The problems common to all project management.
It doesn’t take long to identify the problems that can beset all projects. Essentially, all projects can suffer from a high probability of:
- budget overruns
- time overruns
- compromised project content.
We’re all familiar with the builder who blames any delays or overspends on his clients:
- the delay is the result of the client’s failure to provide information in good time. Or
- the changes the client made to the project specification mid-build are to blame for the added expense.
- You know the way it goes: “You changed your mind about the kitchen doors; that’s why we’re two weeks late.”
Quite often, towards the end of the project – as the builder struggles to limit budget overruns and time overrun – the quality of the job deteriorates. On top of everything else, now we also have compromised project content.
It never ceases to amaze me how poorly some builders will manage client expectations: promising budgets and timescales they know they cannot deliver on simply to win a job. Of course, this phenomenon isn’t restricted solely to the construction business.
The danger comes when the builder starts to believe his own unrealistic estimates. By promising the next client a start date based on his own unrealistic completion date for the current project, he further exacerbates the problem. The pressure to start the new job as promised means that he finds himself splitting his time between two jobs in order to keep both clients happy. Yet he is keeping neither happy.
The existing job takes even longer to complete: multi-tasking between the two projects is delaying the completion date – and payment date – for the first project and making for a very unhappy client. The second job is already falling behind.
In an attempt to hasten completion on the original job, the builder starts to cut corners. Content on the first job is compromised in order to hasten the completion of the project and secure payment. This then leads to further delays as the first client demands rework before they pay…
In this kind of situation, no one wins. So could better project management have changed the outcome?
It can be frustrating, as a client, to hear the excuses:
- the supplier’s failure to deliver on schedule;
- your own changes to the specification;
- the weather
By shifting the blame the builder is obscuring the real reasons for project overrun and compromised content.
Shifting blame over project overrun or overspend is a phenomenon common to many projects. Official reasons for project poor performance can differ wildly from the real reasons that project team members might provide in confidence. This is an issue that Goldratt examines in his Theory-of-Constraints-for-projects book Critical Chain. By gathering the thoughts of project workers and comparing them against official reasons for poor project performance, the book’s protagonist, Rick Silver, determines that while the official reasons may blame external factors, the real reasons are frequently internal. This, Rick contends, suggests that the people involved in the projects often believe the projects could have been managed better.
If they are right, we have to think that better project management can alleviate – or even prevent – the budget overruns, time overruns and the compromising of content.
Based on my experience, I firmly believe that Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) offers a better way to manage projects.
The danger, of course, arises when the official reasons for poor project performance obscure the real reasons. If official excuses obscure what’s really happening, there is no way the business can address these issues.
To really improve project management, the business must be ready to address the reasons for poor project performance head-on – even if those reasons reside within the business.
In my next post, I’ll address why delays occur in the first place. As we’ve seen, failure to properly address uncertainty during planning is a key factor. Then project managers need to contend with the three enemies of project management: student syndrome, multi-tasking and the dependencies between steps.