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Tag: Strategic & Business Management

PMTimes_Nov8_2023

What Construction Project Managers Should Know about Change Management

A conference talk on the challenges faced by project managers of the 21st century lists several factors experienced across industries: scope management, information technology, team dynamics, customers’ satisfaction, lean management, communication, innovation, and quality.

 

The construction industry in particular is prone to change. Part of this is due to the nature of its workforce. For example, an article for the Human Resource Management Journal describes the construction industry as “reliant on a transient workforce and exist[ing] within a complex multidisciplinary team-oriented environment.” This workforce is continually challenged with some experts suggesting a dynamic approach to analyzing impacts of skilled labor shortages.

As you would imagine, multiple studies have been conducted in how change management principles may be useful in construction projects (e.g., see: conference talk for the 25th International Conference on Information Technology, International Journal of Project Management article, etc.).

 

Materials pricing in the industry is finally starting to stabilize; however, they remain high (higher than pre-pandemic levels). The labor shortages the industry face are part of a larger story of an aging workforce – hence why newer, tech-forward roles that can attract a younger generation of workers are increasingly important.

The job of a construction project manager is ever critical to meet the needs of complicated projects with continually constrained resources. Change management is one concept in these managers’ toolkit that can help them confront the constantly shifting construction landscape.

 

What Is Change Management?

Change management, defined by the Harvard Business School Online, is a term that “refers broadly to the actions a business takes to change or adjust a significant component of its organization” including company culture, internal processes, underlying technology infrastructure, corporate hierarchy, or other critical aspects.

Change, they explain, can be adaptive (e.g., small, gradual, iterative changes to evolve a business’s product lines, processes, workflows, and strategies over time) or transformational (e.g., larger scale/scope changes that signify dramatic and “occasionally sudden, departure from the status quo,” such as launching a new business division, expanding internationally, etc.).

To put this into context of construction, an adaptive change might be a sudden change order (i.e., a documented re-define of scope, budget, or timeline of a previously agreed upon construction job). A transformational change, meanwhile, may be a change in management structure or a company buyout.

 

Change management are the processes and guiding principles that help organizations (particularly, the employees that make up them) respond dynamically to change.

Construction project managers, coordinating teams of cross-functional workers onsite in a “multifaceted, dynamic industry,” need an equally dynamic approach to change management.

 

Here are some of the factors construction project managers may consider keeping top of mind:

 

ADKAR

One change management concept construction project managers should know is ADKAR, a change management model and acronym developed by Prosci® founder Jeff Hiatt after extensive study of patterns at more than 700 organizations.

 

ADKAR is an acronym for:

  • Awareness – Of the need for change
  • Desire – To participate and support the change
  • Knowledge – On how to change
  • Ability – To implement desired skills & behaviors
  • Reinforcement – To sustain the change

 

Prosci® recommends a 3-step process for implementing ADKAR within an organization:

  • Step # 1: Prepare approach – in this phase, practitioners (e.g., construction project managers) establish what they’re trying to achieve (e.g., better project outcomes) by defining impact (i.e., how the change affects individuals) and approach (i.e., the steps needed to achieve project success and mitigate risk – such as defining clearer project milestones and maintaining open lines of communication/collaboration)
  • Step # 2: Manage change – in this phase, the change management strategy is brought to life through three stages:
    • 1) Plan and act (i.e., preparing, equipping, and supporting those impacted by change – e.g., creating project management plans)
    • 2) Track performance (i.e., the phase in which change management efforts are tracked through implementation and practitioners identify performance strengths and opportunities – e.g., how effective is a project management tool in increasing project visibility, to what extend does it increase collaboration between team members?
    • 3) Adapt actions (i.e., based on what practitioners have learned, they spend time adjusting the change management strategies – e.g., considering the observed efficacy of the implemented project management tool, what tweaks should be made to ensure continuous improvement?
  • Step # 3: Sustain outcomes – in this final phase, the practitioner establishes the approach needed to ensure change is sustained organizationally for the long-term. Outcomes include:
    • Review performance – reflecting on performance, confirming desired results, and reviewing and documenting lessons learned (e.g., project postmortems)
    • Activate sustainment – focusing on implementing actions to sustain change outcomes, engaging in activities to identify gaps and activate sustainment roles
    • Transfer ownership – establishing how to carry sustainment efforts forward with activities including the transfer of knowledge and assets (e.g., sharing lessons learned with and recommendation to business owners)

 

ADKAR is a powerful change management model and tool worthy of consideration within construction projects to sustain meaningful change organizationally with how companies approach future projects.

 

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Structural Flexibility and Antifragility

Prosci® recommends implementing change management at both the project- and organizational-level (i.e., project managers should be fierce and empathetic advocates for both the individualistic people-side of change as well as possessing “a leadership competency for enabling change within [an] organization and a strategic capability designed to increase […] change capability and responsiveness”).

In other words, change management should be implemented from top to bottom.

 

Another, related managerial concept is antifragility, a business model first coined by financial scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The concept makes reference to Greek mythology and the creature known as Hydra who possesses nine heads and is depicted to possess immortality and the power of linear regeneration – growing three heads in the place of two from each stump when decapitated. This linear progression shows the Hydra, when attacked by an adversary intent on defeating it, becoming stronger through the adversity.

 

As a construction project manager, building structural flexibility and antifragility into your project framework such that team members are empowered to respond dynamically to change can make teams stronger in spite of any adversity they may encounter:

  • Do teams have the authority to employ creative workarounds (e.g., find new supplier, 3D printing, prefab) or work with customers to avoid excessive changes in design that explode project scopes (e.g., suggesting alternative, recyclable materials; cheaper, more readily available alternatives; negotiating on delivery fees; etc.)
  • Do teams have the authority to reject change orders (if too far out-of-scope)?
  • Do teams have the authority to strategically plan (e.g., purchasing safety stock on critical materials from wholesalers)
  • Do teams have the tools they need cross-functionally to be successful (we discuss this in the next section)

 

Embracing Technology for Dynamic Change Management

Technology should be no stranger to construction project managers. It is the enabler to productivity among teams even where resources are limited. It is the facilitator that allows the transfer of knowledge between cross-functional teams, breakdown of information silos, and builds antifragility into your workflow structures.

 

Digital solutions that exist to empower construction teams include (but are not limited) to:

  • Project Management: Tools like Procore®, Autodesk® Construction Cloud™, Buildertrend, e-Builder®, and Fieldwire by Hilti® help project managers coordinate work, delegate tasks, track progress performance, and document disputes and excessive change orders. Facilitating cloud-based project management enables real-time collaboration similar to how cloud-based collaboration tools like Office365 or Google Workspace enable real-time collaboration among office workers and university students.
  • Building Information Modeling: Building information modeling enables digital representation of building projects that facilitates collaboration between designers, architects, engineers, construction managers, and customers in real-time, allowing companies to find and mitigate risk, and reduce potential issues in design that would otherwise lead to change orders and overruns.
  • Inventory Management: Cloud-based inventory apps can help construction teams manage materials as well as equipment needed onsite to perform work, as well as cut down on hording across a multi-jobsite infrastructure.
  • Embrace Integration: In addition to the tools above, it’s critical to embrace technology integration – creating pathways for data sharing between project management, design, and in-field execution teams ensures real-time communication, prevention of duplicate (sometimes outdated) project data, and meaningful collaboration that mitigates risks.

 

Certifications for Construction Project Managers

Finally, aspiring construction project managers should consider certification programs that can (in addition to demonstrating competency to potential employers aiding in career advancement) provide practitioners with the necessary knowledge and skills to apply effective management techniques to the planning, design, and construction of projects that controls time, cost, and quality.

 

Possible certifications of note include:

  • The Construction Management Association of America’s Certified Construction Manager Certificate
  • The Project Management Institute’s Construction Professional in Built Environment Projects (PMI-CP)™ certificate
  • The Project Management Institute’s Agile certifications can also provide practitioners the knowhow to apply relevant agile/scrum principles to construction technology implementation
  • Certifications in Lean Management offered through the Lean Construction Institute and Associated General Contractors of America to apply lean management principles, reduce waste from projects, and improve quality assurance

 

For Construction Pros also recommends six other worthy contenders for certifications for construction career development.

 

Bottom Line

The construction industry, more so than other industries, is defined by change. As the industry faces continuous operational challenges, it’s ever critical that construction project managers have the tools to manage their projects dynamically—change management chief among them can help them empower and empathize with their cross-functional stakeholders and building partners, equipped to grow, evolve, and become stronger through stressors they’re constantly confronted by.

 

PMTimes_Oct18_2023

From Waterfall Walls to Agile Architecture: The New Era of Construction

This is a collaborative article cowritten by Lucas Marshall and Jason Braun.

 

Productivity is hard to measure. It differs depending on industry, for one. What’s more, the construction sector is what the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago considers “strange and awful,” representative of raw BEA data suggesting “that the value added per worker in the construction sector was about 40 percent lower in 2020 than in 1970.” For instance, the construction of the One World Trade Center in New York faced numerous delays and budget overruns, highlighting the challenges the industry faces. Labor shortages—whose “impacts on labor wages, cost overruns, and scheduling concerns in construction projects”—could be the driving factor here as companies struggle to fill positions while unemployment remains low. In other words, “few construction workers [are] seeking jobs, and therefore the pool to fill demand is shallow,” while onsite workers face the unique challenge of executing projects with limited resources—adding to these impacts and slowing growth.

 

At first glance, the worlds of software development and construction may seem poles apart. However, both industries grapple with the complexities of managing large-scale projects, ensuring timely delivery, and adapting to unforeseen challenges. For example, the development of the Windows 95 operating system was a monumental task for Microsoft, much like constructing a skyscraper is for a construction firm. Just as software developers transitioned from the rigid Waterfall methodology to the more adaptive Agile approach to address these challenges, the construction industry stands at a similar crossroads.

 

While it may seem alien to the construction sector, the software industry has subbed one framework (i.e., waterfall) for another (agile), resulting in success ratios two times greater, 37% faster delivery, and greater impact on improving product quality, a 2023 scholarly study found. Popular apps like Spotify and Airbnb have notably benefited from Agile methodologies, iterating rapidly based on user feedback.

 

In this article, we propose applying similar agile and lean construction methodologies illustrative of industrialized construction. Like software—which replaces a rigid, monolithic release cycle with a more agile framework—we explain that industrialized construction looks to replace the old-school, one-off “project” mindset with a fast and dependable productization framework. Consider the construction of modular homes, which are built offsite in controlled environments and then assembled on-site, mirroring the iterative development and deployment in software.

 

Software Project Management: From Waterfall to Agile

Companies in the software industry generally use one of two frameworks when building software products:

 

Waterfall

Waterfall is a more traditional approach to software development where production takes place in a linear, sequential manner (i.e., every task needs to be finished before the next one begins). This means new software solutions begin by defining requirements, then shifting into the software design phase, then shifting to the software developers building what has been proposed, then verifying the release is stable, and finally shifting into maintenance (i.e., finding and squashing bugs). For instance, the early development of Microsoft Office followed a Waterfall approach, with distinct phases and milestones.

 

Key point: Like construction projects that oftentimes involve a considerable deal of back-and-forth with approvals before breaking ground, then contend with unpredictable access to onsite labor and materials as well as rapidly changing weather conditions, we’ll argue later that construction is due for breaking from the waterfall-like processes through industrialization.

 

Agile

Agile is an iterative, team-based approach to software development where rapid delivery of functional products over a short period of time (known as sprints) is used (similar to lean manufacturing methods applied to construction). Continuous improvement is adopted, and subsequent batches are planned in cyclical schedules. Tech giants like Google and Facebook have adopted Agile methodologies for many of their projects, allowing for rapid iteration and improvement based on user feedback.

 

Agile methodology is more collaborative and customer-focused. Oftentimes, customers have the opportunity to offer their feedback through the software development process (e.g., beta releases). Through this approach, developers can improve the overall functionality of the software for the target end user and establish a 1-1 relationship based in trust and mutual respect. It also offers a fixed, predictable schedule and delivery, improved quality for customers through their hands-on participation, as well as adaptability through change.

 

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From One-Off Projects to Finished Goods through Industrialized Construction

Industrialized construction (IC) refers to “the process through which construction aims to improve productivity through increased mechanization and automation,” similar to how Ford’s early assembly line offered the mechanized approach necessary to meet the demands of customers for the Model-T while ensuring product consistency and quality through mechanized orchestration.

 

The mention of Ford’s Model-T isn’t merely a nostalgic nod to the past but a pivotal example of industrial transformation. In the early 20th century, the automobile industry faced challenges similar to today’s construction sector: Inefficiencies, inconsistencies, and a demand that outpaced supply. Ford’s introduction of the assembly line for the Model-T revolutionized production, offering a standardized, efficient, and scalable solution.

 

At a high-level, industrialized construction as a concept moves beyond approaching each build as one-off projects. Instead, practitioners apply a foundational framework where building deliverables are treated as building products and the same attention to build quality, customer satisfaction, and continuous improvement seen from manufacturers of marketable finished goods (e.g., automobiles, electronic devices, perishable goods, etc.) is applied to construction. A real-world example can be seen in the rise of prefabricated homes, which are built in factories and then assembled onsite, ensuring consistent quality and faster construction times.

 

The traditional approach to construction, as we highlighted earlier, comes with its set of challenges. For instance, 45% of all construction projects face disruptions due to inclement weather. A staggering 93% of construction firms grapple with material shortages. Furthermore, the limited access to skilled workers, a point we touched upon earlier, restricts the efficiency of an onsite workforce, especially under tight deadlines. This can jeopardize schedules, budgets, and even the quality of work.

 

For instance, the construction of the Berlin Brandenburg Airport faced numerous delays due to planning and execution challenges, showcasing the need for a more streamlined approach.

 

The transition towards Industrialized Construction isn’t just a theoretical proposition; it has tangible, real-world implications that can redefine the construction landscape. For starters, IC can lead to significant cost savings. By shifting much of the construction process to controlled environments, we can mitigate the risks and uncertainties of on-site construction, from weather disruptions to labor shortages. This not only ensures projects stay on budget but also can lead to faster completion times. For example, the Broad Sustainable Building company in China constructed a 57-story skyscraper in just 19 days using prefabricated modules, showcasing the potential of IC.

 

Industrialized construction, meanwhile, looks to improve quality by affecting factors within a business’s control:

  • Third-party prefabrication and offsite construction partners or building out your own infrastructure to support offsite preassembly can improve schedule certainty by 90%, while cutting down on construction costs by 10% and improving quality by mechanizing the preassembly process in a temperature-controlled factory setting where stringent quality measures can be enforced.
  • Robotics and additive manufacturing technology to increase output, capabilities, and design freedom of human installers; smart tools and IoT solutions in the hands of these installers, meanwhile, can further assist in performing installations more safely with reporting/quality verifiability. For instance, the use of drones in construction sites for surveying and monitoring has become increasingly common, providing real-time data and insights.
  • Building information modeling (BIM) can help construction professionals and stakeholders (e.g., customers, inspectors) collaborate virtually, envisioning finished products in their natural environment while improving the 1-1 relationship and trust through construction projects similar to how earlier discussed software teams run beta tests. The construction of the Shanghai Tower, for example, heavily relied on BIM for its design and execution.
  • A wealth of data via digital twins (e.g., real-time inventory data, predictive analytics, data synchronization to remove information silos, etc.) can help professionals manage projects with more certainty and deliver data-driven insights to drive proactive decision-making and quality.

 

In the broader discourse on project management methodologies, Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez’s article, “It’s Time to End the Battle Between Waterfall and Agile,” offers a compelling perspective. Nieto-Rodriguez critiques the rigid dichotomy many project leaders maintain between Waterfall and Agile, suggesting that such binary thinking has fostered tribalism within the project community, stifling innovation and potential. This tribal mindset has even led entire organizations to “go agile,” often at the expense of sidelining the foundational principles of traditional methodologies that certain projects might still benefit from. The real-world implications of this divisive approach can result in tangible losses for organizations. Nieto-Rodriguez advocates for a more nuanced approach: hybrid project management methodologies. By merging the meticulous planning of Waterfall with the adaptability of Agile, these hybrid methods can address the shortcomings of a one-size-fits-all strategy. Such an approach not only bridges the divide between the two methodologies but also paves the way for more effective and innovative project outcomes.

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

 

Bottom Line

The construction industry and its fragmented ecosystem is in desperate need of industry-governing interoperability where critical project data is shared in real-time, enabling collaboration and a nimble building process adaptive to change.

 

As project managers in our industry look to the software industry for ways to improve quality, one conclusion they may come to is breaking away from the monolithic, waterfall delivery methods. Instead, they may implement an agile framework and industrialization of processes that facilitate the same increased output and uncompromised product quality that allowed the iconic Model-T to roll off the production line and meet customer demands.

 


About Authors

Jason Braun is the author of Designing Context-Rich Learning by Extending Reality and an educator with over a decade of producing, delivering, and promoting critically acclaimed multimedia learning experiences. Recognized for collaborating effectively with programmers to create educational software featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education and with subject matter experts like New York Times best-selling authors and FBI cybersecurity agents.

PMTimes_Oct04_2023

A Self-study about the Impact of AI on Project Stakeholder Management

I want to know the exact details of how AI can help project managers.

Not much concrete work is done in this area, so it is hard to find scientific papers or case studies about the impact of AI on project management. 

In this situation, I had to rely on the most powerful and trustworthy method, i.e., Self-help.

To understand the influence of AI, I picked one specific knowledge area: Project stakeholder management.

I will try to find out the benefit of using an AI tool or system on the four processes that comes under this knowledge area.

 

These days, I am reading loads of articles related to “AI in Project Management”. Being a PM, I always look for such articles with great curiosity and expectations. I want to understand how AI will impact project management.

 

To my dismay and frustration, most of such articles turn out to be fluff. I can categorize most of these articles into the following three brackets:

  • Some start with an explanation of AI and then get into details about different forms of AI like NLP (Natural Language Processing), ML (Machine Learning), Generative AI, etc.
  • A few articles mention various tools that use AI. Unfortunately, these tools had no relevance whatsoever to project management.
  • Many articles talk about the benefits of using AI in project management, such as automation, cost reductions, time savings, and better decision-making. In my opinion, all these benefits look like a general statement that goes for every other innovation too.

 

First, a refresher on what is project stakeholder management: 

Stakeholder management is the process of managing the expectations of anyone who has an interest in a project or will be affected by it.

 

The four process groups identified in project Stakeholder management are as follows:

  • Identify Stakeholders
  • Plan Stakeholder Management
  • Manage Stakeholder Engagement
  • Control Stakeholder Engagement

 

I will examine these processes and try to inject AI into their ITTO (Inputs, Tools, Techniques & Outputs) to the best of my knowledge.

I am not an expert in AI, so please correct me wherever you think there could be better usage of AI in that specific process.

 

Identify Stakeholders: Identify everyone, be it groups or individuals, affected positively or adversely by the project’s outcomes.

In this process, we check the existing project documents to identify all the stakeholders. These documents can be project charter, project proposal, or any contract created at the project beginning.

I do not think AI will be of any use in this process. Generally, a Project manager checks all these documents and lists all the stakeholders. PMs should also connect with project sponsors and other subject matter experts for their input in the stakeholders list.

 

Every project is unique in nature with its own enterprise environmental factors (EEF). In such a case, it is not possible to develop a ML model that provides predictions for unique projects.

Stakeholder analysis is one of the techniques used in this process. The primary goal of stakeholder analysis is to gather information about these stakeholders and use it to make informed decisions, manage relationships, and mitigate potential conflicts.

Can we use AI here? Can we Develop an ML model to categorize the stakeholders according to their power and influence automatically?

 

A few questions to ask: Is it worth the effort? What could be the maximum number of stakeholders in a project? Let us assume that the project is big and complex, so we have many stakeholders identified. Can we create a machine learning model by mapping different attributes like stakeholder’s interests, concerns, and influence and then classify them based on their level of interest and power or influence? The input data would vary a lot for each project. In such cases, the models would need a large amount of data for training to identify patterns for predictions.

 

Let’s assume we can create an ML model that can define stakeholders’ engagement strategy depending on their power/influence/interest. Will this model add much value to the organization’s productivity?

I feel a project manager could do the stakeholder analysis more quickly and accurately.

The output of this process is a stakeholder register.

 

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Plan Stakeholder Management: comes up with the management strategies required to engage stakeholders effectively.

This process also requires the PM to check project-related documents.

Mind mapping is one of the techniques used in this process. It is a visual tool.

 

Can AI be useful in this technique? We could automatically create a Mind map using the stakeholder register constructed in the previous process. PMs can then develop an engagement strategy or prioritize the engagement efforts based on the mind maps. This automated process saves time and effort for the Project managers.

Is this a good AI use case? No, according to me. The mind mapping tools might already have the feature to import a risk register as an Excel or doc file. So, I don’t think it is justified usage of ML for developing mind maps from Stakeholder risk register.

The output of this process is the Stakeholder Engagement Plan.

 

Manage Stakeholder Engagement: This process outputs effective communication with stakeholders and works with them to meet their needs through meaningful and appropriate involvement in project activities.

This is primarily an execution phase where documents are updated on a need basis. An ML model cannot predict this day-to-day process. So, an AI chatbot cannot replace a project manager here. A PM needs to have active interactions with stakeholders. PM needs to listen to what the stakeholder is saying and try to infer what the stakeholder is not saying.

The tools & Techniques in this process talk about interpersonal and communication skills, which are tough to emulate via an AI chatbot. I feel if a stakeholder gets to know that a bot is doing communication instead of a human PM, they might view it as a communication breach. I cannot imagine a stakeholders’ meeting where an AI bot is giving a status update report, and all the stakeholders are nodding their heads, feeling proud and in awe about this technology feat.

 

Control Stakeholder Engagement: This is the process of monitoring overall project stakeholder relationships and adjusting the strategies and plans for engaging stakeholders accordingly.

One of the techniques in this process is decision-making – Multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA)

MCDA is a structured approach for evaluating and comparing multiple criteria or factors when making decisions. It also requires data collection, assessment, monitoring, and readjustments.

We can use some software for decision-making that uses custom-trained ML models. I feel the attributes to train the models would be humongous and human centric. It would not be useful to create custom models for stakeholder engagement.

 

I have covered all four processes involved in the Project Stakeholder Engagement knowledge area.

In this exercise, I tried to put an unbiased perspective where I wanted to incorporate AI consciously in the Project Stakeholder Management knowledge area.

 

My concluding thoughts on how AI would impact Project Management:

The Project management stream requires more behavioral skills than technical skills. It requires human eyes, ears, brain, and heart. It cannot be completely replaced by Artificial Intelligence generated robots or systems.

 

As mentioned earlier, I am a project manager, not an AI expert. I would look forward to constructive input from other AI experts. But for the AI bots generated comments, please stay away!

 

PMTimes_Sep19_2023

‘Delay Thinking’ Is a Project Success Factor

Often, it is better to spend more time than it is to speed to meet a deadline. Fast is good but not always. When rushing to get something done the probability of causing damage is high.

 

Delay Thinking

Delay thinking recognizes that there is a delay or lag between an action and its effect. Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline says that “Delays can make you badly overshoot your mark, or they can have a positive effect if you recognize them and work with them.”

Figure 1 below is a diagram that explains the delay phenomena, he gives the example of the delay between the time you adjust the water temperature in the shower and the time the water reaches the desired temperature. If you understand the delay, you will make sure you don’t get doused in cold water or make the mistake of further turning up the hot.

Figure 1: Delayed Results[1]

What Does This Have to Do with Projects?

In both projects and operations, we make and act upon decisions. We set expectations among stakeholders about outcomes. We are expected to fix problems and do it fast.

Faced with problems we may seek quick fixes by applying solutions that worked in the past or in other organizations. We can be pressured into rushing ahead without doing the due diligence of assessing causes, multiple scenarios, and the impact of differences between the current situation and the ones in which a solution worked in the past.

In time bound projects, there is a tendency to overlook likely delays. For example, underestimating the time it takes to perform predecessor tasks when scheduling resources. The result is the cost of resources sitting idle while waiting for the results they need to proceed.

When we take delays into consideration expectations are realistic and problem resolutions end up making things better rather than worse.

 

Learning Curves and Change Management

For example, when a large organization implemented a system to reduce the effort of field managers by applying AI to automate their ordering process, they failed to recognize the delay caused by a combination of learning curves, manager resistance to a perceived loss of authority and autonomy, and the need to fine-tune the algorithm used to make ordering decisions. The result was avoidable chaos, supply chain disruption, and degraded performance. The new system was rejected.

The outcome would have been a far happier one had the project plan included a robust training process, “marketing,” and a calibration period with an incremental system rollout rather than a “big bang” implementation. All of these are “delays” that on the surface cause the project to run longer. Though more often than not, when looking below the surface these so-called delays save time, effort, money and reduce unnecessary stress.

 

Causes

What might cause failure to include delays in plans?

Everything has a cause and when we discover causes, we can better avoid repeating failures and making poor choices.

One predominant cause of this failure to consider delays is rushing to get a project completed in a certain time frame. The pressure to get your project done by a fixed date may be driven by many things – the whim of a senior stakeholder, funding availability, the need for resources on other planned projects, legal restrictions, seasonal weather conditions, etc.

 

When a “get it done by” mandate is in play, pressure, and the anxiety it brings leads decision makers to cut corners, perhaps forgetting that spending more time planning can result in exponentially less time during the rest of the project. Pressure and anxiety also lead to applying quick fixes which overlook long term consequences.

Expediency bias operates even when there is no major pressure to hit a deadline. It is the tendency to prefer quick action over taking the time to make sure there is clarity and understanding about short and longer-term results.

During planning, rushing and expediency bias leads to only looking at one scenario instead of a few. Assessing multiple scenarios opens the decision to useful analysis. But this takes time. When rushing, talk about lags or delays is impatiently squelched. The risk of making a poor decision based on limited information is high.

 

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Quick Fixes – Short Term thinking

Another dimension of delay thinking is the recognition that when resolving a problem, while short-term fixes might remove symptoms there is a delay before the nature of longer-term consequences are experienced.

We are often blind to the long-term effects of short-term decisions and actions. When there is a lag between our action and its effect, we are easily driven by the satisfaction of short-term pleasure and immediate gratification.

Take the decision between eating a bowl of ice cream and a salad. If you are like me, the ice cream is far more pleasing than the salad. And, at the end of the day, you’d look and feel the same regardless of your choice. So why not go for the ice cream.

 

But factor in delay thinking and you get to see that if you repeatedly opt for the ice cream over the salad the delayed longer-term effects start to show – weight gain, digestive issues, increased blood sugar levels, etc.

Looking at the short and long-term effects makes your decision making more effective. You know what you are gaining and giving up when you make your choice. You can opt for ice cream sometimes, but you are more likely to moderate, assuming your goal is good health. You can remove symptoms with a quick fix, but you had better consider the longer term impact and plan for it.

 

Awareness

Awareness is the key.

 

Being aware that delays are normal parts of experience makes it likely that we will consider them when making decisions and planning projects. Knowledge of the specific delays in your project comes from analysis and experience, your own and your institution’s.

Be aware of rushing and expediency bias and the power of spending more time in planning to playout various scenarios, consider delays and delayed effects, and cause removal vs. symptom removal options and their effects.

Think of what happens when you drop a stone into a pond of still water. Be aware that every action you take has a ripple effect and that the ripples appear over time, radiating in all directions.

 

[1] Senge, Peter, The Fifth Discipline, Doubleday, NY, 1990 p. 90
PMTimes_Aug15_2023

Making the Impossible Possible – Expectations, Loss, and Loss Leaders

It always seems impossible until it’s done.Nelson Mandela

 

Projects burdened by impossible objectives tend to fail, disappoint, and burnout performers. They are a sign that the decision-making process is broken. To avoid failure, make sure there is a solid understanding of the difference between possible and impossible goals and objectives and a well-thought-out decision-making process.

 

In the context of project engagements (see my recent article Engagement Management: A Key To Successful Projects), setting impossible objectives is often the result of a poor approval process, inadequate estimates, lack of effective pushback by project management to either an overzealous sales effort or an overly demanding client/sponsor.

 

Beware of an Over-Zealous Attitude

The tendency to set impossible objectives is strengthened by attitudes like the one expressed by Mandela and this one from Muhammad Ali:

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration.”

 

The ‘can-do’ attitude is powerful and motivating. But, in fact there are some things that are, in fact, impossible. For example, changing the past is impossible, as are completely controlling the future or getting a ten person-day task like setting requirements done in a day by assigning ten full time people to it.

As the Serenity Prayer recognizes, it takes wisdom to know the difference between what is possible and what is not, and the courage to act.

 

Is It Worth It?

There are objectives that seem impossible but may be possible. A big question for project stakeholders is, what is it worth to find out?

In project management the “wisdom” referred to in the Serenity Prayer needs to be shared among sales, project sponsors, and clients and it needs to be embedded in the engagement management process.

Stretch goals push the edge of performance but achieving them can be costly and have a high probability of failure. Go for it if cost is not a significant constraint, achieving goals is highly rewarding in non-financial terms, and expectations are realistic.

 

For example, the cost of fighting and winning against the apartheid system in South Africa was not a significant constraint. People were willing to give their lives and livelihoods to win. The reward, freedom, was worth the cost. And expectations, while high, were realistic – people were willing to keep at it as long as necessary and had no idea how long that would be.

But in business and technology projects we have a different dynamic. The sales price, which is made up of costs plus profits, sets up a goal for the project manager and team that, if unmet, costs the organization and the team. The organization loses money, the team is faced with failure, clients and sponsors are disappointed.

In-house projects have a similar dynamic. The sales price is the cost estimate which with expected benefits drives project approval. Cost and schedule overruns and unrealized benefits are costly to the organization and the performance team. Clients and sponsors are disappointed.

 

A key question is – Is it worth it to attempt to achieve the stretch goals?

 

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Decision Making and Consequences

Portfolio Management’s project approval process is the forum for making the decision to decide if ‘it’s worth it’. There is no problem when the answer comes out of a well thought out analysis of costs, benefits, alternatives, and risks, and expectations are well-managed.

 

But when the decision is made based on bad estimates and emotion, with a misguided understanding of what is and isn’t possible, there will be hell to pay.

 

Looking at two situations, considering costs, competition for resources, and benefits, we can see how project approval works.

 

1. In situation One a contractor organization is selling a project to a client. The sales team works with the client to find a price that the client likes. This comes out of a negotiation within the client’s procurement process. Ideally, the sales team considers input from estimators representing the performance team and comes up with a price that sells and is profitable.

If the sales team does not consult the performance team, the price is likely to be an impossible goal. If the performance team is consulted and says that they can do the job, but their costs would eat into or do away with profit, that’s where the decision makers come in. Their job is easy if the price and costs allow for sufficient profit.

If profit is lower than executives would like or if there is a loss, then the decision makers must decide whether to take on a loss-leader project that will, say, get the company in the door at a new client or keep competitors out of an existing client. They must assess whether this project is worth doing given limited resources and more profitable or critical projects.

If the decision makers decide to approve, they must (but often do not) set expectations with the performance team to let them know they are shooting for a rational target and why the project price is so low.

This scenario is linked to incentives – sales commissions pinned to gross sales price or to profit and bonuses for the performance team. And, of course, schedule – delivery targets, their priority, and time to completion – is a major factor.

 

2. Scenario Two is where the work will be done by in-house resources. In this situation the dynamic is different. The project price (the cost to the organization) may be set based on a well thought out or faulty cost estimate or based on available budget and a strong desire to do the project.

Instead of profit, decision criteria include benefits. While benefits are realized over years and often far exceed costs, available budget and contention for resources are constraints. A decision is made.

If the performers know they are shooting for a rational target all’s well. When they are driven to meet impossible objectives there are consequences like failure, poor morale, relationship issues, turnover, and burnout.

 

Going Forward

As always, assess your current situation and track record.

  • Are project overruns frequent?
  • Are estimates chronically inaccurate?
  • Are staff members driven to do the impossible?
  • Do you have a clearly defined well-functioning decision-making process that includes managing the impact on staff of stretch objectives?
  • Who is accountable for project overruns, particularly when realistic project level estimates are ignored, and cost targets are set based on political or sales oriented criteria?

Based on that assessment what do you need to change and how will you change it?

 

And, of course, do not believe it when someone says, “it’s impossible.” Check the facts, get other opinions, use your intuition, then decide. Push the edge to do the impossible when it is worth it. Make sure expectations are well-managed.