Guide to Good Practice in the Management of Time in Complex Projects

November 26, 2010

Wiley and the Chartered Institute of Building have just published a new book, the Guide to Good Practice in the Management of Time in Complex Projects. The primary purpose of this Guide is to set down the standards necessary to facilitate the effective and competent management of time in complex projects. It defines the standards by which project schedules will be prepared, quality controlled, updated, reviewed and revised in practice and describes the standards of performance which should reasonably be required of a project scheduler.

Delayed completion affects IT, process plant, oil and gas, civil engineering, shipbuilding and marine work contracts. In fact it affects all industries in all countries and the bigger the project, the more damage delayed completion causes to costs, to reputation and sometimes, even to the survival of the contracting parties themselves.

In simple projects, time can be managed intuitively by any reasonably competent person, but complex projects cannot and a more analytical approach is necessary if the project is to succeed. Although much has been written about how to apportion liability for delay after a project has gone wrong there was, until recently, no guidance on how to manage time pro-actively and effectively on complex projects.

The Guide has been developed as a scheduling reference document capable of wide application. It is a practical treatise on the processes to be followed and standards to be achieved in effective management of time. It can be used in any jurisdiction, under any form of contract, with any type of project and should be identified as the required standard for the preparation and updating of contract programmes, progress reporting and time management.

I may be biased, my partner was part of the team that developed The Guide and it recognises the importance of involving stakeholders in the development of the schedule, but I feel it has a lot to offer project planners and schedulers on any type of project.

For more information;
in Australia see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Books.html#CIOB_Guide elsewhere, http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-144433493X.html

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Predictability….

November 17, 2010

I recently came across the following quotation by the American aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright in a speech to the Aero Club of France in 1908:

I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. Two years later we ourselves made flights. This demonstration of my impotence as a prophet gave me such a shock that ever since I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions (their first successful flight was in 1903).

Our ability to predict future outcomes is limited at best. As Robert Burns wrote in his ‘Ode to a Mouse’: The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. Or more accurately (but unintelligibly):

In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,

For the full poem see: http://www.robertburns.org/works/75.shtml

But most of our project stakeholders expect predictability, we predict budgets time frames and delivery dates and they expect us to deliver. The challenge for us all is to effectively manage these expectations – unrealistic expectations are unlikely to be fulfilled.

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future*. Setting fixed budgets and delivery dates without adequate contingencies is a recipe for failure. We have developed a couple of white papers on cost and duration estimating that may help develop realistic and achievable targets for your projects:

* Niels Bohr, Danish physicist (1885 – 1962)


Procrastination is Genetic

November 11, 2010

We appear to be hardwired to procrastinate! Without an effective set of countermeasures, we almost inevitably delay difficult or uninteresting work until the last minute when time ultimately makes us choose the undesirable and risky.

A couple of interesting posts I’ve read on this are firstly by Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he specializes in the study of procrastination (presumably as a theoretical concept; see: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay). He suggests:

  • The brain is built to firstly minimize danger, before maximizing rewards.
  • Too much uncertainty feels dangerous so we avoid it.
  • We are not good at predicting what might make us happy.
  • Our capacity to regulate emotions is limited and our intentions and goals alter the information that the brain pays attention to.

In combination all of these traits make if far preferable to do something simple now for an immediate reward, or nothing at all, in preference to something more difficult and therefore risky for a more valuable reward in the future. This is called Hyperbolic Discounting; most of us will take $100 tomorrow in preference to $1000 in a year’s time.

The other source was posts by Dr. David Rock; http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-work . The overall consensus is we procrastinate by design but we can also manage this tendency by effective negotiations with our self. Brute force attempts to suppress procrastination by ‘force of will’ are doomed to failure; smart tactics that reward yourself for necessary achievements and accept the inevitable relapse from time to time are far more effective. Some ideas on personal time management are in our latest White Paper Personal Time Management.

Probably the most focused comment I found on getting stuff done though is a very short video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P785j15Tzk&feature=player_embedded


Understanding Stakeholders

January 24, 2010

I published a post on the PMI Voices on Project Management blog a couple of weeks ago; Is This Your Project Stakeholder?. The post outlined a scenario and provided two options for readers to respond to.

  • Option one was to focus on stakeholders and value with an enhanced probability of technical failure (running late and being over budget)
  • Option two was to focus on the ‘iron triangle’ of time cost and scope.

A surprisingly high number of comments from people in the IT industry chose ‘option two’ – just do the job, a focus on short term technical achievement. Whereas managers with a broader perspective tended to select option one for a range of reasons.

You will have to wait a few days for my second post outlining my views on the best answer and why (I have just finished writing it and its now being edited). So check the Voices blog ‘home page’ in a few days or follow my posts.

In the interim though I have to say I was amazed at the number of IT practitioners who still seem to believe IT is somehow disconnected from the overall business of the organisation. I would suggest 99% of IT projects involve changes to business processes and will never deliver their full value if the people working in the business don’t embrace the changes.

Further, I would suggest probably greater then 50% of all IT projects are specifically instigated to support a business initiative or change. Projects in this category are integral to the value creation process – if the IT project team alienate key stakeholders the whole initiative could easily fail to deliver value to the organisation and become a waste of time, effort and money.

I discussed stakeholders and change management a couple of weeks ago (see post)  and the ‘Value Chain’ was covered last year (see post)

Based on the responses to the PMI blog, there’s still a lot of work to do to convince IT practitioners that being on time and on budget are not directly related to value. Value is created when people (ie, stakeholders) actually use the IT implementation to generate wealth.


The power of deadlines

September 20, 2009

Dan Ariely’s excellent book Predictably Irrational, describes an interesting study. He divides a class of students into three groups, which were required to hand in three papers during a course. He gave the three different groups different instructions concerning these papers.

Group 1: Could hand in the papers at any time of the semester. The student would themselves set the deadline for each paper. If the self proclaimed deadlines were not be met, there would be a penalty. All students had the option to set the deadlines on the last day of the class but they could also use the deadlines to force themselves to start working earlier and work during the whole semester.

Group 2: This group would have no deadlines and they could hand in their papers at any time and there was no risk of penalties as long as they did hand in their papers before the end of the class.

Group 3: This group were given specific, evenly spaced deadlines for each paper and there penalties if the deadlines were not met.

One paper was a proof reading report. These are the results:

Group Performance

Group Performance

 

The third group consistently had the best grades and the second group got the worst grades.

The results of the first group were more interesting. Only 27% of the students chose to submit all three papers on the last day of class despite this being the logically best option that gave the greatest flexibility. Most appeared to be aware of their tendency to procrastinate, and set themselves deadlines to help them get through the work. The studies show that these deadlines did improve performance over only having a deadline at the very end. However, the results are still suboptimal compared to the subjects who were given equally spaced externally imposed deadlines.

Ariely points at our tendency to procrastinate, which makes us delay important tasks and the best way to avoid this is for a formal figure to give us specific deadlines. Self imposed deadlines help but are not as effective. So why do we procrastinate? This is an effect psychologists attribute to ‘hyperbolic time discounting’: the immediate rewards are disproportionally more compelling than the greater delayed costs. In other words, procrastination itself is the reward.

This book and the studies offer powerful insights for PMOs and project managers when dealing with stakeholders and in particular, contrators. The results clearly suggest that contract deadlines at the ‘end’ of a project are of no real benefit; they are too far away to matter until it is too late.

Optimal performance is likely to be achieved if the PMO or project manager can impose a series of milestones that ‘matter’, with penalties attached, that are evenly spaced throughout the course of the work. If this is not feasible, then the next best option is to encourage the contractor or stakeholder to develop its own deadlines and monitor these closely.

There is a paper on the Mosaic website written in 2002, ‘The Power of Regular Updates’ that reached similar conclusions. Apparently relying on the good intentions of others is not the optimum solution for anybody.