Wednesday, 04 September 2013 08:16

Achieving Excellent Project Time Management

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Considering life, time is a unit of measurement since all events occur within its intervals. In fact, no two recurrent activities in history can be absolutely described without due reference to it. For instance, when intercontinental events such as the Olympics, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) world cup and Wimbledon are occur repeatedly in the same location, they are mainly referenced based on their years or dates of occurrence. Again, time is generally an independent resource which we spend and can never retrieve –we can only attempt to compensate for it presently or in future. Therefore, in achieving project objectives and producing deliverables, time is a critical constraint to which all human resource must be sensitive.

When customers, sponsors and other stakeholders outside an active project team appraise the team or their projects highly, they often adjudge them based on the team’s ability to maximally influence the main constraints of time, cost, scope and quality. This suggests that a team’s collective ability to produce the totality of expected deliverables in a satisfactory manner at a friendly budget within the appropriate schedule is what qualifies them as an ace project team; not the presence of a few highly-skilled or vastly-experienced individuals. While it is true that the presence of an effective project manager makes a team prone to being more successful, most successful teams are actually constituted by members who each understand the overall effect of working in proximity to planned schedule. If a team of fourteen members contain seven persons that are variously certified by PMI as CAPM®, PMP® and PMI-RMP® credential holders and these individuals apply and transfer the knowledge obtained from the consulted editions of the Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) across the entire team, the likelihood of the team’s overall success will escalate as the factor of time will be handled more efficiently.

Dynamic project managers and team leads adequately imbibe the schedule management tools and techniques recognized in the PMBOK® Guide and consciously influence their subordinates to do likewise. Great team members are persons who always desire to keep the disparity between planned project time and the actual work durations minimal. They demonstrate a working knowledge of the flow of work. They understand how the duration of each preceding activity affects its successor and can proactively predict their resulting effects on the overall project length. However, this does not overrule the ultimate responsibility incumbent on project managers to verify the appropriate completion of work packages. Rather, it fosters the probability of keeping the time expended in actualizing the deliverables at relative parity with the pre-planned durations and schedule baseline.

All other constraints being tractable, it is obvious that the success of a project is solely dependent on good project time management. To ascertain good time management, the defining & sequencing of activities, estimation of resources & durations, schedule development procedure and the process of controlling schedule must be performed painstakingly. The subject of timeliness is obviously critical because it is one of the characteristics differentiating endless organizational activities (operations) from temporary endeavors (projects) and time exhausted injudiciously cannot be regained without subscribing to fast-tracking or crashing; and either way, an additional consequence such as scope creep arises. In his book, Project Management (2009), Prof. Dr. Olaf Passenheim described scope creep as the tendency for the project scope to expand over time by changes in requirements, specifications and priorities. He opined that writing a project scope that is too broad is tantamount to an invitation to scope creep. Again, the PMBOK® Guide –Fourth Edition elucidates that a project is not only an endeavour geared towards producing a unique result, product or service but a timely one. Consequently, a project should not run forever or unendingly before producing its final deliverables. It should in fact produce timely deliverables pertinent to each phase.

Additionally, the set time should be realistic relative to the available project resources and flexible enough to accommodate unforeseeable occurrences. For instance, many of the so-called white elephant projects have evolved from poor time management rather than the conventional funding issue. A time-based white elephant project, in this context, may be termed as a valuable but onerous venture whose actual worth is relatively low and unwarranted when compared to its overall duration. Sometimes, projects assume this status due to either improper timing or poor time management. The digital terrestrial television (DTTV) project by Radio Televisyen Malaysia is a fine example. Described as a white elephant project, the DTTV venture was delayed and deferred because of the rapid development of technology ahead of the project over time. The prolonged time delay eventually led to the ineffectiveness of the project team in delivering completing the project within the planned schedule. In a fairly similar fashion, the Ada programming language mandated by the U.S. Department of Defense has grown extraneous for commercial applications in many industries across the globe. This unfortunate incidence is partly due to the untimely decision of the original sponsor to engage a project team to improve its graphical appearance and inherent functionality. Programming tools like the C++ and Java therefore emerged and won market shares far beyond expected marginal limits.

Some project deliverables are only as utilitarian as their timeliness. As such, the ability of the project team to deliver suitable results within scheduled time is paramount. Most product-related projects are quintessential in this regard. The need to build asylums and refugee homes during the period immediately following wartimes or catastrophic events readily comes to mind. After the armory explosion that occurred on 27 January 2002 in Lagos (Nigeria), camps comprising makeshift homes were arranged to cater for the needs of the homeless evacuees at both Ikeja and Yaba. In this instance, it would be grossly displeasing if the impromptu project team had delivered the necessary materials to the approved refugee sites a week afterwards. By then, various Non-governmental and international relief organizations would have intervened and control of the aftermath of the disaster, thereby lessening the impact of the deliverables of the relief project funded by the Nigerian government. Another example is observed in the FIFA world cup preparation. If in Brazil, the select host country of the 2014 FIFA world cup tournament, the project teams responsible for the stadia’s refurbishment fail to deliver within appropriate schedule, the final deliverables would be less useful to its stakeholders later on.

A recap of how project phases accrue to the project life cycle exposes the importance of time management. During project initiation, time should be expended in developing the project charter and identifying the initial stakeholders. The senior management executives also assign the project manager and perform the initial project development activities within a time frame. In the planning phase, where the project management team often invests a reasonable amount of time, activities spanning across the nine knowledge areas of project management are performed. Then in the subsequent phases, more time is collectively spent by the project team in executing the project plan and performing all the monitoring and control activities. The final process group is the closing phase where time is still exhausted in performing the closing activities that officially signifies the end of the project.

Diverse tools are available to hasten and enhance the project manager’s scheduling job. From the use of scheduling software to the application of the various techniques supplied in the PMBOK® Guide, the project manager is equipped to develop & control a schedule baseline. While applying their preferred time management tools, the project management team must also extrapolate the effects of unforeseeable factors and anticipate the potential need to create workarounds in the project’s future. The strike actions of the national labor union or a body of professionals who belong to a regulated industry from which project inputs will be sourced may have a strong negative influence on the project duration. Hence, in planning the project schedule, the project management team needs to be efficiently optimistic, pessimistic and moderate. If applicable, a default lost time injury frequency rate (or assumed man-hours that may be lost due to any work-related injury or illness experienced by a project human resource) should be set and factored into the schedule. Seasoned project managers and schedule management professionals know that the pragmatic side of time management is different from paper work and varies with the overall efficiency of all teams members. So, they always keep track of the time management ability of each individual and grouped human resource based on work packages. This explains why some project managers persist in building time consciousness in their human resource during the “develop project team” process.

Taking further efforts to ensure that each team member understands the importance of their work packages and receives a clear outline of all work activities is another useful approach. The responsibility of obtaining news and continually researching information that impact project activities may even be delegated to a singular resource. Sometimes, having a resource that regularly interfaces with journalists, security personnel or even the organization’s media and communications department may help the project team to keep abreast of all the external activities that are pertinent to their project. This will help reinforce the coordinative efforts of the project management office and bridge the effects of communication gaps between the central office and its project units. In the end, if the project team is entirely time-conscious and truly open to new ideas, the likelihood to perform well in project schedule management augments accordingly.

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List of References
Passenheim, Olaf. Project Management. Olaf Passenheim & Ventus Publishing ApS. 2009.
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide)–Fourth edition. Project Management Institute, Inc. Pennsylvania, 2008.

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Ayodeji Morakinyo

Ayodeji Morakinyo, CAPM, is a member of PMI and a graduate member of the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM). He studied Electronic\Electrical Engineering at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology and currently functions as a NOC Support Engineer at Main One Cable Company, a fast-growing broadband communications company in West Africa.

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