Tag Archives: Project Controls

Workflow Management

Many projects involve repetitive elements of work that take some inputs, run them through a series of processes and deliver an integrated output.  Standardising these elements of project work can create efficiencies and minimise errors.   A couple of examples include normal ‘sprints’ in an Agile project and the monthly updating of the plans and reporting in a major project. Workflow management sit one step above individual processes (particularly standard operating procedures) linking them into an optimum sequence of work.

Workflow management means to oversee the creation of a deliverable from beginning to end. The management aspect is to be able to identify the people who need to be involved in each process within the work flow and to ensure the ‘flow’ allows for input from all required parties in the right sequence. The key questions that need answering to create a productive workflow are:

  • What is the optimum sequence of processes?
  • Who needs to be involved in each process? This includes knowing what inputs are required to start the work and what outputs are produces to finish the work.
  • How to keep the momentum going within each process and the overall workflow (and the timely identification of blockages)?

A workflow can be simply designed on a piece of paper (or white board) to show the flow, who is responsible for each process and how the tasks are accomplished; or automated.


An example of an automated workflow management tool from http://www.comindware.com/tracker/

An example of an automated workflow management tool from http://www.comindware.com/tracker/

The key advantage of developing and using a workflow is you can expect similar results from the accomplishment of the work at each iteration, even if the people involved change. It reduces errors and provides consistent results.

Agile projects use the concept of ‘done’ at the end of a sprint. A common definition of done ensures that the increment produced at the end of sprint is of high quality, with minimal defects. Teams define the series of steps needed to reach ‘done’, and implement them routinely through each sprint. The steps to get to ‘done’ may include:

  • Code Complete
  • Unit tests written and executed
  • Integration tested
  • Performance tested
  • Documented (just enough)

Build these steps into a workflow and everyone benefits – particularly if the workflow is reviewed and updated to incorporate learned experience on a regular basis. The art is to keep the workflow as simple as possible but not so simple that it becomes simplistic.

So next time you wade through the tasks needed to create your monthly report or any other repetitive job within the overall management of a project think about documenting the work flow – it will pay dividends over time.

Getting to done!

AllemanGlen Alleman’s new book, Performance-Based Project Management: Increasing the Probability of Project Success is focused on the practical steps needed to get to ‘done’ – the project’s deliverables out there and working.

Performance-Based Project Management shows readers how they can increase the probability of project success, detailing a straightforward plan for avoiding surprises, forecasting performance, identifying risk, and taking corrective action to keep a project a success. Glen has distilled the practical essence out of the complex project management processes defined in a range of standards to focus on what works starting with the Five Immutable Principles of Project Success.  The five key things to know about any project are:

  1. What do we want ‘done’ and what does ‘done’ look like when we’re finished?
  2. What work do we need to do to get from where we are now to ‘done’ (by who, when and how)?
  3. Do we actually have enough skills (capability), money, people and other resources to do this work in a sensible timeframe?
  4. What problems and issues are we likely to encounter getting to ‘done’ and how can we manage them?
  5. How will we know we are making progress towards ‘done’ and how will know when we have arrived (refer first point above)?

The next step is to apply the Five Practices to refine and deliver the project’s scope:

  1. Define the needed capabilities
  2. Define the technical and operational requirements needed to implement those capabilities
  3. Establish a Performance Measurement Baseline for performing the work needed to implement the requirements (plan the work)
  4. Implement the work defined in the Performance Measurement Baseline (work the plan)
  5. Perform continuous risk management on everything you do on the project.

And then managing the work requires five processes:

  1. Organise the project work with a WBS and an OBS to show what is being delivered and who is responsible
  2. Plan, schedule and budget the work
  3. Account for the time and money used to implement the deliverables
  4. Analyse the variances that occur between the ‘actuals’ and the plan and understand the cause and the corrective options.
  5. Maintain the integrity of the data.

There’s a lot more in the book derived from Glen’s 30 years of experience as a program manager and performance management consultant in the aerospace, defence, and enterprise information technology fields. He is well known in the project management community through his Herding Cats blog.

To preview the book see: http://www.amazon.com/Performance-Based-Project-Management-Increasing-Probability/dp/0814433308

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

ForecastingNiels Bohr’s quote, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” neatly encapsulates the challenges facing project control’s professionals every working day if they are actively contributing to a successful project outcome. The question posed in this post is how accurate do we need to be with our projections to be useful? On one measure at least accuracy of 98% is not sufficient!!

The starting point is understanding what has occurred on the past and the ‘current status’ project. This is relatively easy, but is also a complete waste of time unless the data is interpreted in a model and use to provide useful information that helps the project management make decisions about future actions. This challenge applies to most aspects of planning and controls from strategic planning at the corporate level through the full spectrum of project controls (for more on this see: Project Controls).

Virtually every project has a cost plan and a time plan (schedule) and many have other ‘plans’ designed to model future outcomes. The way project controls work is to build a ‘model’ of the project in a software tool focused on one or more aspects of the project and then use insights from these models to help management make better choices. To be useful the plans need to be dynamic and built to respond to inputs on both the progress achieved to date and future actions so the effect of proposed or anticipated changes can be modelled and the information derived from the model used to inform management decisions. Unfortunately this is where the problems occur.

As a starting point, as Professor George E.P. Box succinctly stated several years ago; ‘all models are wrong’! This is a risk for management using any model but as Thomas Knutson and Robert Tuleya said; “If we had observations of the future we would trust them more than models, …… unfortunately observations of the future are not available at this time.” The ‘model’ is all we have.

Therefore to be useful, the model needs to provide insights at are practical and reasonably reliable. The challenges are:

  • Firstly building a realistic, dynamic model (eg, a dynamic schedule),
  • then validating the model which can be difficult given the unique nature of each project, and
  • then having management make use of the insights derived from the model’s information.

In a project this largely boils down to the skill of the scheduler or cost planner and the confidence management have in their planners and their processes.

In the wider world, a similar debate is occurring around climate change. One of the first debates was around the depletion of ozone levels in the atmosphere caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other halogenated ozone depleting substances creating the ‘ozone holes’. Sherwood Rowland, the Nobel Prize winner who discovered the chemistry that led to ozone depletion, asked this question: “What is the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?” Fortunately over time the world’s governments listened, CFC have been largely eliminated from society at large and the ozone is on a ‘bumpy road to recovery’.


A similar consensus to make difficult decisions about climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions has not yet happened. The scientific view is virtually unanimous (at around 99%) the modelling is accurate and validated but for many politicians short term personal ‘political advantage’ overrides the need to make hard decisions focused on the long term good of society at large. There is a very interesting TED talk on the modelling of climate change: view the talk.

This TED talk highlights the destructive stupidity of the new Australian Government in the way it is ignoring both economics and science to attempt to cancel virtually all of Australia’s current climate change initiatives on ideological grounds – particularly given our position as one of the worst emitters per capita in the world.

At a more fundamental level though is the ‘controls’ question. How do we develop, use and promote effective modelling in the form of schedules, cost plans and other techniques and then use them to enable managers to have the confidence to make hard decisions based on the predictive information we create? No schedule or cost plan is going to achieve the 98% certainty achieved by the current climate models. If politicians and some business leaders can dismiss a 98% certainty of climate change as being unreliable to facilitate short term personal gains and avoid making prudent decisions that are needed to save lives; what chance do we stand with project management when the accuracy of our models is lower, the opportunity for validation almost non-existent and the consequences of ‘not deciding’ far less traumatic??

Studies consistently show good use of project controls makes for significantly improved project outcomes! They also show most projects, and virtually every ‘failed project’ did not make good use of project controls. There seems to be a wilful desire to create failure based on some perceived short term benefits achieved by not investing in effective control systems (people and processes). My question is how do we change this????

PGCS #2 – the importance of communication

A consistent theme running through many of the presentation at both the Project Zone Congress  in Germany and the Project Governance and Controls Symposium  in Canberra was the importance of effective communication. This is particularly so when dealing with complex projects involving ‘teams of teams’ many of which may be focused on ‘their objectives’ ahead of the overall project.

Reinventing CommunicationMark Phillips  a keynote speaker at  PGCS highlighted some of the concepts in his new book Reinventing Communication: How to Design, Lead and Manage High Performing Projects’.  Several of the concepts align closely with our views.

The first ‘reinvention’ we fully agree with is the importance of in-person communication – in-person allows energy top build within the communication and facilitates knowledge development by the parties to the communication!  Remote communication is limited to knowledge transfer (see more on communication theory).

More important is the need to design your project’s organisation to allow success to be created. The hierarchy of design is:

  • Setting the right governance systems, policy and regulations
  • Designing the organisation structured to facilitate communication
  • Developing the people and the networking environment
  • Encouraging open, effective and fearless communication (frightened people won’t communicate bad news)

With the right communication structure and attitudes in place, innovation can thrive leading to problem solving and the creation of the outputs needed for success.  Conway’s law (1968) states that ‘that organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations’.  A fractured communication landscape leads to disjointed project deliverables.

With communication central to success, one of the key strategic intents of the project design should be to engineer an effective communications environment and then to measure the effectiveness of the communications taking place.  However, when setting KPIs it is important to measure the effectiveness of the communication, not just the volume!

This is not easy, some of the challenges associated with creating an effective communication environment are discussed in this RSA Animate video – Re-Imagining Work!

Project Governance and Control – The Building of the Crystal Palace

PM_World_JournalMy latest article on governance has been published in the May edition of PM World Journal.  Focused on the management of the project, it identifies sophisticated control processes for cost and quality, supported by good governance.   However, the processes used to manage time across an extensive supply chain and large on-site workforce remains elusive.


To read the article see: http://pmworldjournal.net/article/project-governance-control-building-crystal-palace/

For all of my ‘history’ papers see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/PM-Knowledge_Index.html#General_Interest-02


PGCS 2014 Update – I’ve been proved wrong!!

G-C_SymposiumThe Project Governance and Controls Symposium 2014, Canberra, is in full swing with wall-to-wall interesting presentations!

The focus of this post is the presentation by Stephan Vandevoorde on the work he is involved in at Ghent University, Belgium focused on developing  processes for the validated testing of project control tools entitled ‘If Time is Money, then Accuracy is Important’.

The problems with studying the effect of project control processes in live projects are many, the most significant being:

  • The control function generates information that influences management action causing different outcomes.
  • The ‘Hawthorne Effect’ where people being ‘observed’ change behaviour because they are being observed.
  • The uniqueness of each project, its team dynamics, luck, and the overall operating environment making replication of an ‘experiment’ difficult.

As part of their on-going work to validate Earned Schedule (ES) the Ghent team have developed a set of project networks using different topologies to emulate schedules ranging from those that are largely sequential, through to those that have a high level of parallel working.  The models are updated with a range of 9 different progress options leading to a total of 2.8 million unique data sets. This resource provides a unique test bed for evaluating the effectiveness of various predictive and preventative tools and techniques.  For more on this valuable resource, which is available for research, see http://www.or-as.be/research/database

One of the earlier studies (on a smaller simulation) focused on testing the effectiveness of various techniques in predicting the final schedule outcome of a project. And this research has proved me wrong!  In a blog post following last year’s PGCS ‘Earned Schedule comes of Age’  I lamented the fact that a detailed study proving Earned Schedule (ES) was significantly better at predicting project completion than the traditional Earned Value SPI had not taken the extra step and also demonstrated its predictive effectiveness compared to traditional CPM.  My paper Why Critical Path Scheduling (CPM) is Wildly Optimistic highlights the issues but lacks statistical validation.  As it happens, the ‘missing’ studies had been done and the outcomes presented by Stephan showed the results of a 2008 study by Prof. M. Vanhoucke (also of Ghent University) that demonstrate the superiority of Earned Schedule as a predictive tool designed to complement the true focus of CPM which should be the optimisation of resources and workflow (rather than the projection of the overall project completion – for more on this read my paper).

ES Table

So the basic research has been done, the results are conclusive and based on the research the effective controlling of projects needs a combination of CPM, EV and ES for optimum results!  The research frontier is moving towards effective early indicators such as the ‘P factor’ and intervention and with the data tools now available, statistically  significant analysis becomes feasible.

With the steady stream of papers validating Earned Schedule, I hope the flow of misleading information from a few die-hard traditionalists in the USA is finally extinguished and comments from leading authors such as Quentin Fleming and Joel Koppelman in the  4th Edition of ‘Earned Value Project Management’ (2010), that ‘The authors do not endorse [earned schedule]. Nor have they ever read any scientific studies that support [it]’ disappear.  It really does not matter what Fleming and/or Koppelman have bothered to read, making misleading statement like this helps no one.

The challenge is developing tools and techniques that help manage projects in an environment of increasing complexity – and as one of the other presenters, Stephen Hayes from the International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM), traditional tools such as CPM and EV are important, but simply not sufficient in the emerging domain of complex project management, or  as my paper to the PGCS suggests, Agile projects.

Project Management College of Scheduling (PMCOS)

The College of Scheduling (PMCOS) is a new, international, professional association. Incorporated in November 2013, its mission is to provide a forum for Professionals to promote excellence in planning and scheduling through networking, sharing project experiences, providing and receiving training, and providing support and encouragement for the ongoing development of a body of knowledge. Already operating on three continents, the College urges anyone who is passionate about our mission to be a part of this dynamic organisation.

You will have an opportunity to put your own ideas into practice and potentially change the way scheduling is perceived in every industry around the world. For more information, visit http://www.pmcos.org.

Its early days at the moment but hopefully the PMCOS will pick up from where the PMI College of Scheduling left off when it was converted into a ‘community of practice’ by PMI management and drive developments in scheduling theory to underpin the technology and practice of the profession.