The captain of the project is the project manager (PM). All projects will contend with other projects for resources. Most projects have a significant number of value-added services being delivered such as engineering design, test planning, specification development, and customer education. Skilled knowledge workers who are in short supply provide many of these services. These individuals often have difficulty estimating the level of difficulty, effort, and time required to perform a new service. Combine this with the nature of complex projects, that is, the (seemingly) continuous discovery of new requirements and a reduced and probably inadequate project reserve for time and budget, and you have a significant planning and control challenge. Because of all these factors, a PM in an ETO environment must be a generalist with enough understanding of each discipline involved in the project to separate fact from fiction. The appreciation for the PM role has progressively increased, and project management is considered one of the hot and growing professions today. Because of the complexity of ETO environment, a PM needs a high level of computer systems support. Also, the PM is concerned about the adequacy of computer systems that other line organizations use in support of everyday activities. A system is only as strong as its weakest link. Some of the key business issues for the PM:
• inadequate project status visibility and communications
• project "scope creep"
• inadequate requirements definition and specifications
• ineffective early warning signals
• unreliable estimates of effort and time required on new tasks.
Inadequate project status visibility and communications—A
typical ETO device requires many services delivered and thousands of parts procured or fabricated. Since there are thousands of activities, there is a need for significant information flow to adequately monitor, control, and replan as needed. Unfortunately the islands of information current found in most ETO environments severely compromises the timeliness and accuracy of this critical information flow.
There is a story often used to explain the impact of even a small error on a complex endeavor: You are in a large sailing schooner and will sail from Ireland across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. Unfortunately, the navigator makes a small error of 2 or 3 degrees in the sailing plan. This SMALL error lands you SEVERAL HUNDRED MILES FROM YOUR DESTINATION. It's winter, you are out of supplies, the locals are hostile, and your health is marginal. Trick question—do you give a bonus to the navigator?
That's why the PM (AKA the navigator) needs improved visibility into the real project status and the ability to communicate this status to all involved.
Project "scope creep"—The bane of every PM, not only for those in an ETO environment, but those managing any project, software development, capital projects, ERP system implementations, or construction. We previously stated that the defining of requirements is really a process of discovery. Nothing will change this. The issue here is the ability to interpret the changes as they influence schedule and cost.
Key to addressing this issue is the ability to access current and valid information and also the ability to simulate possibilities and choose the best strategy and approach.
Inadequate requirements definition and specifications—Please refer to our earlier discussion on the critical business issues for the engineering executive. If you were responsible for the planning, monitoring, controlling, and replanning of all tasks, you logically would want an accurate definition of requirements. Unfortunately, it is not going to happen. What the PM wants is the ability to respond to new requirements (discoveries) and plan and assess the impact they have.
Ineffective early warning signals—Knowing when things are not going well is important to everyone and in particular the PM. The key to understanding when the patient is not well is understanding the symptoms and monitoring the situation to see if they are present.
Unreliable estimates of effort and time required on new tasks— In our opening discussions on the PM role, we mentioned this problem. The root cause of this problem is the inability to access accurate data, simulate possibilities, and monitor performance to targets once an estimate is made and applied to the project schedule/budget.
Whenever I discuss critical business issues, I try to understand if they are a symptom or a cause. Figure 4 is my attempt at interpreting cause and effect. If we had a meeting with five individuals in it, we probably would have five different conclusions.
To Be Continued