Project Management

Special one-time efforts that require the disciplines of project management are a staple of the managerís life. While there are well-established tools and methods, many project managers stumble precisely because they do not correctly understand the nature of the problems they are embracing under the rubric of Ďa projectí.

Puzzles

Part of the virtue of project management software is its ability to calculate some of the more complex mathematical relations among tasks. Given a certain assignment of resources, task demands, interdependencies, and schedule constraints, it is possible to calculate estimated delivery dates and the critical path. More importantly, the software provides a method for exploring the consequences of changes. Reduced staff, delayed deliveries, or postponements due to weather can all be explored.

Uncertainties

The published Gantt chart or Pert chart is a single scenario. Significant projects almost always involve a number of other possible futures. The software captures the current – or most preferred – schedule; a smart project manager will consider some of the more likely variations. Will there be a labor strike? Will a major vendor go bankrupt? Could excavations expose soil problems that were not anticipated? Contractual constraints, project update meetings, and frequent recalculation of the critical path are all tools for managing uncertainties. They either constrain players from introducing new uncertainties, pursuing early warning of changes, or calculating the consequences of the current situation.

It is also common for time estimates for tasks to include an optimistic estimate, most likely estimate, and the most pessimistic estimate. This practice straddles the distinction between a Puzzle and an Uncertainty

Dilemmas

Project management is often managing the classic tensions:  speed vs. quality, insourcing for control vs. outsourcing for lower pricing, developmental assignments vs. pushing for performance. And projects may be the forum where structural dilemmas in the company come to the surface; that is, Engineering comes face-to-face with Manufacturing, so their conflicts are suddenly thrust into the limelight. 

Every project must contend with the Dilemmas inherent to project management:

  • Centralized control vs. Self-organizing team
  • Differentiated, individual performance vs. Synergistic team performance
  • Planning ahead vs. Planning on the fly