professional-dev

Professional Development – Do or Die

Early in my career I had the privilege of being in the employ of The International Business Machine Corporation (IBM).  IBM is a rigorous organization.  The firm put an emphasis on professional development more so than any other of my experience at that time or since.

Sometimes these efforts fell flat:  Our leadership held a meeting at Fairfield University for 100 of us from around the country.  They keynote speaker helped us to figure out what color M&M we were… I did not leave this event feeling developed, professionally or otherwise. Read More

value return on investment

The Economics of Collaboration

Do interactive planning sessions and collaboration make or lose money for my business?

There is no question that collaboration will cost you money up front. If you want to get a group of people together in a room to talk about a project, it’s going to cost you money. Even if the people are salaried employees rather than outside consultants, there’s an opportunity cost for each person for each hour they sit in that room. So why spend money on it? The idea is that one spends money up front in order to save money later. Read More

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Truly Understanding Schedule Metrics

Are you being seduced by meaningless beautiful graphics?

Scheduling metrics are the flavor of the month.  But just as we find in Monte Carlo schedule Risk analysis many practitioners engage in the exercise of running schedule metrics without truly understanding the significance or implications of the output.  This is understandable, especially since some of the output has no significance, meaning, or value.   Or as Shakespeare wrote eons ago…

“it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

For instance, take a look at the Deltek Acumen Fuse Merge Hotspot.  What does this metric tell us about our schedule?  It highlights activities in the schedule that have a high number of predecessor tasks.   Figure one would be an example of a Merge Hotspot.

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Are you a Planning Felon?

Felonious Planning and the Law of Parsimony

The Law of Parsimony states that the simplest or most elegant solution is the best solution.  

But in project planning, we often seem to think that complexity adds to the credibility of our plan.  Is a 50,000 activity schedule necessarily more illustrative for group understanding than an elegant 300 activity schedule?

Albert Einstein (no slouch in the understanding department) once said, “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.”

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Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.

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What Led Zeppelin said – “Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run there’s still time to change the road you’re on” – is not true. Well, at least not without significant time and cost implications for your project. It is well established that changes which occur later in a project’s life cycle are more costly than those that occur in its early definition phases. This is particularly true in the construction industry, where components may have already been fabricated or installed.

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The planning phase of a project is the critical phase in which major directional and scope decisions are made. If the planning phase is given short shrift, the project runs a much higher risk of running late and over budget. This makes logical sense and is also backed up by data.

Top quintile performing organizations invest 7% of the total project budget in planning. Bottom quintile firms invest just 3.5%. The bottom performers pay dearly for this lack of investment in planning. The data shows that the cost of the overall execution phase of the project grows to 110% for these bottom performers, but is closer to 93% of the total budget for the top performers. Because the vast majority of the cost lies in the execution phases, a single percent variance in execution has a much larger impact on the overall project.

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Organizational Risk Tolerance in Project Management

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As project managers, one of the important roles we have is assessing and managing risk for our projects.  But risk assessment cannot be performed in a vacuum.  The organization, customer, or end user needs to have a voice in how much risk should be tolerated.

Take, for instance, the NASA-manned space flight.  It involves risks to human life which can’t be completely mitigated.  On the other hand, many construction and engineering firms take a zero risk approach to human life and safety on their jobs.  Jacobs Engineering goes “beyond zero” in their approach to safety risks.

It’s interesting to think about the potential for conflicting safety standards within a project.  What if a beyond zero safety organization is performing project management for a firm that does not consider safety to be a priority?  The customer may see the money being spent to ensure safety as an unwanted cost, while the project management firm will consider these costs essential to their ability to perform work for their client.

Let’s move from health and safety risk to schedule risk.  In this case, the same potential for conflict arises if the owner and the PM don’t agree on what is tolerable schedule risk for the project.  But in this case, it is possible to use statistical modeling and forecasting to examine the probability of certain completion dates.

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Resurrecting Collaborative Planning

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As of late, collaborative planning has fallen by the wayside when it comes to project planning and scheduling. But collaborative, network-based planning can be resurrected by utilizing a Logic Diagramming Method (LDM) approach.

By taking advantage of the LDM’s ability to combine the strengths of both Arrow Diagramming Method (ADM) and Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM) in a unified diagramming technique, schedulers and project managers can bring planning back to the forefront of project scheduling.

The Casualty of Collaborative Planning

Industry experts agree that collaborative planning has become a casualty of Critical Path Method (CPM) programs and scheduling for a variety of reasons, including these:

  • Fewer people use logic or arrow diagrams. The method of using arrows of non-scaled lengths to denote activities, then connecting related activities at common nodes to denote finish-to-start relationships is no longer popular.
  • The personal computer. Now, savvy CPM schedulers can take scheduling shortcuts with very little planning.
  • Manual calculation for PDM is often impractical. Especially in the field. So many people default to ADM, which is easily calculated.
  • Difficulty in time-scaling PDM. As a result, schedulers rarely use PDM and communication issues increase.

Facilitating Collaborative Project Planning

LDM combines the best practices of ADM and PDM. An LDM activity model creates an arrow diagram that accepts ADM and PDM logic: finish-to-start (FS), start-to-start (SS), finish-to-finish (FF), and start-to-finish (SF). Additionally, common nodes or a vertical link, depending on the relationship, connect activity relationships within the model.

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Improving Budget Control with Job-Shop Scheduling

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Even the most powerful computers with software that can solve problems can become quickly overwhelmed when balancing multiple jobs and limited resources. But in scheduling, one of the fundamental challenges is juggling the conceptual world of mathematics and the tangible world of job-shop manufacturing – and producing jobs in the shortest amount of time.

The main question that needs to be answered is always this: What is the best way to complete the work that needs to be done in the quickest time period? In job-shop scheduling, two separate groups of people are in play. Mathematicians see the problems from the ivory towers, while the management team tries to meet production schedule demands on the ground.

Oftentimes, the disconnect between these two groups causes delays and confusion in scheduling jobs and tasks. The mathematicians are focused on solving the math-based issues using determining devices, like a Turing machine. Even though there is a strong focus these days on solving issues with technology and devices, the jury is still out as to whether a computer can solve job-shop scheduling problems when multiple machines are involved. Frequently, job-shop scheduling that involves three or more workstations is labeled as NP-complete, which creates problems that take an extremely long time to calculate, and in turn delay the scheduling process.

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Combining Expertise in Schedule Creation

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A schedule that is easily understandable and measurable by all project stakeholders is crucial to a successful project. Yet there is often a disconnect between the key players who create the schedules. While schedulers and project managers (PMs) may be experts in their own fields, they typically don’t understand the needs and requirements of their counterparts’ roles.

Schedulers are experts in dealing with scheduling software, and PMs are experts in developing a project plan, but often these don’t intersect as well as you’d expect, or create the most useful project schedule. Instead, two schedules are usually created: the schedulers create one to meet the contractual requirements, and the PMs make one that includes the working details needed to complete the project. And rarely do these schedules align – except at major contractual milestones.

Both schedulers and PMs need to have a big picture understanding. This is crucial to developing a tight, useful and successful schedule for everyone involved. Combining contractual requirements like critical milestones with detailed project tasks allows everyone involved – from leadership and reviewers to ground-level workers and schedulers – to better understand the project’s scope and its progress. Read More

Adoption of Microsoft Project in IT Versus Construction: Different Animals, Same Cage?

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The application of Microsoft Project as a scheduling tool within the construction industry is limited, although it is growing. Historically, Primavera (now Oracle Primavera) has dominated the construction scheduling industry, while Microsoft Project has gained much greater acceptance in the IT and Product Development marketplace.

I wonder about the difference in adoption rates between these two dominant software tools for project controls and scheduling. I was told by a senior Microsoft Executive that MS Project is a billion-dollar-a-year business for Microsoft, with over 40,000,000 copies in circulation. I also wonder what percentage of these licenses are accessed on a regular basis, and about the underlying quality of schedules developed using MS Project.

In both IT and construction, there’s a body of knowledge describing the proper methods to use when planning a project and creating a schedule. However, while it is common practice in the construction industry to create a detailed baseline critical path schedule, it is not common practice in IT. In all of my interviews, I found the application of critical path scheduling to be minimal in IT projects and ubiquitous in construction projects. Scheduling seems to be one of the areas of project controls which differs greatly between the two industries, which begs a deeper analysis. Why is a tool which is considered essential in planning and reporting progress on construction projects virtually unused in managing IT projects?

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