cannot be held at an earlier time. And if it were held in exactly five days, all the activities involved in the path have no margin for delay. This means that if, for example, my analysis of options is not completed on the date or within the duration planned, then the barbecue provider will not be selected in time, which will invariably lead to the postponement of the barbecue—and leave a bad taste in my co-workers' mouths.
Under the critical path method, there is no margin for delay or slack. If there is a delay in any activity on that (critical) path, there will be a delay in the project. At the same time, other "non-critical" paths can withstand limited delays, hence the justification of the term.
It is the duration of this path that is setting "critical" information for all projects—when all the work will have been completed.
Do you use the critical path method in your work? If so, what are your biggest challenges?
By Ramiro Rodrigues
We are experiencing a great contemporary paradox: In spite of state-of-the-art gadgets and collaborative communication tools, which should be streamlining and facilitating work, we feel increasingly burdened with more responsibilities and response requirements.
The clearest side effect is the epidemic feeling that we are always short of what we wish we could have read, produced or done.
Of course, the benefits that technology has brought us in recent decades are indisputable. The production of human knowledge has gained stratospheric scale. The world has become "flat"—economies are now deeply integrated, and long distances have been collapsed by hyperconnectivity. But this also means that a good share of the world's population can now compete for the same professional space as you and your company.
Perhaps this is why recurring publications about better management of time and its countless functions become the focus of attention for the most attentive visitors to bookstores.
When everything is urgent, in fact, nothing is. If everything has the same priority, there is no way for anything to stand out. Perhaps this is the central issue behind the stress so many people feel today. Once the urgency of demands is generalized, it becomes difficult to produce high-quality, timely results.
What’s the solution? Planning, planning and ... planning. Only a good deal of planning — structured and strategic — allows corporate and project leadership to stay focused on real priorities and meet the right attention needs of their teams.
For the individual, planning is also a personal survival tool for organizing and balancing work, personal and social demands.
By Cyndee Miller
It’s time to hit the rewind button on 2017 and look back on the year that was in project management.
And dang, it was a big year — full of ambitious projects that packed a punch. I’m still processing the €700,000 Museo Atlántico, an eerily beautiful underwater collection of 300 sculptures off the coast of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands — only possible with the project team navigating complex requirements and skeptical stakeholders. And though not without its challenges, the first phase of the Hyderabad Metro Rail — a massive public-private partnership project — pulled in more than 200,000 passengers on its first day alone.
That wow factor sometimes extends to what some might view as more mundane matters like the schedule. Elon Musk’s latest project adventure, for example, called for installing the world’s largest lithium-ion battery within 100 days — or it was free. Somehow scheduling matters don’t seem so pedestrian when there’s US$50 million riding on the project’s outcome. For the record, Mr. Musk and his team pulled it off.
The project is part of a plan to make Adelaide, Australia the world’s first carbon-neutral city. That push to sustainability is nothing new, of course. But it got real in 2017. Sustainability is no longer swathed in gauzy green layers. It has real strategic objectives — and is held to real metrics and governance.
The U.K.’s Crossrail team, for example, recently released a treasure trove of documentation highlighting its efforts to minimize disruption and pollution on the £14.8 billion rail project, which is expected to be completed next year. The results are impressive and could serve as a blueprint for embedding sustainability in other megaprojects. “Crossrail not only set a new precedent for delivery of a truly ambitious 21
st century infrastructure project, the strategic approach they took in managing the many environment and sustainability challenges was exceptional,” Martin Baxter, chief policy adviser for the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, told Railway Technology.
Even as the United States pulled out of the Paris Agreement, dozens of the country’s mayors signed their own accord on climate change. And U.S. business leaders — at companies across all sectors and sizes — didn’t miss a beat, launching their own projects to address the issue.
Yet such political disruptions — along with the Brexit bombshell — are clearly rattling the business world: More than half the CEOs in a KPMG survey said the uncertainty of the current political landscape is having a greater impact on their business than they’ve seen for many years. And those same business leaders know they must adjust their strategies. “All of these political events can have consequences on project planning,” John Greenwood, PMP, founder of Grand Unified Consulting, told PM Network.
There’s a reason disruption is such a buzzword: It’s everywhere. Today’s project environment demands an extra dose of innovation and agility (and probably a few extra shots of espresso). Just look at how many retailers and restaurants are experimenting with pop-ups — and relying on project management to tame the chaos. To achieve that so-in-demand-yet-so-elusive agility, you may want to check out the latest PMI Thought Leadership Series.
This is the stuff of Silicon Valley — and it’s fast becoming business as usual. Take cloud computing. Born in the valley, it’s now infiltrating every sector and forcing old-school businesses like telecoms to respond. Next-gen tech is being woven into the DNA of once-Luddite sectors, like agriculture and construction. Even the ultra-staid financial services sector is realizing full-on digitization is the only way to survive. Indeed, that push has spawned the fintech industry that extends to even emerging markets like Nigeria and India. The latter recently launched a project that saw 86 percent of the country’s cash go out of circulation overnight to be replaced by digital payment systems. Demonetization is the wave of the future, Gilles Ubaghs, principal analyst at Ovum, told PM Network. “It is already changing India, and it will change the world.”
That’s the truly spectacular thing about project management. It really does have the power to transform. No big shocker then that organizations are looking for the talent that can deliver those results.
A study by Anderson Economic Group and PMI found the project-management-oriented labor force is expected to grow by 33 percent in 11 countries through 2027. That’s 22 million new jobs. Whoa.
And as the first members of Gen Z are hitting the workplace, they’re already scoping out project management. They appreciate what they see: “I like the way you have to incorporate organizational skills along with people skills,” Myles Wilson, a junior project manager at Virtual1, told PM Network. “The idea that I could interact with many different people on a daily basis to achieve the same goal is something that inspired me to pursue project management.”
So at least one thing didn’t change in 2017: Project management still rocks.
By Kevin Korterud
As both a project and program manager, I’m always keen to have projects and programs take the right first steps toward success. In the past, this would involve selecting the unified delivery approach used for all of the projects on a program. The idea was to impart consistency to the way projects were managed as well as produce common metrics to indicate progress.
It’s not that easy anymore. Today’s programs have projects with agile, waterfall, supplier, corporate and sometimes regulatory-mandated delivery approaches. In addition, these approaches as well as the different arrangements made with suppliers (e.g., time and materials vs. fixed price with deliverables) have dramatically increased the level of complexity and diversity of delivery approaches within a program.
So as a program manager, how do I keep all of these projects in sync no matter the delivery method? As a project manager, how can I execute my project in concert with the overall program in order to maximize the value that will be delivered, while avoiding schedule and cost overruns resulting from projects not operating in harmony?
These are emerging challenges for which there are no single easy answers, of course. But I have found a handful of tips useful in getting a program’s projects to operate in a synchronized manner. I’ll share the first few in this post and the final ones in my next post, appearing later this week.
1. Remember: There’s No Such Thing as Agile or Waterfall Programs
Given the mix of project delivery approaches, the program needs to properly segment work to manage the budget, resources and schedule regardless of the project delivery approach. In addition, the schedule alignment points, budget forecast process and deliverable linkages need to be identified between the various projects.
Typically, I find that while there is effort to plan for these items at the project level, the upfront effort for this harmonization at the program level is underestimated or sometimes left out altogether—program managers think the project teams will figure this out themselves. This sets the program up for schedule and budget overruns as well as overall dilution of the program business case.
Some ways for a program manager to harmonize projects on a program include:
2. Make the Correct Delivery Approach Choice Before a Project Begins
The type of delivery approach for a project is determined by the type of work being performed and the end consumer of the project’s deliverable.
For example, a project on a program that is slated to create a consumer portal would be a desirable candidate for an agile delivery method. Another project that involves heavy system integration that a consumer never sees would be a candidate for a waterfall approach. A project to pass data into a government system would likely have its delivery approach set by the governmental body.
So before a project starts, program and project managers should agree on the optimal delivery approach that is the best fit for the project.
Look for more advice in my next post on synchronizing a program’s projects, regardless of delivery method.