Why there is a need for the “new project manager” – moving forward in time - 22.04.14

An example of where things go wrong NOW, and why there needs to be a focus on a new way of delivering

Bill Blogs at a NSW government department received word that his “client” organisation within the department wanted to redevelop a site owned by the government, which was a site with affordable housing built on the site. The housing was for people who could not afford housing. It was a social initiative. Bill blogs wanted to make a name for himself. He put forward a proposal that the worlds most acknowledged architect should become involved, and received the OK to receive funds to engage the architect. To develop a case for the project to proceed. Everyone benefited, so he said. LOL.  No one had looked at a project in its entirety to determine commercial outcomes, and least of all how any project which engaged one of the worlds most expensive architects, would provide increased benefits for the ultimate client. The homeless of NSW. Which was one of the States social imperatives. The reason why he had a job in the first place.

Bill did not care for, ( mainly because he would not take the time to try to understand) the “corporate “ systems that the department had in place to manage projects. Or even the Treasury guidelines for “stacking up” a project.  He pushed on with grand words, even grander gestures, and profligate expenditure on the project “ initiation”. His management were equally as ignorant of corporate systems or procedures, and saw opportunities to advance their own status, and hence promotions, ( which incidentally meant more income, perks, and industry credibility). The project gained momentum. Any economic analysis that did not support his needs was sent back to be done again. Eventually the consultants started to gain an understanding of what was required of them. They produced a report which gave him what he wanted.

The project eventually went ahead.

Cost over runs, time over runs, and other minor issues were dealt with by a systematic and conscious effort to deny reality. It was not hard. Spin doctors exist for the very reason, that truth needs to be manipulated to match the facts. Spin doctors were a key part of the project team

Some literature research identifying the problems, for example,

Contractor Site Management related factors are major contributors to cost overrun … file:///C:/Users/tech/Downloads/27912-97712-1-PB.pdf

The study showed that large, long-duration projects had significantly higher cost and schedule overruns than smaller, short-duration projects……The results showed that two out of four factors considered in this analysis had significant correlation with construction cost and schedule overruns. The sample data showed that cost and schedule overruns increased as the project size and construction duration increased. …..  http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jcen/2013/935978/

……majority of projects are delayed by factors which can be controlled at the project level through proper planning and project management. The study also highlights the severe skill shortage and the growing demand-supply gap for qualified construction professionals affecting the infrastructure sector in India. Project owners feel this is a long term issue which not only makes the projects more expensive and risky, but also results in compromise on quality as well as timelines….. http://www.kpmg.com/in/en/issuesandinsights/articlespublications/pages/study-on-project-schedule.aspx

the result is that most of the cost overruns occur in the planning stages up to the final design and are related to design changes and to increases in the amount of inputs needed because of technical and administrative problems…Of the explanatory factors there is most support for lack of competence and optimism bias.… . http://swopec.hhs.se/kthrec/abs/kthrec2014_001.htm

Projects are undertaken based on a set of assumptions.

No one knows the future. No one knows what may or may not happen to change the assumptions made. People can guess, or make informed guesses. People can apply statistical models, if enough information is available, and assess the probability of particular out comes, based on previous data.

The actual implementation of the project should be straightforward, and rely on the assumptions made.

A quick review on the internet however, indicates that there do not appear to be any common threads related to cost or time overruns. Some people say that the problems occur due to contractor site management, others say that the problems are due to factors that occur before the project gets on site, some say that poor project management is to blame, some say the problem is a lack of skilled resources, others say the size and complexity of a project are to blame.

Common sense says, when the assumptions are proved wrong, ( and this will happen, when “vested interests” are involved in setting the assumptions) and nothing is done about it, then the project goes over budget or time, or comes in under budget and time.(which begs the question, how did someone “stack up” a project with inflated cost and time assumptions).

Quite often, the identification of cost overruns, or schedule overruns occurs well after anything can be done about it.

So, an obvious question is, why are assumptions not more regularly checked, and the feasibility of completing the project within the original parameters also checked? If the project will not achieve the objectives because the assumptions were incorrect, should the project be stopped, because the costs will be more than the benefits?, or maybe, the project objectives could be changed, and the feasibility, when considering the latest set of assumptions, shows that a revised set of project objectives are feasible.

Could it be that project managers and their teams are too focused on mundane tasks, and excessive reporting, as well as dealing with political issues, internal and external to the organisation, maintaining a good “relationship” with clients and superiors,( who may often be blind to, or unconcerned with predictable outcomes), and complying with organisational policies and procedures that mean that the time available for practicing good project management that ensures the project is successful is subordinate to the need to produce data in formats that have to do with accounting practices, political imperatives, or irrelevant directives?

Projects are unique endeavours, however there are more projects sharing characteristics of previous projects than there are projects which do not share similar characteristics.

Consequently, why is there not more use of “expert systems”, “Artificial Intelligence”, “decision support systems” or similar tools to manage projects to minimise the issue of cost and time over runs?

After all, if the project is planned properly, thoroughly, and tested in a “model” which can describe possible project outcomes based on experience, or a set of data from previous projects, and objectives are based on a set of assumptions which have been developed by previous experience and or a set of data, and implemented autonomously, then the issue of human error, or emotion is removed. If the project scope can be implemented using a self aware system, with minimal human input, then,  unless assumptions are radically incorrect, the project should achieve project objectives related to cost and time. And when the system identifies that assumptions are wildly incorrect, it then either learns from the environment and adjusts assumptions, until, or unless, the state that the initial outcomes which made the project feasible are so distorted that the project is no longer feasible, the system then  signals human intervention is needed. At which stage the project is bought to a stop, and a new project developed, or the entire exercise cancelled.

Related posts:

  1. Dealing with problems outside of the Project Manager’s control
  2. Our proposal ….
  3. Whats the story ?
  4. The PMO
  5. difficult project teams and how to handle poor performers

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