guestbloggerGraham Jones (Surrey, BC - IT Professional)

Keeping Things Current

As already stated in part 1 the quality of the data is paramount. Keeping the resource plan up to date requires organization and discipline. The frequency for doing this may vary by project timescales and organization but probably shouldn’t be less than once per month. One thing that I have learned is that it must be all inclusive. Sometimes it is tempting to say Project X only runs for 2 months and requires few resources so I won’t bother with it. It doesn’t need too many Project X’s to distort the picture. Where today’s computer tools can be helpful is in making it easier for PM’s to update their resource forecasts and for that data to be aggregated for reporting purposes. Having said that those forecasts must be based upon sound assessments of progress against the schedule and work breakdown structure. Progress assessment is something of an “art” in itself and is usually industry specific. It must involve everyone of the project team working up from those doing the work (who better to know the status) through immediate supervision (an experienced “eye”) to the PM who is ultimately responsible for the forecast. There must also be agreed, documented forecasting methodologies for consistency. You cannot have the PM using his own “pet” methodology. In the absence of procedures people will simply do their own thing!

I remember well one of the biggest challenges in introducing computers into process plant design layout was that you no longer had drawings to look at which had been the traditional approach to progress measurement. Everything was stored digitally so progress was amount of data entered and its status, eg, entered, checked, etc. This is somewhat analogous to lines of code completed and their status. If you underestimate the lines of code then you are destined to be in trouble. Unfortunately this often isn’t apparent to later in the project. In IT other approaches have evolved to handle this differently such as Agile development where the aim is to be essentially complete at every project milestone but not functionally complete until the end. There still remains the challenge of assigning hours earned versus a particular status, which must then be compared to hours expended to see how well you are doing. Again, this is a job for templates that need to be developed over time.

Template Development

I have mentioned a couple of different types of templates:

  1. Prospects
  2. Progress assessment

One of the most important things to do after EVERY project is a thorough analysis of the actual hours and schedule versus the baseline. This is only possible if excellent records are kept throughout the project. When you are in the “trenches” and things aren’t going well it is very tempting to skimp on record keeping. You will hear promises to keep better records next time but next time will be just the same without a change in approach. The PM may insist that their sole responsibility is to deliver the “product” for a specific project on time and on budget. That is certainly true but the base responsibility is to add value to help the business be successful now and into the future. Even if the records are there the other typical impediment is that the next project is imminent and there is no time to do a thorough analysis. It is essential that the project review, sometimes unfortunately called the “post mortem”, is done immediately after the project and by the whole team whilst the events are fresh in the mind. Again, it will be done “next time” is often heard. Without solid management support it will never get done. In busy times the argument will be “immediate business need” comes first. In slow times the argument may be “we cannot afford to carry the overhead”. Just think what is happening. All of that accumulated knowledge and experience is not being fed back into the business. As the saying goes, “those who forget their mistakes are doomed to repeat them”. This is particularly important in technology based companies not just from a forecasting standpoint but from an execution standpoint. Your performance and experience is all based upon a certain level of retained knowledge both via documentation and in human resources.

It is only through project reviews that the templates mentioned above can be developed and refined over time. The nature of the business does have some bearing on staff retention. The engineering business is very cyclic and layoffs are common. However, a technology based company (including engineering technology) has a huge investment in the knowledge and experience of its workforce. Therefore it is much less likely to let people go unless the situation is dire. Remember, if it is necessary to downsize, always do it to strength which means “last in, first out” doesn’t necessarily apply!

Are You Reflecting Reality?

The PM starts out with an approved Project Budget where labour costs (hours) are allocated to different disciplines. Depending upon how well the estimate was prepared the PM may discover that there is a shortage of hours in one discipline and a surplus elsewhere. It is essential that the budget is modified to allow for this and recorded via an approved project change notice. Failure to do this will result in a distorted version of the truth. Remember the experience from projects go into estimating future projects! It has been known that when one discipline budget has been used that hours get creatively charged to another, ie. robbing Peter to pay Paul!!!!!! This then becomes a repeated self-fulfilling prophecy.

Data Is Your “Life Blood”

The value of data is now much more commonly understood and people are taking more steps to gather, protect and re-use it. This is by no means confined to business data. Application of sound PM principles and methodologies will bring big rewards. Everyone in an organization should have some basic PM training so that they understand the part that they play in the process including Resource Planning.