In our previous articles, we explained how to improve the Flow of operations in your business. Find out now which common mistakes you should avoid, and the best practices to ensure you do so.
Common mistakes in portfolio management: Planning and scheduling
Project schedules have a tendency to be fixed and overly complex, ignoring that reality is unpredictable and inevitably leading to problems: changes in the plan are often difficult to implement; priorities change; the schedule is hard to update and the impact on the project is not trusted.
The prevalent idea is that in order to meet the final project deadline, every sub-part of the project must be completed by its individual deadlines. To this effect, each detailed step is included separately in the schedule, with its own safety buffer. As a result, the project plan contains hundreds of tasks, too much safety in each task (i.e. long estimates), resources are micro-scheduled, finish-to-start dependencies are ignored and (too) many tasks start ASAP (with missing resources or full kit).
As the deadline approaches and in an attempt to deliver the delayed project on time after all, the project plan will then be simplified and safety aggregated. This leads to conflicting conditions and their undesirable effects such as unstable priorities, excessive multitasking, inability to predict due dates, inaccurate resource loading and too much work starting ASAP and without full kit.
Common mistakes in project management / pipelining
A good project network…
- There are good and clear priorities for execution
- It defines a sensible logical path to guide the team to success
- People always know what the priority is (what is to be done every day)
- Early warnings of problems or delays that may arise
- The network structure is a platform for easy minor adjustments
A bad project network …
- Priorities are confusing and shift frequently
- Managers generate local schedules because networks no longer make sense
- The network is difficult to update, issues do not get raised
- Trust in the network and its logic diminishes during execution
- The impact of delays is not clear or believed
- It is difficult and time consuming to make even the smallest changes in execution and explain the impact to the project
The solution: CCPM Planning and Scheduling
What’s needed in order to eliminate the problems mentioned are project plans that are simple as well as flexible. Critical Chain Project Management offers the right methods to achieve this:
1. Aggregating tasks (60-70 per project max.);
2. Scheduling “model” key resources rather than specific employees;
3. Cutting time buffers (already aggregated after step 1);
4. One task at a time (finish to start);
5. Use of Agile Teams.
This results in more predictable (thus more reliable) projects with easier re-planning, credible impacts and stable priority schedules that are easy to update if necessary.
Mistakes during execution management
As a result of the previous steps we now have an effective project plan that is part of a simple yet flexible project portfolio. All that remains to be done is optimizing project execution itself – another area where most businesses have a lot of improvement potential!
Long project lead times, unpredictability, poor quality, high cost and high risk are some of the challenges we will encounter and which are almost always the result of poor project flow. The causes are the same as we have already seen:
- Global priorities are ignored;
- Projects and tasks are starting without full kit;
- Multitasking remains rampant;
- Problems in the highest priority tasks are not reported and resolved in a timely manner;
- Project status is not reported daily and accurately.
Yet again, local efficiencies rear their head: to meet project promises, each part of the project is supposed to complete on time. This causes project teams to do what is best locally for their own sub-part of the project and can only result in conflicting conditions on the project as a whole, the undesired effects of which are well known:
- Tasks (and projects) take longer;
- Waiting time increases;
- More rework becomes necessary;
- Capacity is wasted;
- Constant task switching costs time and money;
- Quality suffers;
- Tasks are passed on before completion;
- Increased rework loops and review cycles only add further delays.
Successful project execution with CCPM
The solution lies in the simple but effective principles offered by Critical Chain Project Management to help reduce the delays and obstacles in the Project Flow. These have been listed before, but bear repeating:
1. Ask for and adhere to Buffer Priorities.
2. Ensure full kit before start.
3. Do not Multi-Task.
4. Report and solve issues rapidly.
5. Report progress in a timely, accurate manner.
The desired effects will start materializing very quickly: projects become shorter and more predictable; quality improves significantly, costs and risks are reduced and overall project flow time improves.
Everyone’s key responsibility: Focus on Flow
Just a few simple changes can quickly show impressive results. For this to succeed, however, it is important that all employees of the business keep the importance of Flow at the forefront of their mind. The five principles govern every process, every action and task in project operations, regardless of the employee’s function. Task managers, project managers, portfolio managers and all involved resources must always be aware of their own responsibilities to improve flow and apply them to their daily work. Everyone must know their role in the game for it to run smoothly. Let us illustrate it with the example of full kit:
- The task manager’s job is to provide their tasks with full kit;
- The project manager ensures that all tasks within their projects have full kit;
- Resources know to only get started on a task if everything required is provided.
If the resource sees that full kit is missing when they are supposed to start on the task, they know they have a problem (work on the highest priority task cannot start). If they are unable to solve the problem (source what is missing) on their own, they report and escalate it right away. Task and project managers step in if necessary and everyone is focused on the problem until it is resolved and Flow restored: now work can continue on the project.
This is what it looks like when everyone’s focus is always on maintaining the smoothest and therefore fastest process flow, providing the business with the speed and reliability it needs in order to gain and keep the desired competitive edge – with the added benefit of reducing conflict and creating much more pleasant working conditions for everyone in the business.
Source: Dr Alan Barnard: Sharing new Insights in CCPM Pipelining, Planning and Execution…a TOC analysis, 30 May 2014