|Hidden in plain sight
Scheduling is a powerful tool in the project manager’s arsenal, if used correctly then it can be combined with other areas such as risk management to devastating effect. In the wrong hands it can turn what would have been a successful project upside down.
I was brought in to look at a project that had irritated its major stakeholders by providing them with surprise delays when everything that was being reported seemed to indicate that things were happily on track. Looking at the monthly report, I have to say it was very impressive a perfect s-curve, earned value all seemed to be on track everything seemed perfect.
Call me a doom-monger but after visiting numerous projects over the years I am yet to find any that run perfectly to plan, they may be highly reliable and be delivered to the old stalwarts of time, cost and quality but they rarely run in a perfect step by step manner. The start and finish date of a project are clear but the route between them is never straightforward.
Following a few questions and a bit of investigation the reason for this portrait of perfection became clear – the detail was based on some hopelessly optimistic estimates, some from contractors and some from the project manager themselves. Delays were being hidden by reducing the duration of future activities or providing information at a level of detail (such as commissioning as a solid block) that makes meaningful tracking of progress impossible.
This house of cards would and did eventually collapse causing the unexpected delays and ultimately missed deadlines and a host of legal wrangling for the client and the contractor. The real issue when you looked deeper was that although the client had grand plans with an enterprise scheduling, they hadn’t requested this from any of their contractors nor given clear guidance on what they expected from a scheduling perspective. As a result you had a multitude of scheduling capabilities and programmes throughout the project with no contractual obligation to tell you anything more than start and finish dates of their entire works.
It sounds bad and it was bad, we ultimately managed around the issue but it was very labour intensive, its common sense really but if you want a powerful schedule you need to get everyone involved in the project on board before you set off as opposed realising halfway through your journey that your dazzling schedule is all looks and no substance.