When projects go wrong

When projects go wrong

You have a job that will take 100 hours to complete, so you schedule it over five weeks. That’s 20 hours a week. So what do you do?

You have a job that will take 100 hours to complete, so you schedule it over five weeks. That’s 20 hours a week. So what do you do? You say to yourself that the first 20 hours won’t be too hard to make up. After all, you’ve got a whole lot of other urgent work to do. So you put your project on hold, and it isn’t long before you’ve suddenly got 50 hours a week over two weeks to finish the job. Inevitably, other things get in the way and you find yourself running late.It gets worse. Ask yourself who gets rewarded? Certainly not the team that works sedately and according to the 20 hours a week schedule. No, the heroes in management’s eyes are the people who work exhaustingly long hours and then bring in a project that’s probably just adequate. Haven’t they worked hard? Aren’t they heroes of the highest order?

If the picture we are painting seems familiar to you, don’t feel surprised. Rod Gill, a Microsoft Most Valued Professional and Microsoft Project guru, has plenty of knowledge to draw upon as he recounts his project management experiences over the past 20 years.

“I believe that 50% of projects that finish behind time do so not because people work poorly but because the scheduling was inaccurate to start with,” he says. “There are a lot of inaccurate schedules out there because people are basically setting times when they’ve got no knowledge base upon which to say, ‘Look, we really need to allow extra time for this because the level of feedback that goes on will take two weeks. You can’t do it in three days’.”

Gill likes to allocate hours of work when he sets up project schedules. This works better than allocating less specific time spans such as days or weeks. If you don’t have an accurate prediction of time needed to do a job, inevitably Murphy’s Law will take over and you will find yourself trying to squeeze too much into too short a time.

Using a detailed project analysis product such as MS Project makes real progress more visible to senior managers. With the extra detail, they can move quickly to get people to focus their energy in the right places. In fact, says Gill, the first week is one where you should be putting in the hours necessary to succeed. If you leave everything to the last week, it’s too late to make much of a difference. Unfortunately, if your project team is in damage control, it will tend to toss out functionality. That’s all too common.

“One problem is that people subconsciously know the only way to get recognition is to deliver on a potential disaster,” says Gill. “The required behaviour is never recognised and the undesirable behaviour — firefighting — is heavily and publicly rewarded. There is a big maxim in project management: what you reward or measure is what you get. If you reward firefighting, you get firefighting. If you don’t reward proper planning of your work and working to plan, you don’t get it. Project management is basically about measuring behaviour so you can then start changing that behaviour.”

Gill lists some of the other advantages of using the appropriate project software:

• They can manage multiple projects at the same time.

• They can incorporate Balanced Scorecard measures and views appropriate to management.

• Significantly, they can record time and expenses, making the job easier for the accounting department.

• Greater control and focus inevitably means improved ROI.

Microsoft Project 2002 is considerably easier to use than its forebears, says Gill. It can be used by numerous people throughout the enterprise and in smaller business.

Builders, for example, use it for drawing task outlines and recording critical paths. Much of the information can be incorporated via Excel or Word, applications the user is likely to be familiar with. SQL Server can suck out the necessary data to ease the reporting task.

Gill recalls helping one client who was concerned and shocked at the number of hours being spent on projects. “I was able to explain fairly quickly why this firm’s critical projects were running increasingly behind schedule. By refocusing people’s time on the critical projects we were able to pull things back into line.”

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