The age old problem
In the last fifty years, the project management body of knowledge has evolved a lot but the world of projects has not shown commensurate improvement. Numerous studies conducted over the years prove that existing project management practice is not very effective.
Be it software development, engineering projects, construction projects, or new product development, project performance has been as bad as before. Such is the importance placed on project performance, that projects which are delivered with full scope, on time, and within budgets make it to newspaper headlines. This leads us to a fundamental question. Is there a specific scientific way of managing a project which can consistently deliver the desired results?
When we ask this question to numerous project managers, we hear responses like:
- “the plan and the initial estimate has to be detailed and perfect”
- “the project should have the best possible resources when required”
- “vendors supplying to the projects have to be perfect”
- “requirements should be frozen upfront”
Such requirements can be met only in a perfect world -a world free of uncertainties. It will take a huge amount of time and mammoth effort to create this perfect world. There are however numerous project organizations that are investing the required time and effort in trying to define a perfect estimation process, making more detailed plans than before, defining change control processes, training resources, vendors and making process templates. But project environments, by definition, are unique – the next project will always be different .So, by the time, the company is ready with all the knowledge, processes, and skills, the requirements of the next project appear to be very different from the earlier one and one has to start all over again. The effort to reduce uncertainties seems like a never-ending journey.
The problem is even more profound in a multi-project environment, where resources are shared across projects. Projects in such environments are not only affected by their own uncertainties but also by delays in other projects. Resource dependencies, both within and across projects, increase the number of integration points in the project which leads to problem of cascading effect of delays from one project to other.
The solution that isn’t
Why is the common solution approach failing so consistently? Every time we start a project, we build a detailed plan, at times to absurd level of granularity, estimate the task durations and assign resources with an expectation to meet all deadlines. This should ensure that the project should complete on time without the need for re-planning. Unfortunately, things do not work out as planned. Problems seep in during execution requirements change, vendors do not deliver on time, work happens at a much slower rate than expected, approvals are delayed; resources are not available because they are being used in other activities.