In my last blog I discussed challenges to using earned value management tools to track progress on projects. In particular, I suggested that some of the challenges are posed by things like the number of tasks, and the number of people.
The number of tasks and consequent number of people has a direct impact on the level of difficulty tracking progress. If you only have two or three tasks with a few people that are expected to progress on a linear schedule, then you’ll have a relatively easy job tracking. When you have hundreds of tasks with people spread across the organization, and/or including outside vendors that do not progress in a linear fashion, you can expect to have your work cut out for you.
Some of the typical variables that you’ll have to consider:
o Ramp up time to start work
o Required training prior to work
o Learning curve expected for the type of work
o Any required safety training and regulatory compliance demands
o Logistics for receipts of materials
o Set-up of temporary work stations
o Security procedures and password allocations
o Delays caused by long lead items ordered for project
o Quality assurance activities that may cause delays
o Decision making architecture that results in natural time delays
o Holiday schedule for staffing
o Holiday schedule for vendors
o Vendor delays
o Union demands that may delay work, like contract negotiations
o Weather complications
o Theft on project like loss of laptops, cell phones, etc.
All of these things will require time on the schedule. When we’re planning work, we review all of these variables and consider any others that may be particular to this project, and then we try to translate these challenges into calendar time, and in some cases, risk and costs. As a result, typically none of these things will progress in a linear fashion and must be tracked in unique ways that translate into reality. When your tracking tools do not align well with the type of work being performed, then the reports tend to look like mere shadows of reality. In some cases those shadows are a poor reflection of the project. Usually this is because people either haven’t included the above stated variables, or because they’re tracking in a linear fashion, when the work is non-linear.
For non-linear work, I suggest breaking the tasks into smaller segments based on the micro-life cycle of the task. For example, if there is required ramp up time for receipt of materials, training, and general set-up, then break this out as a separate task. Once the work is fully up and running, break the work itself into smaller pieces that make sense. We often have a design phase, testing, build, further testing, regulatory work, quality checks, commissioning, validation, etc. Each component tends to have something unique about it. If you are realistic in your decomposition of the work, you’ll find it easier to track. If and when you’re not sure, bring in the subject matter experts for help.
In my next blog, I’ll propose some additional approaches that will make your life as a pm tolerable.