Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 7/22/2004
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Project Management: What Gets Measured Gets
Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Project Management is essential to effective engineering.
As described in our first e-Newsletter (see eN-021107
– Ineffective Engineering Costs You Time, Money & Customers!),
delivery of projects on time, with high quality, and within budget is
critical. Of these three issues,
timely delivery of projects generally has the biggest near-term financial
impact on companies, in both revenues and expenses (see eN-021121
– Late Projects Kill Companies!).
Project Management is the process whereby projects are planned
and tracked to help ensure timely delivery.
It is often said about many things in life, "What gets measured
gets done!" This is
clearly true in managing projects. If
you don’t set schedules with sufficient meaningful milestones associated
with those schedules, and then measure progress against achieving those
milestones per the schedules, then you won’t really know where you
are. When you don’t know where you are, it’s very difficult to know whether you
will get where you need to within the anticipated timeframe.
To deliver a project on time, you must set a schedule and then measure
progress against that schedule.
Setting Schedules: There are many ways of setting a schedule, some logical, some
At one end of the spectrum is truly top-down schedule setting where
someone, generally higher up in the organization, will simply state that this
project must be complete on a specific date and that’s that.
This may be because that’s when a critical customer must have it, or
when a critical trade show occurs, or just because this person likes this
date. Regardless, the project
must be delivered by this date. While
this approach has the simplicity of knowing exactly when the project must be
delivered, if often suffers from the reality that such a delivery may not
really be achievable in that timeframe.
At the other end of the spectrum is bottom-up schedule setting where all of
the detailed individual tasks and interdependencies associated with a project
are laid out in detail and the schedule is built up from the ground up.
The resulting delivery date is not known until this bottom-up
scheduling effort is complete. While
this ensures that all of the activities and complex interactions are included,
it often results in delivery dates that are unacceptably long.
What generally happens in real life is something in between.
A target delivery date is identified and a rough scheduling effort is
carried out with a few major milestones identified to see if this delivery
date is likely to be achievable. If
so, then a more detailed scheduling effort is carried out, with more
milestones identified and scheduled. After
a few top-down / bottom-up iterations, a schedule is determined that everyone
involved agrees with and can live with.
Defining Milestones: A schedule without meaningful milestones is really a wishing
exercise, but wishing something to be true doesn’t make it true.
Milestones are needed to implement the concept, “To conquer, first
divide”. Milestones are
needed to help divide the overall schedule timeframe into meaningful,
measurable chunks. The milestones
must be meaningful, so that everyone agrees that achieving the milestone is
really a mark of progress. They
should be measurable, so that you know when the milestone has really been
achieved; you have to know that a milestone is really done.
The number of milestones should be enough so that progress can be
verified at reasonable intervals, but not so many that there are too many
milestones to effectively measure.
Projects: Once a schedule has been laid out with a planned delivery
date and meaningful, measurable milestones, the project moves from the
planning stage to the tracking stage. You’ve
planned what you want to do, and now you’ve got to ensure you can
make it happen.
As with setting schedules, there are many ways of tracking projects, from
ad-hoc informal tracking to formal tracking with formal reviews and approvals.
With ad-hoc informal project tracking, you often get reports from
people that, “we’re 90% done in meeting that milestone.”
90% done is not a meaningful measure.
All too often, when a team is “90% done”, it really means
they’ve got only 90% more to do to really finish.
A milestone is not achieved until it is completely done.
A project is not done until all milestones are done.
Once even one milestone schedule date is missed, it is unlikely that
the project will be completed on time. Actions
can be attempted to get the project back on track, but the probability of
success in doing so is not high.
For complex projects, a more formal approach is needed to ensure that the
milestones are being achieved and the schedule is on track.
This means that careful attention must be paid to the project at all
phases. The project manager must ensure that all people involved are
doing their jobs in a timely manner. When
problems arise (and they will), they must be identified early and addressed
immediately. Continuous attention
must be paid to managing the project and seeing that everything that needs to
come together does come together, and that all required interactions among
various elements of the project occur on time and as planned.
Since the project manager must stick his/her nose into everyone’s
business, it can be a stressful job, but it is an essential one.
The more diligent and persistent the project manager is, the higher the
likelihood that the project will be completed on time.
The key to effective Project Management is to identify the
bottlenecks that are likely to cause problems in achieving the milestones, and
to take actions to minimize or eliminate these bottlenecks.
These bottlenecks will identify the critical path for the project; that
is the sets of tasks that, if delayed, will delay the entire project.
By concentrating on finding and eliminating the bottlenecks, the total
effort may be reduced and the probability of success increased.
We’ll discuss this in more detail in a later e-Newsletter.
Phase-Gate Reviews: One effective way of managing projects is to establish a
formal Phase-Gate Review process. This
process calls for formal reviews at specific milestones, with proceed or stop
decisions made at the phase-gate, and sign-off by all relevant parties.
This can be an effective Project Management approach.
It will be discussed in more detail in a later e-Newsletter.
Project Management is a
complex subject area; far more so than can be covered here.
More time will be spent in subsequent e-Newsletters to address a number
of these areas. Most important in
this e-Newsletter is to ensure that constant monitoring and measuring of the
project’s progress is done, so that everyone involved knows where the
project stands. By constantly
measuring and taking appropriate action as required, the odds are much higher
that the project will get done in a timely fashion.
Remember, what gets measured gets done!
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