A Look at Project Organization And Scheduling
Any well-run business must constantly look for ways to improve efficiency, and strive to make new projects more streamlined. In fact, for most organizations, the major cause of lost revenue and reduced competitive edge is poor project management, through which billions of dollars are lost every year. It is essential for an organization to work toward continuous improvement in project management processes and practice.
One of the first mistakes in project management is to view the project as a monolithic unit, rather than as a set of interrelated tasks. The project management process can be said to consist of 5 main phases: Initiation; Planning; Execution; Controlling; and Closing. These vary from one industry to another, and even from one project to another, but in most cases, these are the basic elements.
From the start, the project specification, or terms of reference, must be agreed upon and documented. It is essential to the success of the project that these should set out accurately and precisely what the project aims to achieve, and how it is intends to achieve it. The acronym BOSCARDET provides a useful checklist for what should be included in the terms of reference, covering Background, Objectives, Scope, Constraints (including costs and budget), Assumptions, Reporting, Dependencies, Estimates and Timescales. Not all of these will be involved in every project, and the project manager is responsible for ensuring that all relevant factors are included.
Planning is Crucial
The planning stage is the most crucial, and this is where planning resources are required. One of the best ways to plan and manage a large, complex project, with numerous subsidiary activities, is to put together a Critical Path Analysis in the form of a flow-chart — this makes clear the order in which tasks should be performed, and the degree of priority that should be afforded. This can be done on a spreadsheet, such as Microsoft Excel. These charts enable a program to be scheduled to a timescale, and enable budgeting and costs.
Even more useful for scheduling and budgeting are Gantt charts, which can also be prepared on a spreadsheet. They enable communicating plans and reporting progress to be done easily and quickly, which is one of the most critical elements in the project management process. However, they are not as useful as a Critical Path Analysis for identifying and displaying interdependent factors, so the two should be used in conjunction.
Triple Constraint Challenge
The biggest challenge for the project manager is to make the project succeed within the Triple Constraint parameter, under which every project is carried out. These constraints are generally considered scope, time and cost, and they are usually represented as the three sides, or three corners, of a triangle, with quality in the center. The significance of the triangle figure is that if any one side, or one angle, is altered, the other two are inevitably altered as well — so the three constraints are totally interdependent, and a change to any one of them affects the quality, the ultimate factor.
The concept of the Triple Constraint in project management has its roots in Goldratt’s 1984 Theory of Constraints, where the underlying assumption is that any organization is limited by a certain number of constraints in achieving its goals. A constraint can be internal, if the organization provides less than the market demands, or external, if the organization provides more than the market demands. There must be continuous improvement in the management of the constraints, if the organization is to achieve its goals.
Therefore, within project management, it is imperative to manage the three constraints effectively — not just as three individual factors, but also as a whole, because of their interdependence. For instance, in the case of the first constraint, scope — which is the specific statement of the elements that will make up the end deliverable of the project — if it is not fully defined or fully understood from the start, the whole project will fail. In addition, it is not uncommon for the scope to change during the project, for instance if the client adds extra requirements to the final deliverable — a process known as scope creep. In this case, clearly both the budget and the time schedule will also have to change.
The cost constraint is the budget available for the project, and can cover labor costs, materials, consultants and any other resources required. In most cases, the constraint arises from the maximum amount that the client is prepared to spend. The budget available clearly affects the time schedule and the final deliverable, as well as the ultimate quality of the project.
In addition, of course, all projects have a deadline date which they have to meet — the time constraint. The challenge for the project manager is to achieve the highest quality possible in the final deliverable within this time constraint, and the shorter the time available, the more resources may be involved in order to meet the deadline. If the time schedule is altered, this has implications for both the scope and the cost.
Triple Constraint Metrics
As well as being required in project planning, the Three Constraints are also used by managers as a basis for the metrics for determining the success of the project. Metrics are essential as part of the continuous improvement process for any business. They enable managers to gauge the status of ongoing projects, identify problems before they become severe, and assess how future projects can be improved.
A simple metric for judging the project’s success is whether it was completed within scope, within budget and on schedule, though in practice this seldom happens. However, an increasing number of managers believe that a more significant metric is tracking the added value at the end of the project, and assessing whether it meets expectations. Because of the increasing complexity of projects, they may take longer and cost more than anticipated, because of the need to deliver final value.
Understanding of the Triple Constraint principle is critical for planning projects, analyzing project risks and protecting your business against unrealistic client expectations. It is crucial for the success of the project, but must not be seen as the be-all and end-all. Rather, it is an essential ingredient in the ultimate project deliverable, which is adding value and meeting client expectations.