Big engineering and construction capital projects demand the use of sophisticated project management techniques as the basis for project planning and scheduling. Shane Forth, project management office director at Costain, shares his experiences.
That is why, based on nearly 40-years I have been involved with project management, I feel strongly about spreading the word concerning the importance of the technical integrity of the project schedule to success. Central to this is the use of robust, tried-and-tested critical path analysis methods for managing time.
Before moving on to the solutions, it’s useful to begin by taking a quick look at the history. What are called network analysis techniques were first used in the late 1950s in the US and emerged in the UK in the early 1960s. Schedules were drawn up manually by planning engineers with the aid of mainframe computers. In the early 1990s the arrival of personal computers and planning software helped make project scheduling become more instant and accessible but it also bred its own problems.
How? The technology began to override human expertise and content integrity. It could cause a number of common problems in the development of project schedules which led to fatal lapses in the schedule logic and which the software fails to address. These included:
* Open-ended activities, which occur as a result of decisions (or errors) made by the project planner when creating the project schedule.
* Constraint dates: computerised project management systems have various constraint date types, which can be assigned to activities as imposed dates. However, this will override the calculation and results of a natural forward and backward pass.
* Negative lags.
* Incorrect software settings which can affect calculations.
* Excessive detail.
In fact, authoritative sources continue to cite the issue of excessive activity as the single biggest problem in the development of robust and usable project networks. Modern project management software and speed of data entry can easily lead the planning engineer and project team into the temptation to develop the project network in more detail than is necessary. One of the results is that many stakeholders become overwhelmed and not only fail to understand the plan but ignore it.
At Costain we have a five-step solution to underpin schedule technical integrity in our project management plans and procedures. Key to this is ensuring that we have the right people and right attitudes ? at all levels ?involved in project management, follow best practice in terms of processes and procedures and use the tools available wisely. If the people involved have the capabilities, skills and knowledge the use of computers can be invaluable. But in the wrong hands they are not.
In addition to presenting on schedule integrity at conferences, I’ve recently facilitated a number of interactive workshops events external to Costain in which delegates from both customers and major contractors are divided into a number of teams to look at the issues described in this blog.
The results are consistent with my own observations and the workshop then move on to the most valuable part – where discussion and sharing of ideas on the best way forward to ensure success take place.
Additionally, delegates who have attended the workshops and are members of project management professional bodies such as the Association of Project Management (APM) and European Construction Institute (ECI) have expressed strong interest in hosting future reruns of a further workshop event for their communities.
Getting things right is about how people work, how they talk to each other, how they behave, what they know and what they do. Going back to the basics by applying established techniques solidly and robustly can make all the difference to project success.