Monthly Archives: May 2009

State of the Profession

The project management profession would appear to be in a confused state!

PMI’s 2008 Pulse of the Profession survey shows improved performance from 2006 with over 55% of project completing on time and over 58% on budget.  The survey also found a strong correlation between the project management maturity of the organisation and improved project outcomes.

Meanwhile, the new Standish Group report (April 23, 2009) shows a marked decrease in project success rates,

  • 32%   Successful (On Time, On Budget, Fully Functional) – worst in 5 years
  • 44%   Challenged (Late, Over Budget, And/Or Less than Promised Functionality)
  • 24%   Failed (Canceled or never used) – worst in 10 years

These numbers represent a downturn in the success rates from previous studies, as well as a significant increase in the number of failures.

Around the same time as PMI, Human Systems International Ltd and the Association for Project Management (APM – UK) conducted a survey. The results of this survey reported in the May 2009 edition of Project Manager Today which showed that whilst value realisation is a long way from satisfactory it is not as bad as Standish would suggest. The survey showed 48% of organisations do not measure benefits realisation and of the remaining around half achieve more than 80% of the expected benefit and 22% less than 60%.

It’s hard to know what to make of the conflicting data – superficially, it would appear that organisations that employ professional project management staff (APM and PMI members) do better then organisations overall. But even then, the results are not that good. 

An alternative view may be the definition of a project with the APM & PMI membership being more focused than the Standish survey. For more on this see: What is a project?

The last alternative is IT projects (surveyed by Standish) are worse on average than projects in general.

Confused????  I certainly am. The real key seems to lie in the area of project management maturity. Maybe OPM3’s time has come at last?? (PMI’s Organizational Project Management Maturity Model).


We have an interesting 3 weeks coming up.

I will be in Boston next week for the PMI College of scheduling conference, followed by the UK for a meeting with the Chartered Institute of Building over their new Practice Standard for Scheduling and then onto Tokyo for the first week of June as part of the Australian delegation working on ISO 21500; the new standard for project management. In the meantime Lynda Bourne will be in Amsterdam for the PMI EMEA Congress.

We will try to let you know if anything interesting happens.

Brian L. Doyle

The impossibility of predicting the future has been brought home to me with a vengeance! My friend of 30 years, former business partner and teacher Brian Doyle passed away last night. When we last met, 10 days ago he was planning to be home from hospital within 2 to 4 days!

Brian taught me much of what I know about scheduling. Many of the themes running through these blogs are echoes of his thought and ideas.

  • Keep the schedule simple and elegant.
  • Make sure you get buy-in from the front line supervisors who will actually do the work (they’re going to do what they’re going to do, it helps if the schedule agrees).
  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of both the CPM methodology and the scheduling tools you use.
  • Communicate, communicate and then communicate.
  • Many useful heuristics on the way building projects in particular shape up from a time perspective.
  • Keep focused on the big picture not the details.
  • Common sense is a very rare commodity in people and totally absent in computers.
  • Any wine will do as long as it is high quality and red.

Brian’s life has been long and varied, from the British merchant marine to helping develop the Queensland scheduling business for Tracy Brunstrom and Hammond, to running his on consultancy and for a while partnering me in the Micro Planner business. Along the way he was the founding secretary of the Project Managers Forum, the forerunner of the Australian Institute of Project Management.  Our thoughts are with his family.

I have just stared negotiations with a publisher to write ‘my book’ Scheduling for Effect. The book is some 18 to 20 moths of hard work away but it will be dedicated to a great scheduler and a better friend. Hopefully it will be a fitting tribute.

The Last Planner and other Old Ideas

I never ceased to be amazed by the number of people who either have no knowledge of project management history and established practice or chose to ignore established practice in favour of a new fad that is the old practice recycled. Given modern project management is less than 60 years old this is a worry (for more on this see The Origins of Modern Project Management)

One of the more annoying ‘new ideas’ is the Last Planner® this methodology has at its root, the idea that the best people to involve in the planning process are the front line supervisors and team leaders who will actually have to do the work. This is a really great idea that has been used by good schedulers since the 1960s. Certainly when I was learning the craft of scheduling construction projects in the early 1970s one of the key messages from my teachers was that there was no point in developing a schedule unless; (a) the foreman though the sequence of work was best and (b) the foreman understood what was involved in the work. In effect my job was to make sure the foremen totally agreed with and understood all of the work implications in the schedule. As a bonus the foreman also was likely to know more about what was involved in doing the work than a green scheduler so we ended up with a realistic and achievable schedule.

Fast forward 40 years and a whole new idea called Last Planner® is being marketed with the idea the front line supervisors should be actively involved in scheduling the work using techniques such as affinity diagrams (Last Planner calls this post-it-notes stuck on the wall). There’s nothing wrong with the ideas in Last Planner® it just not new – the fundamental processes were being used by skilled schedulers 40+ years ago.

The reason this sort of recycling is seen by so many as ‘new ideas’ has been canvassed in A Brief History of Scheduling – Back to the Future. The advent of desktop PCs virtually wiped out the scheduling profession.

Similar adaptation of sound ideas from the past can be found in the concepts of ‘Light’ and ‘Lean’ project management. Both of these seem to be mantras of the Agile software development community (no guys – Agile is not a project management methodology, it is a way to develop software: see Agile is NOT a Project Management Methodology and two later posts).

Lean manufacturing was made famous by Toyota. Some of the key principles such as minimising unnecessary movement and waste, simplifying process and continuous improvement have huge potential in both software development and project management. But Lean is Lean, it was developed by Toyota and can be adapted to areas other than manufacturing. It’s a good idea but it was not invented as a part of Agile.

Light is a different philosophy focused on minimisation of unnecessary overhead. Complex plans and processes should be simplified, but only to remove excess complication, not to remove core requirements. This philosophy is certainly a part of Agile but again hardly revolutionary. Its roots can be traced back to the ideas of Scientific Management in the early 1900s and Parkinson’s writings in the 1950s.

Perhaps as the song goes; ‘everything old is new again’? Or maybe only a few of us have been around long enough to either remember the song or know our history?? At least a few of us old time schedulers will be able to kill off a few more brain cells in Boston next week (by the moderate use of good wine and beer) at the PMI COS conference ‘Revolutionary Scheduling’. It will be interesting to see all of the new ideas as well as adaptations of old ones.

Complex Projects

Further to two earlier posts on the subject projects aren’t projects I have run across an interesting journal paper from Jon Whitty focused on Complexity.

A number of organisations are promoting the concept of ‘complex project management’; many other commentators, including me, feel complexity is a factor in every project. The elements of complexity theory include non linearity, emergence and unpredictability. In project management space, this translates to the interactions of people involved in and around the project to each other and to the project work (for more on this see A Simple View of Complexity in Project Management).

Jon’s paper reinforces the argument that projects have multiple dimensions and additionally projects and programs are quite different. Whilst there is likely to be a correlation between size and complexity, the two dimensions are not directly related! To read more see: