A project manager must watch everything and make crucial decisions on incomplete information. There are too many changes, too much rework, late inputs, too much other work to do, delays, problems …

There are ways –

  • To make project management easier
  • To know what to focus on, to look at
  • To know what is causing the delay and what to do about it
  • To know where to assign scarce resources
  • To know clearly and currently how the overall project is doing
  • To get your project done 25% faster and at less cost!

There is a catch. You must change the way you think about projects and you must change the way you manage. The tasks and resources remain the same.

Project Management made a huge leap forward more than fifty years ago with the Critical Path Method and the Program Evaluation and Review Technique. Since then, computers have helped to track projects and provide amazing amounts of details and views.

And yet, projects have settled back to a dismal record of being late, over budget, less than the original scope, or canceled. A study by the Standish Group, a project management research organization, concluded that, “There is no reliable way to measure project status until it’s too late!”

Why so dismal? The project plan has morphed into a project schedule. Instead of working to the project plan, we work to meet the project schedule. The important words here are “meet the project schedule.” We pay attention to the dates. The due date has become our target. We should be working to get the task done, not to meet a date.

How can this be? Project managers are aware that task durations are estimates. There are optimistic times, most likely times and pessimistic times. No one knows how long tasks will actually take. That’s okay because these three times help us determine how much safety to put in the tasks, to assure they will be done on time.

Then the craziest thing happens. A task duration estimate is entered into the project management software. If all three estimates, optimistic, most likely and pessimistic, are entered, the software calculates an expected duration. At that moment, the estimate becomes a specific duration. The software uses that duration to create a schedule for the tasks. Each task gets a start date and end date. The estimate has become a commitment, and has firm dates. The start and end dates have effectively become “milestones.”

And how do we work with milestones? We work to meet them. We see the end date as a target. Our effort is to get the task done by that date. Subconsciously, it would be okay to get the task done early, but that’s secondary to getting it done on time.

This crazy thing leads to counter-productive behavior. If a task has a firm end date, there is little point in getting it done early. No one will expect it, nor will the following task be ready to start early.

Therefore, we now have three choices:
Complete the task early and turn it in on the end date.
Take our time so we finish it on the end date.
Do other things on our plate until we have just enough time to be on time with it.

What’s going on?
We estimated the task durations.
We turned the estimates into firm start and end commitments.
We behave to meet the end dates.
We don’t get anything done early.

This is one reason why Project Management is difficult. If tasks rarely get completed early, and some tasks take longer, or much longer, than scheduled, there is a very high probability that the project will be late.


Copyright © 2011 Skip Reedy

Reprint allowed with credit

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