May 8, 2012 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Project Management Best Practices
Keeping the Project Timetable Is Not Possible
By The Grumpy Project Manager
Some thoughts about project timetables, and a bit about lean project management…
It is not possible to keep a project timetable, or at least the possibility is very theoretical. We usually close a project some hours, days, weeks, months or years later or earlier than planned. It is quite usual that the difference to the plan varies ±15%. This is normal, especially when several parties are involved in the project. This is because we always have ’statistical noise’ in project work. Professional project managers using normal project management practices are not able to reach better results. Things are not as standardised as we assume when preparing a theoretical project plan. There is no standard workers, messages are misunderstood or ignored, some find the project important and some others not, some have lower or higher motivation than normal…just to mention some reasons causing variation. If the differences between the actual and planned timetables are recorded and put on a graph they follow the normal curve. They follow the laws of nature. If we try to improve this we usually make things worse.
If the variance from the plan is more than 15% we have problems in the project. This is not anymore normal; something has gone wrong. Some usual reasons can be identified. The first one is competence; the organization, project team or a part of it is simply not skilled enough to plan or to execute projects. The second one is a combination of importance, motivation, readiness and accepting objectives; this is not about how important the project is defined to be but how the stakeholders understand it. The third factor is scope management, meaning either vague scope or uncontrolled changes to the agreed scope.
The usual suspects
As the usual suspects are known it is possible to do something about them. For example, we can ask all the relevant stakeholders before a project is started what they think about the project. Do they find it important, do they understand the objectives and accept those, are they motivated to support the project, are they ready to support the project and to take the end results into use. Simple on-line surveys can be used for this. As a result we would know if there is a gap between the comprehension of the initiators and of the stakeholders. If the initiators find a project important but stakeholders not, we’ll have problems during the execution. By studying the usual suspects beforehand we can improve the success probability of projects considerably.
It is of course possible to reach better than 15 percent variance in keeping project timetables. However, this requires special actions within the organization. Furthermore, if partners or outsourcing are needed, those need to be especially competent in project work. Because of this it is better to put the first focus on selecting the right projects. Selecting the right projects is more important than getting below the 15 percent variance. Selecting the right projects is also the first step in getting below the 15 percent variance; the right projects are important ones and often have motivated workers and supporters. The next step would be to reduce the amount of projects. Having two especially important projects running at the same time will make them compete, and both will lose.
If the difference between actual and planned timetables is continuously more than 15 percent then special actions should be taken to improve this before doing anything else. The usual suspects should be studied and improvement actions taken according to the results. Organizational competence is the most challenging problem area, to admit and to improve.
When the difference between the actual and planned timetables is continuously under 15 percent trying to reduce it should be stopped and focus put must be on selecting the right projects. Furthermore, active research can be used to study the usual suspects before starting a project in order to keep the variance under ±15 percent.
The Grumpy Project Manager is a program manager in an international corporation and has over ten years of experience in managing R&D, IT and business development projects. You can read more from the Grumpy PM on his (or her?) blog. S/he can be contacted by email at TheGrumpyProjectManager@gmail.com.
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