Tuesday, July 29, 2008

5 Biggest mistakes people do with management philosophy adoption / implementation

Organisations progress by continuously reviewing and enhancing their business systems and operating philosophy. In pursuit of this new technological and managerial philosophies are adopted and implemented. Managers often make mistake in such ventures by either being obvious or obsessive. Some of the quick thoughts I am jotting down here.

1)    Obsession with buzzwords and catch phrases

The style statement of the hour is ‘buzz words’ and ‘catch phrases’! Those who by hearted such ‘celebrated’ abbreviations, use them anywhere and every where. They try to fit such words even when the usage of the same is not contextual.
“The SLA’s are values of KPI’s which are measure of KVD’s which are CSF for the organization” – Ahhh .. anybody who understand these acronyms can raise their hands !
Apparently it read : “The Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) are values of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) which are measure of Key Value Drivers (KVD’s) which are Critical Success Factors (CSF’s)  for the organization” !
Sometimes it gets really irritating. PMI(Project Management Institute) is also master in creating such ‘buzz words’ !

Such obsessions sometimes drive away the real topics and the body of presentation will get just fancy. People may fail to covey things in simple way. They fit in buzz words anywhere and everywhere and even create lines and paragraphs just to include these words ! While conveying new philosophies down the line this creates confusion , at least to some extent , no matter the people down the line express it or not!
Common men are generally bit afraid of such words and try to stay away from places where such words are echoed. So beware , when you are about to transmit a management idea / philosophy to down the level, you may be leaving the reader with utter confusion ! Send messages in simple wordings. Use buzzwords if they really need and fit in the context . If you use such abbreviations, try to give expansions and meaning for them.

Because, the intension is not to highlight your knowledge of buzzwords, but to transmit the management philosophy down the level!

2)    Trying to fit elephant into bottle

A very common mistake managers do with system / philosophy implementation is get a ready made solution and try to fit the organization in to that. They completely forget the aim of implementation (The root cause). If the system / philosophy is highly popular , chance of ‘elephant fitting’ high. An organization which is in its early stages should not directly adopt highly sophisticated systems. Its people and business process should grow up to accept such systems. Primavera Enterprise is a very good project management software. Earlier versions (P3 v3.0 and older) where mostly functioned as a scheduling tool. But Primavera V5.0 was a big leap. It almost functions as an ERP for a project management organization. But it is not cost effective for smaller organization.. I would say not even mid size organizations! Well, they can use it , but they will never be able to utilize the full functionality. For them MS project may be a better option. This applies vice-versa as well (For big project management organizations).
The same applies to selection of ERP packages , quality philosophy implementation ..etc
A small organization trying to improve its operating parameters and profit should start from 5 S , instead of going directly implementing Six Sigma ! (Nowadays six sigma specialists come with a heavy price tag as well !)

The essence is :
•    Choose the right tool
•    Configure it for your organization

Fit (or inject) the new thing into your organization , don’t fit your organization in – It wont grow if you do that!

3)    Obsession with experiences from previous employment

When people change companies, they often change their domain as well. The degree of shift varies from a slight change in the routine activities to drastic change the business function or industry. When people join organizations, they bring culture of previous organizations with them. They might have left the previous organization cursing its bad practices and systems. But once they join the new company, they will start praising about their previous organization. I have virtually not seen any one not doing this!
Certain people blindly follow or try to implement things which they used in their previous company. They don’t understand the difference in the business process or demand. They are more concerned about bringing their previous environment back, rather than augmenting the new environment with good features of the old.

Many people fail in business , when they fail to understand that , mankind would never have progressed if men followed things ‘Exactly The Same’ as before ! or ‘Exactly The Same’ as my old company !

The essence is:
    Take good aspects of your previous experiences and augment/ refine the existing with that. Remember, result is the only thing that matters..!

4)    Eat cake with cover

I saw a man walking wearing a trouser with length more than required. The extra length was causing problem for his walk. I asked him why he is doing like that. He told me that it’s a readymade trouser and it is the standard length for that size!

We can see such managers around us, who use tools/procedure which they don’t require, simply because it came with the original package. They themselves and force his colleagues to spent time and resource on things which has got no value addition.

I have seen organizations with unwanted cumbersome procedures (mostly ERP related) just because some one created it or it came with the standard package!
I strongly believe concepts like ‘Agile project management’ came up since people were fed up of the non value adding extensive documentation associated with most of the PM systems , which completely shift the attention from delivery to ‘hard & fast’ procedures (A situation where, adherence to system and procedures become priority to product delivery)

The essence is:
Cut off the unwanted (non value adding) operations you perform. Review systems and procedures in context of changing business environment. Make it ‘Lean’ buy cutting away or burning out the ‘fat’!

5)    Because my neighbor has it!

Always the other side is green! Mankind rarely escapes from the temptation of imitating his neighbor. They often forget about the utility of the thing which they want to secure. Since we humans operate business, such obsessions are quite natural!

The other guy has got SAP , I also need it.
My competitor upgraded planning software to enterprise version – I also should do that!

The essence is:
Never get driven by some one else’s passion. Go forward with own objectives and goals. You may observe your surroundings and learn new things. You may also compare yourself with your competitors. But before you act, keep in mind about the end results of your action and suitability of the same in the current context.

In short, make your actions result oriented. That is the secret of success!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Continuous Improvement

If you search for "continuous improvement" in Wikipedia ,you may get redirected to another page "Kaizen". The japanese word 'Kaizen' means 'Improvement'. This concept was launched and popularized by 'Masaaki Imaai' Mr.Imai does not work for any manufacturing companies. He is a management consultant concentrating on the productivity and quality enhancement initiatives rooted in Japan. He is the chairman of 'Cambridge Corporation' - a management consultancy helping western companies to implement Japanese management concepts.
Anybody who conduct a research in Japanese productivity initiatives , will end up in one factory - 'Toyota' . Toyota has enviable record in breakthrough productivity initiatives and quality improvement programmes. I have recently read an article on different continuous improvement initiatives in Toyota. The innovations were simple yet fantastic. When we read the problem and then the solution , we will feel like, it cant be better than that ! But they never stop innovation. They work on improving what they have. That is blended into their work culture and they call it "Continuous Improvement" .
No one can 'achieve' continuous improvement . We can only initiate and maintain that. But when ever an organisation plan to marry this philosaphy , they go with clear goals. Continuous improvement should be 'aligned to business objectives' . We shall not grow in a direction which we dont want to !
Another thing to be clarified by the management is , what kind of quality improvement they are planning -
  • Product Quality
  • Process Quality
 Ultimately process quality improvement only bring profit to the organization and undoubtfully the most basic intention of any business entity is to make profit ! I would suggest any management to adopt "Process Quality Improvement" initiative.
Process Quality Improvement 

Manufacturing is based on the following philosophy:
Raw materials -> Process -> Product

Raw material include physical materials , people , ..etc . Process is the method and sequence of manufacturing, Product is the end result. Assume we have 2 samples of product from 2 different factories. After the quality test it was found that both have same features/quality. How ever when examined , the cost of production for both the samples were found to be different. One company has put better 'methodology' to manufacture the product than other. They effectively utilised the manpower, used proper tools and techniques, eliminated waste and delay and manufactured the product with out compromising the quality. Such a 'Fine tuned' process will not happen in a day. It happened through 'Continuous Improvement' only. Those who deal with the process always quiz better way of doing it , come up with suggestions for improvements, implement thoughts and measure results.
Till the last day they produce they will keep on improving their process. Improvements are normally not 'Drastic' in this philosophy. They are step by step 'enhancements'. Hence there wont be any stoppage in production (atleast no major stoppage!) to implement the new ideas. Each and every employee (from sweeper to CEO!) contributes to this initiative. No bullying, no politics.
There was a great article which i have gone through. An American manager joined Toyota's US plant. He was very enthusiastic and with in a month of service he came up with some improvement project and successfully implemented. In a management meeting , where the Japanese bosses were present , he presented his 'Project report' , highlighting achievements. When he turned back , he saw the 'puzzled' faces of his bosses. One of them asked him "But , what is the problem, where is the problem?"
The American manager was stunned. He felt insulted. Understanding the situation the head of the plant , explained the new manager about Toyota culture.
"We know that you are efficient. That is why we hired you. But in management meetings , were are here to discuss problems"
"Improvements and achievements are part of our job. Many low grade workers in Toyota has come up with fantastic ideas which saved millions.But we wont stop it there celebrating that!"

Welcome to Toyota culture !

This was a phase shift to the American manager , who was familiar with the more 'western' six sigma concepts , where a set of specialist white collor guys jump in to the plant, quiz the employees, take measurements ,play with 'MiniTab' software, conduct 'Hi-Fi' meetings , make flashy presentations and end up with a 'Black Belt' project, which will be well documented and kept in the shelf!
Continuous Improvement is not Goal Setting !
Here people wont over celebrate such initiatives. It is their part of job. Now you will be knowing why Toyota is opening several new plants in US , when its competitors are busy in lay offs and 'down scaling' !

Features of Continuous Improvement 
Different texts may give you different ideas or wordings .. but the basic concept is fine tuning the steps of production to improve flow and reduce waste (Time & money). Let me list a few , which i have read in the Lauri Koskela's paper on "Application of the new production philosophy to construction" - which laid the foundation of  "Lean Construction " and "Lean Construction Institute "  :
  1. Efficiency of flow process
  2. Small steps, detailing and ultimately fine tuning
  3. Involvement of everyone in the company
  4. Internal 'know-how' , best practice
  5. Overcome constraints in 'Variability reduction' or 'Cycle time compression'
  6. Require little investment but great effort to maintain it.
  7. Maintaining the drive (continuous improvement) and improve it
  8. Primarily idiosyncratic (Attitude based) : Embodied in the minds of people, system of equipmens, procedure and the organisation as a whole !
  9. People drive it !

What to measure in Continuous Improvement 
  1. Measure waste
  2. Measure value addition
  3. Measure variance (Defects)
  4. Cycle time
  5. Degree of simplification

How to implement Continuous Improvement

Continuos improvement is not a 'System' like ERP to implement. It is a 'Philosophy' .Any organisation can marry this philosophy by:
  1. Making a management commitment
  2. Taking the message to the worker level
  3. Never quit !
There are increasing effort to bring the Japanese productivity initiatives generally  followed in manufacturing to Project environment. The biggest criticism for this is , the difference in the way both business operates. In projects most of the activities are unique and non repetitive unlike manufacturing. Still effort to absorb best practices are always recommended. Development of 'best practices', 'continuous improvement' , 'Delay elimination ' ..etc are relevent in project scenario as well.

I will be putting more articles on the developing concept of 'Lean Construction'

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Building Organisational Process Assets (OPA)

If you look in PMBOK for "Organisational Process Assets" , you may find long write ups and references at many places. According to PMI , OPA is defined as:
Any or all process related assets, from any
or all of the organizations involved in the project that are or can be used to influence the
project’s success. These process assets include formal and informal plans, policies,
procedures, and guidelines. The process assets also include the organizations’ knowledge
bases such as lessons learned and historical information.
In this article , I will list essential things to be recorded during project execution in order to supplement/contribute to company's OPA.I will also explain the long and short term benefits of that.Please not that , I wont be mentioning about the utilisation of OPA already present with the organisation.
 1) Tender stage
Estimation & tendering are mostly market driven. Usually companies may not get sufficient time for "Bottom up" estimations (A process where the work is broken up into activities and deliverables , cost of each subset is calculated and added up to get the total cost). 'Parametric Estimation' is the widely followed technique or quick and easy estimation. Unless updated periodically from the 'Actual values' feed back from completed projects, this method may give unrealistic estimates.
The tendered project value normally will be
C = (L x R + M X U ) P
C = Tendered project value or Cost
L = Labour hours
R = Hourly rate of labour (With overheads)
M = Material cost (Procurement)
U = Procurement uplift (Contractors margin in procurement)
P = Profit factor
L depend up on labour productivity in various regions
R depend up on socio economic conditions and nationality of labour
M & U depend up on the local availability of material
All calculations used for arriving the final tender value must be filed. This will be used to compared with the actuals.
OPA to be stored : Tender calculations
2) Initiation (Post-Contract award)
 Once the contract is awarded , mark the tender documents corresponding to that job as "Contract awarded based on this"
Document all the assumptions and definitions made. This may or may not go into the OPA , but the methodology of procedure adopted for 'Initiating the project' can be stored in OPA.
OPA to be stored :Initiation methodology / sequence

This is the most critical phase of the project , where "how to go about" strategy is developed. This is where the project team sits around , debate and discuss over the project. Finiding out the best ways and sequence to execute the project resulting in a project plan, finiding out and listing 'what to do and what not to' in the project resulting a scope plan, budget , Quality plan, risk managemnt plan, HSE plan.. etc
Summary of the planning process 'as executed' shall be recorded once the phase is finished. Major documents developed can be stored as 'Template' for future projects , if they turned out to be successful.
OPA to be stored :Planning methodology & documents developed (as template)

This is the phase where the project team meet with the 'reality'. The tool for success is the project plan and the basis of that is previous good practices. As the project progress, the team may find better way of doing things and becomes aware of the things which they left out during the planning phase. This will inturn result in revisions of project plan.
All the practical things the project team phased, which are noteworthy , can be stored in OPA.
OPA to be stored : Revise the planning methodology & documents based on the latest input from execution phase.

5) Monitoring & Control
Main tools used for monitoring and control are Project plan & progress tracker. Other suggested tools are productivity tracker & cost tracker, which are some way or other related to the first two.
The flaws in the project plan and progress tracker, if any , will come out during this phase. Based on this , the project team revise the plan & update / upgrade the tracker. The final project plan & tracker application can be stored as templates for future projects.
OPA to be stored :Final project plan & progress tracker application - as templates
This is the postmortem phase. the most important stage regarding development of Organisational process assests. In this stage , the team is equiped with all the 'actual' figures.
This powers them to make a comparison between 'Planned and Actual'
This will result in some decisions and guidelines regarding how similar projects are to be executed in future.
The actual man hours spent on each activity , durations , sequence of activities , potential risks ..etc ave very useful for future estimation / tendering ,planning & execution.
I would say , the estimation team will be very happy to receive such 'actual' figures, since it can refine their 'Parametric modeling' process.
What ever data the team has recorded with labels/ titles such as "OPA" and "Lessons Learned" will be reviewed at this stage and a final set of documents and templates is developed which will be forwarded to the PMO (Project Management Office - the central control room for all the projects & programmes )
The PMO will convert this data into policies , procedures and methodologies , which will revise or supplement the existing OPA.
To conclude, OPA development is essential to any project centric organisation's growth. Any data which is suspected to have potential to improve the way projects are executed by the organisation , shall be recorded during the project life cycle. Closing  process for any project is a must and it is where all these 'Best practices' , 'Recommended practices' and 'Lessons learned' are reviewed and released. This will ensure that the experience learned by the organisation will not vanish when people leave the organisation !
(Put your views, queries and comments under the 'comments' section)

What is FIDIC ?

FIDIC stands for Fédération Internationale Des Ingénieurs-Conseils, French for the International Federation of Consulting Engineers.It was founded in 1913 by three countries- Belgium, France and Switzerland.FIDIC is well known in the consulting engineering industry for its work in defining Conditions of Contract for the Construction Industry worldwide. FIDIC is head quartered at the World Trade Center in Geneva, Switzerland.
FIDIC is best known for its range of Standard Conditions of Contract for Construction, Plant and Ddesign-build, EPC/Turnkey Projects and Design, build and operate projects. Details are available in the FIDIC Bookshop. FIDIC also publishes the Client/Consultant Model Services Agreement together with the Sub-Consultancy Agreement and the Joint Venture Agreement. FIDIC publishes the MDB Harmonised Edition of the Construction Contract that is used by Multinational Development Banks including the World Bank for their projects. 
In September 1999, FIDIC introduced its new Suite of Contracts, which included a “new” Red, Yellow, Silver and Green forms of contract. The “new” Red Book was intended to replace the 1992 fourth edition of the Red Book, with the ambition that its use would cease with time.

FIDIC forms of contract book is available in leading book stores (ISBN:1405120312)
You may find it interesting to take a look at the table of contents:
Part I Background and Concepts of the Red Book;
Chapter 1 Background of the Red Book
Chapter 2 The Red Book is based on a domestic contract
Chapter 3 Legal concepts based on the common law system
Chapter 4 Drafting principles
Chapter 5 The concept of a trusted independent engineer
Chapter 6 A traditional re-measurement contract
Chapter 7 Sharing of risks
Chapter 8 The concepts in practice
Part II The Fourth Edition: A Commentary
Chapter 9 The revisions - purposes and consequences
Part III The Fourth Edition in Practice
Chapter 10 Role of the engineer
Chapter 11 Responsibility and liability of the engineer
Chapter 12 The employer's obligations
Chapter 13 The contractor's obligations
Chapter 14 Risks, liabilities, indemnities and insurances
Chapter 15 Performance and other securities
Chapter 16 Claims and counterclaims
Chapter 17 Delay in completion and claims for extension of time
Chapter 18 Certificates and payments
Chapter 19 Disputes settlement by arbitration
Chapter 20 Amicable settlement using alternative dispute resolution
Part IV Other Documents Related to the Red Book
Chapter 21 FIDIC's other forms of contract
Part V The 1999 Red Book; The 1999 Yellow Book; The 1999 Silver Book; The 1999 Green Book; Dispute Boards
Chapter 22 The 1999 FIDIC suite of contracts
Chapter 23 The 1999 Red Book
Chapter 24 The 1999 Yellow Book
Chapter 25 The 1999 Silver Book
Part VI Comparison between the text of the three 1999 Major Books: The 1999 Red; the 1999 Yellow; and the Silver Books;
Chapter 27 A precise record of the alterations, omissions and additions in the 1999 Yellow & Silver Books as compared with the 1999 Red Book
Table of cases
Table of clauses

Detailed table of contents is available at the publisher(Blackwell Publishing) website: View Now

It is highly recommended for those professionals who are working in the construction contracts , to go through the book . (If possible study in detail !)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Project Managing Smaller Projects

If we look at the financial value and resources invested in 'Smaller projects' across the globe , we may find it tremendous.

How ever, since the individual value of each project and the number of dedicated persons involved are relatively small, they are often not given the importance which they deserve.

Companies bagging large contracts often split the work and subcontract to smaller contractors, who may even split their work pack again & re-distribute.
So effectively many companies are surviving by doing several smaller contracts.

In this article I want to throw some light on the flaws observed such smaller contracts/projects.
I dont say all the small size projects are failure , but they are often not planned & controlled properly.
(We have enough research work and write up on bigger projects ! so lets take care of the small ones as well .. :) ]
Characteristics of typical 'Small scale projects' are:
  1. Limited staff (Small team size)
  2. Limited resources
  3. Limited attention (From stake holders)
  4. Short duration
Typical 'trends' observed in such projects are :
  1. Skip some steps in the essential '5 Processes'
  2. Poor reporting or no reporting
  3. Extensive delay (mostly due to limited attention)
 One good thing about these kind of projects is, the Project manager will be having complete control and knowledge of the project. Senior people seldom interfere or ask for reports since their attention will be focussed on 'Star Projects' executed by the company.Another feature will be, multi skilling. Single person may be handling multiple responsibilities.How ever this often result in skipping of some of the essential steps in the  project management process(5-Process : Initiation, Planning, Execution, Control & closure)
The most common victim will be planning and closure. Project managers may start the project in hurry, thinking that spending time on planning will be waste. Also , once the project is delivered they assume that the responsibility is over. Even senior management seldom ask for a proper close out report for such projects. Flaws observed in each of the 5 process are:
  1. Initiation
    1. Lack of proper scope study ,often scope statements are not prepared
    2. Project parameters are not fully studied
    3. Project organisation & responsibility assignment (RAM) is not done
  2.  Planning
    1. Schedule is not prepared or schedule with out proper study (Schedule for name-sake or contractual obligation!)
    2. Progress measurement methodology not finalised ("Do we really need to measure progress for this job? It will be finished in 2 weeks time!)
  3.  Execution
    1.  Confusions regarding scope since proper scope study is not done
    2.  Uncertain regarding expected completion
  4.  Monitoring & controlling
    1. Progress figures by mere guess work since no progress measurement system in place
    2. Poor logging (Time sheets, resource utilisation and progress)
    3. We are controlled by project (or rather by destiny!)
  5.  Closure
    1.  No close out reports -> Some how delivered the project , don't want to do the postmortem of my failures("Who asked for the close out report? we cant do that for such smaller projects")
    2. Lessons learned are not recorded -> "Lessons learned ? ya such projects should be given more time to complete. Even the resources were not sufficient !"
Okay, enough ! Now lets do something so that we dont repeat such failures in the future.
Yeah, here we go !

  1. You may be the only guy managing it - but write down your responsibilities. The responsibilities should cater all the '5-Processes'. Make a project organisation chart
  2. Study the scope and write down a brief scope statement (Covering essential things)
  3. Prepare a project plan no matter how small the project is. Lets have a plan , because it is observed that those with a plan are found to be performing better that those without a plan ,even if they seldom stick to the plan ! ;)
  4. Setup a progress measurement mechanism (Eg: Tonnes erected / Total tonnes , Meters erected / Total length ..etc)
  5. Track your resources. Maintain time sheets, record consumption of non-labour resources(This may help you in claims , and future estimations) - Make simple formats for these , or utilise standard company formats.
  6. Prepare weekly progress report & conduct meetings(Updated schedule, an s-curve or atlest a planned% - Actual % comparison, Indicate issues , risks, reason for delays..etc to client or stake holders)  -If you are handling more than 1 such small scale projects , you can club them and conduct a single meeting -  if possible.
  7. Conduct a close out meeting and prepare a brief close out report. Attach as-performed shedule and resource consumption details to the report - The company may be doing more and more such projects. This information will be handy for tendering / cost estimation.
In short , smaller projects also require the '5-Process' for its success, with lesser complexity and size !
Again these are my personal views and things may vary from industry to industry and your postion (Contractor side / Client side) !
I would like to hear what you think about my views.Post comments below.

Ram Raj - Project Manager (Aka Report Writer !)

(I have found issues related to progress reporting during project execution . This may eventually , even result in damaging the  Client-Contractor relations. A similar situation is portrayed in the story below. The story tells us, how the project manager tackled the situation with the help of his mentor and  achieved project success and ultimately brought back goodwill and appreciation from the client.)
Ram Raj , popularly known as "Ram Saab" among construction workers and as "Ram" among his colleagues , is an energetic person working for Sky Constructions Ltd (Sky) as project manager. He is the youngest Project manager working for Sky , generally known for his active presence in the site and good rapport with his co-workers & clients. He is a very pleasant person who joined the company as a graduate engineer trainee and soon climbed to the position of Project Manager.
Ram posses good domain knowledge , management ability and reporting skills. He was the one in Sky who initiated the extensive usage of S-curves and progress trackers when the planning department was only concentrating on schedule development and updates.
Mohan, Head of Projects was very much happy with his boy Ram.Mohan was keen on helping Ram when ever he was stuck up with issues. Ram has also taken advantage of Mohan's wide knowledge on Project Management and organisational development.
The hospital project for 'iCare Ltd' was running behind schedule and Ram was trying his best to recover. Scarcity of cement resulted in unexpected delays and Ram was coordinating with purchase department to source and stock sufficient quantity of cement.
Even in this tight schedule he managed to send the weekly progress reports to the client and his superiors.
iCare's MD's visit to the site resulted in a lot of fire and fumes. He was extremely unhappy with the delay and to add more to his anger, Ram was failed to produce forecast schedule when asked. MD left the site giving instruction to the iCare managers that , a daily report should be collected from Sky Constructions and he may audit it any time.
Submitting a daily progress report was almost impossible for Ram , since he has to manage numerous technical and managerial issues at the end of the day. But the instruction to produce a daily report was given to the iCare managers by their MD was in presence of Ram only. So he was well aware of the importance of the instruction.
Following days were sleepless for Ram. He spent extended hours to complete the daily reports and submitted the same to iCare management the very next day. He was not able to concentrate on other major issued pertaining to site due to this documentation activity.
This has virtually made him a 'Report writer' those days ,rather than a project manager!
This cumbersome process started showing its side effects with in a few days. Site engineers and supervisors were extremely unhappy because they were followed up for progress details every day. Ram was also losing his patience. His health also dropped because of all these.
Mohan was surprised to see Ram shouting at one of his supervisors during the late hours of the day , when he made a surprise visit to the site. He has never seen Ram shouting at any one before.
Mohan excused for interfering and asked Ram to give a brief of the issue. He understood that daily progress follow up is the root cause of all these issues.
Mohan asked Ram to wind up the days work and asked him to accompany him in the car.
He took Ram to a garden hotel in the suburb , which was their favorite week end spot.
"It will take atleast 30 minutes for them to bring the dinner. So lets have a chat on certain things which you may find useful at work" Mohan broke the ice.
"Have you heard of Project Communication Management?" Mohan asked
"No sir, I never heard of that" Ram replied politely.
"Well, communication is one of the most critical elements of Project Management.
Communication turns ideas into reality.But it should be balanced.
Communication plan for each project should be freezed during the planning stage of the project. The reporting process should be adequate to control the project progress, cost & quality. Both over reporting and under reporting are harmful. Hence the project manager and the stake holders should arrive at a 'Mutually agreed' communication plan in the planning stage itself. Any deviation in this plan should be well thought and mutually agreed."
 "An Integrated Change Control (ICC) should be established at the start of the project, which will record variations in communication plan along with all other project related variations. This will give us a chance to claim additional expenses due to variation , as well."

Mohan agreed to meet iCare MD to resolve the reporting related issues. He also asked Ram to arrange a meeting with the client to formulate and finalise a communication plan and establish a change control system.
"I know its late, but better be late than never!" - Mohan added. 

Following this Ram arranged a meeting with the iCare management and chalked out a project communication plan. Daily reporting was made as recommended internal practice for Sky and client reporting was reverted to weekly.Weekly project review meeting with client incorporated into the communication plan.
Ram spent some additional time on refining his progress tracker and weekly report format.
Later, among all the improvements done on the communication plan, the weekly project review meetings turned out to be highly effective.There was visible improvements in the progress rate and they found the actual S-curve is slowly converging to the planned one.
Ram recovered his cheerful mood and Mohan was quite happy on that. Mohan asked Ram to record all the lessons learned during the execution and present in the close out meeting.
On the project closure day , iCare management appeared quite happy and every one in the meeting room was celebrating and congratulating Ram on team's success.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Story of travellers

It was a bright sunny day. Ram and his friends want to explore one of the remote villages of India , which was famous for its natural beauty.
Ram is project manager in a leading software company and lives a buoyant life in the silicon city of Bangalore. He is very adventurous and creative. He is keen on photography as well.
Ananth is Ram's boss. A noted project manager in IT sector who has helped several organisations to achieve their objectives through his mature vision and expertise in Project Management. Ananth was always a good mentor for Ram. When Ram asked him for a leave while explaining his trekking plan, Ananth granted it without hesitation. In fact Ananth always take care of his subordinates very well and strongly advocates employees engaging in such "stress buster" activities.

Ram and his friends raju,manoj and krish started their trip from Banaglore on the bright sunny saturday morning. They could not make much planning since It was finalised during the friday lunch hour in the office. Infact Raju commented that "What is there to plan , we are not going for SAP implementation or something, its just a pleasure trip. Take it easy!" , when Manoj asked about the trip plan. Everyone in the team was convinced by Raju's reply.

Ram was driving his SUV very well , and was taking all the fun of the week end outing. Soon they reached a suburb of Bangalore which was considered to be the 'end of the city'. There were some shops which sell basic commodities and couple of localites were lingering around looking for prospective customers for the low cost lodging they arrange.

Krish jumped out of the vehicle and got some snacks and drinks for the journey. Ram was ready to resume the trip. Manoj came up with his usual style of 'raising doubts'. Scratching his head and asking Raju "Raju, how are we gonna reach there? Do you have a map? Or shall we ask some one?"
Raju was quick on reacting : "Look straight loser.. its the same road going ahead.Already we got delayed by nasty traffic in Bangalore. If we spend time here searching for map and chatting with localites , we are never gonna enjoy the trip"
"Okay , Raju will take us back home" - Manjo giggled.
The whole team burst into laughter by Raju's comment and Manoj's reaction to that.

Ram and his team resumed the trip. Road was good and they started seeing the city going away from them and more and more greenery appeared on both sides. As they progressed they could hardly see any houses or men in the vicinity. Road was straight and they kept going.

Ram has stopped the vehicle at one point where the tarred road almost blended to soil. The areas was kind of open space. They have seen the road splitting into two.
"Hey , right or left ?" Ram asked.
"Is right is right or left is right , Raju?" - Manoj couldn't stop himself pulling Raju's leg on this occasion.
"Shut up you bugger" Raju came out with 'his type of' quick response.
"Hey , cant we phone up Thomas and ask, since he was here last time" Krish broke his silence.
"Now thatz a good idea" Ram told and started dialing Thomas , who was back in Bangalore.

"Well, take the left road and as you progress you will reach a small village , where you can find some people. they can guide you further" Thomas answered.

Thanks to Thoma s's memory. They found some villagers after they have traveled some distance after taking the left turn.
Ram was more logical this time "Hey , dont waste this chance and lets not commit mistakes again. We will make a route map with the help of these guys" (1)
With in half an hour the map was ready, indicating major stops and hazardous areas. They need to come back and stay at the village since they were already late and could not finish the sight seeing in the remaining time.

The trip was much easier with the route map. They have stopped at some places and Ram took some photographs as well. Raju managed to finish a pack of cigarettes by then and was looking for another. There was a lake coming ahead and all were excited to see that.
But even after 2 hours of drive they couldn't see the the milestones which the villager told.
"How far we are way from the lake , Ram?" Manoj asked.
"Oh, holy shit! we dont have kilometers written in the map !" Ram exclaimed.
"Unless we dont know the figures , how we will know how far we progressed in reaching the lake ?" Krish came up with a question. (2)

Ram was not having an answer for that. "Okay guys , lets go with the map, we will go back if we are too much late and not finishing atleast 60% of the spots mentioned in the map" Ram was quick on deciding that and every one agreed.

"I think we added too much things in the trip , this lake plan was not there initially! and I dont think we can finish all these today" Krish was not happy.(3)

As they feared , the journey took more time than expected and midway they decided not to move further and started returning to the village where they planned to stay.

Things got worse when ram found that there is a slight wobbling in the from tires. He stopped the vehicle to examine th tires. "Dude , I think we got a problem here" Ram told.
"Oh , holy shit ! front tire got punctured it seems !" Manoj shouted.
"We have a spare tyre in the dickey , right? , cant we change it and start again?" Raju asked Ram.

"Ya, we can. Raju get me the tool box please" Ram started rolling the sleeves up.
"Here we go" Raju dropped the tool kit to Ram.
"Oh my god, we are screwed !" Ram cried.
"Hey , now what?" Manoj jumped.
"We dont have the right spanned, dude!" Ram's voice dropped.
"Oh... this was quite unexpected!" Manoj got shocked by Ram's response. (4)
"Okay , lets wait for some passerby , or we may even get a lift by some fellow trekkers" Raju lighted another cigar.

After 2 hours of waiting and worrying they were managed to get back to the village , when the forest ranger (The officer in charge of forest) found them lost on their way.

The kind officer made arrangements to get their car repaired and brought it back to where they stay.

Team members grabbed a nice sleep since they all were quite tired after an eventful day!

The next day they travelled back to Bangalore canceling further sight seeing.
On the way they were discussing about the events which resulted in the failure of the trip.

"Hey, guys . How was your trip? Enjoyed?" Ananth , Ram's boss , was quite excited to hear from them about the trip.
"Dont ask me sir, we just want to forget it" Ram replied. (5)
"What happened? You guys are quite smart ,you should have done that!" Anath couldn't believe Ram's words.

Ram explained the entire sequence of the trip and Ananth was listening very carefully.
He never interrupted Ram or taken eyes away from his, except while scribbling some notes in between.

"Okay guys , listen now. I would like to take you to the conference hall now" Ananth stood up.
Ram and others followed him to the conference hall.

With his characteristic strong and clear voice Ananth started "Lets call your pleasure trip as a Project, and I assume Ram as the project manager for that"

If you go through the events , you will find that you have committed the 5 mistakes , which most of the project managers do.
- The top 5 most common & deadly mistakes!

Ananth took the paper which he was scribbling in while listening to Ram.
"See , I have noted them here. The mistakes are:"
1)Start a project with out appropriate project plan
2) Start executing with out a progress monitoring system
3) Failure to identify scope creep
4) Fail to track resources and log their usage / No risk management
5) Failure of documenting lessons learned

He then explained these mistakes in context of the incident.
1) They could have done a better planning in the beginning and made a route map. Even if they slipped it while gettng out from their apartments , they could have accomplished that with the help of the localites they found in the suburb.This could have saved their valuable time and saved them from unnecessary confusions and worries later.

2) When they made the map , they didnt mention the kilometer. Because of this they were not able to asses how far or near the are from the target

3)They have not decided what to do in the trip , apart from "Going to village , see places , take pictures and come back". Unknowingly more places and activities got added up.

4) Tools are essential while going for trips like this. They have not kept that resource with them, which resulted in major problems. Also this was an expected risk while trekking. They should have foreseen that and kept the required tools inside the car.

5) This is not the last trip Ram and his pals going to make. So they must discuss about the flaws in the plan which resulted in a bad trip and find out ways not to repeat them again in the forthcoming trips.

Ananth looked around to find the expression of his subordinates.
They were all silent. After a pause Ananth continued.

"Principles of project management does not only apply to the projects we do at work, but it has importance and application in our daily lives. In short Project Management is not domain specific , it is a structured way of doing things to achieve success and accomplish goals"

The most common & deadly mistakes in Project Management - Top 5

The following are the Top-5 most common & deadly mistakes in project management from my limited experience in the field of Project Management. Before I detail each of those , lets have a quick look on them here:

1)Start a project with out appropriate project plan

2) Start executing with out a progress monitoring system
3) Failure to identify scope creep
4) Fail to track resources and log their usage
5) Failure of documenting lessons learned

There is no 'Prefect Act' in the world ! How ever project managers very often fail to comply with schedule & budget.
The four legs of Project Management are:
  1. Schedule
  2. Cost
  3. Quality
  4. Safety
Assuming the team members are technical competitive and do safe job , we can easily comply with factors 3 & 4.

The first 2 factors are those which shows the real skill and knowledge of a Project Manager.
"On schedule ? On Budget?"
If you have heard these quite often from the top management or stake holders , then we are singing the same song !

The most general, common and deadly mistakes in project management are done in these areas only. Let me list a few:
1)Start a project with out appropriate project plan
If you really dont want you project to be a success, you can start it with out a schedule / plan !
Schedule is the road map to your destination. It tell you a practical way to reach your destination and reminds you when to reach each location and finally the destination. We may have some plans in our mind.But unless the same is put in black & white , it cant be implemented. This is more vital since projects are always team exercise and we may have to share the ideas and information with others. The plan you have made may not be the best one or the only way to get there, but those who have a plan always do better than those without a plan , no matter whether they adhere to the plan or not !
Another commonly seen mistake is making a bar chart with out much thinking, analysis or scope study. This results in unrealistic schedule. It has the same effect when you have map to California and you are going to Houston with that!
Some people see schedule as mere contractual obligation. But the fact is that , a well thought schedule can really be a road map and the most valuable tool which enables project success.
Solution: Spend ample time with the planner at the beginning of the job. Make project plan, debate over it with the team members , refine it and finalise the one , which you and your team finds realistic and achievable. Revise and update the schedule periodically and distribute to every one in the team and the stake holders.

2) Start executing with out a progress monitoring system

Yes, we have a plan and we think its achievable. With all the enthusiasm we are starting to execute the project. Start was very good , we are seeing progress or rather we "feel" we are making progress. But suddenly some one jumped in and asked "But actually where we are now? What percent the project is complete? And what about the productivity ?"
It it then all team members realised that they all were drawing figures in the air !
They dont have a progress measurement system , hence they dont know where they are !
Progress monitoring tool is something which people ignores and suffers heavily because of that in the middle of the project. Back tracking is extremely difficult and most of the people will be reluctant to do that. A good progress monitoring tool tell you exactly where you are. What is the overall % completion and what is the individual % completion of major work packs. An 'S-Curve' is one of the most perfect tool for progress monitoring and forecasting. It should ideally have :
  1. Planned progress curve
  2. Actual progress curve
  3. Forecast curve
Some people add more curves like latest finish curve , earliest finish curve , recovery curve ..etc etc.
But keep in mind that the first 3 are most important and they tell you
  1. Where you are suppose to be
  2. Where you are now
  3. Where you can be next week or when you will finish
Rest of the curves are optional. Also remember that when you add more features, you are also responsible to maintain that week after week. So keep things simple !

A progress monitoring system should be easy to maintain and should atleast give:
  1. S-Curves (You may have an overall s-curve and individual ones)
  2. Manpower histogram with progress s-curve
  3. Progress report in Tabular format (Where progress for each week is entered and maintained. This will feed data to the s-curve)
  4. Progress summary(This will be a tabular report which shows the overall progress, activities progressed in the week, activities planned for next week, major issues, risks, document status, material status ..etc
I use a tool which is developed by me in MS Excel with extensive use of formulas & macros. This gives all these reports and tracks productivity as well (If we have estimated manpower data with us) . Its designed in such a way to reduce the data entry and making the update as simple as it can even happen in as minimum as 30 minutes !

Solution : Finalise the progress measurement methodology before start of execution. Make a progress tracker with appropriate weightings for activities. Record the progress on a weekly basis to arrive the % progress each week.Generate S-curves and discuss the same in project review meetings.

3) Failure to identify scope creep
One of the most commonly committed mistakes! Client or stake holders always try to stuff the project with new things by saying that those are part of the job. An additional scope will result in prolongation of schedule and added cost (Nothing comes free in this world , except trouble !)
Solution: Maintain a scope document with version numbering and details of additions and deletions(It's cost and schedule implications as well!)

4) Fail to track resources and log their usage
The ultimate aim of any business establishment is to make profit. Hence when they do project , the profit is at least equal to the success of the project!
Those who are on the battle field of project management often fail to see or even ignore the hole in their pocket. They fail to notice the over consumption of resources which eventually result in loss of productivity and ultimately a negative financial implication. At times under loaded resource may result in unnecessary delays and the recovery later may be more costlier that the original ! This is where earned value management comes into picture. Labour Productivity management is a subset of the same since the expenditure/ resources are not only in the form of labour ,but also in the form of money, equipments and services. A project manager who dont keep record of the resource usage may often fail to answer the stake holders questions like:
  1. What is the financial position of the project ?
  2. What is the planned expenditure for the performed work ?
  3. What is the actual cost of the performed work ?
  4. How much is needed to complete the project ?
  1. Keep the budget data ready during planning / initiation stage
  2. Update the budget as scope changes (Make sure to record variations)
  3. Measure progress
  4. Record consumption of resources (Preferably on activity basis, Eg: Time sheets)
  5. Perform earned value analysis frequently and assess health of the project
5) Failure of documenting lessons learned
May people may not agree with me including this among "Top 5" deadly mistakes. But I think this mistake is quite critical ,especially for organisations for which project management is a major function.
The world is built by constantly improving what we had. No innovation started from scratch. I call innovations as "Drastic improvements". Most of our thought process start with the things which we are familiar with and then we build our imagination up on that. We apply our logic, creativity and knowledge on the subject and arrive at a solution which we feel better than the previous.
Similarly in project management improvement are made by learning from past. We can learn from mistakes as well as success. The only important thing is that we should document it when we know it for the first time. Never wait till the project closure since our memory has its limitations ! How ever analysis of the failures and success can be done at the end of the project. These analysis often come up with great suggestions for improvements, which may transform even organisations. Never be hesitant to document a failure. Otherwise you may commit the same again and you wont get a chance to how could have I avoided that !

Solution :
  1. Keep a log of lessons learned. Make it part of your PMS (Project management system)
  2. Record lessons learned (Failures and success) when you know about it for the first time
  3. Never beat anyone with his supplied data !
There are several other generalised mistakes like
  1. Failure in communication plan
  2. Ignoring safety
  3. Under estimation
  4. Wrong team selection
But from my experience I found the above listed 5 mistakes as "Most common & Deadly" !
(Post your comments below)

Optimising PM organisational setup

Performance and cost effectiveness are the 2 keywords in todays PM world.
Hence optimizing the project management team is critical to the success of any project.
Take the example of 2 types of companies managing projects
  1. Companies with project management as prime business
  2. Companies which undertake projects for a specific reason / context
In the first category , a full fledged PM setup may be available , probably in the form of functional departments :
  1. Proposals
  2. Estimation & Tendering
  3. Planning
  4. Cost Control / Commercial
  5. Contract Administration
  6. Design & Engineering
  7. Project Execution
  8. Manufacturing (Off-Site)
  9. Quality Assurance
  10. Quality Control
  11. Document Control
  12. Project HR management
  13. Finance & Accounts
  14. HSE
Depending up on the size and nature of the projects , dedicated or shared PM teams may be formed out of these functional departments.
Dedicated PM team members will be working on a single project, where as shared PM team members serve various projects by effectively breaking up their day's work.

For the second category of organisations , PM setup is to be created from scratch from the available staff or by sourcing. They may or may not be continuing in their routine activities apart from working on the project.

What ever the case may be , every project should religiously follow the 5 PM processes :
  1. Initiation
  2. Planning
  3. Execution
  4. Control (Monitoring & Control)
  5. Closing
This 5 process can easily remembered by the acronym "IPECC"
Each of these processes must be sequentially executed by the team members.
The team should essentially contain a 'Leader' who is usually referred as 'Project Manager'. No project will be success with out an able leader ! There should be people responsible/accountable for each of the process areas. In smaller projects , one person may take charge of multiple process , but large projects shall need extensive project organisation with dedicated people.

Optimum team sizing can be done based on :
  1. Scope study
  2. Delivery schedule
  3. Nature / complexity of job
  4. Previous experiences
Project Management Body of Knowledge © from PMI provides extensive detailing of Project organisation & HR management.
Initial scope study , documentation and planning are critical. One should not start executing the project unless the first 2 processes are completed (Initiation & Planning). Many people think execution is the only important thing in project management , but the fact is that , delivering with in budget , schedule & quality are the most important things , which is almost impossible without the first 2 processes.
Planning is not just making a barchart , but a vital process where the critical success factors of project lies in !
Before the start of execution , we should have (minimum):
  1. Complete scope statement with drawings, tech specs, docs..etc
  2. Budget details
  3. Project plan
  4. Organogram & communication plan
  5. Quality plan
  6. Methodology and tool for progress monitoring
In short , optimum team selection & sizing are super critical in project management. Dont hesitate to spent more time on initial planning. It will never be a waste but will provide strong foundation and clarity for the objectives and goals.

PM Karma User Interface

In this section I would like you guys to post comments on the 'Look and Feel' of 'PM Karma'.
I am passionate about UI (User Interface) development, grafix and web site design. I had always put my best efforts to make my digital content pleasure to eyes. How ever my prime focus will be on developing quality content.

Please post your comments / suggestions / requests related to the user interface / lay out below this...

Happy reading!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Welcome to PM Karma!

Dear fellow project managers!
Welcome to 'PM Karma'.
PM Karma is short form of 'Project Management Karma'.
'Karma' is a Sanskrit (Ancient Indian language and the first ever language on earth) word , which means 'Deed'.
Since we all being wedded to the profession of project management , our basic 'Karma' is nothing but manage the projects assigned to us in the most professional and productive manner , delivering maximum benefits to the stake holders.
In this forum , I want to share my knowledge areas related to project management and specifically regarding my interest area 'Project planning, monitoring and control'
This blog is going to benefit all those who are associated with project management or even general business management. Today's organisations are getting transformed to 'Project centric' of 'projectised' from being 'Functional Oriented' .Project centric organisations are found to be more effective in delivering business goals with in the specified time limit and budget , than 'Functional Oriented' organisations which rely up on the traditional 'functional path' or 'Organograms'.
We wont be discussing anything which you can easily find in other online resources or books. I hate 'inventing the wheel again' ! How ever I will refer to the PM standards and practices followed world wide.
I am more focussed on discussing 'Industry Oriented' , 'Real life applications' and 'Commonly followed practices'.
Over the years I have found people discussing big 'Fundas' , but never used them atleast once in their lives !
So all the theory we mugged in the university or Project Management seminars , wont be practically used 'as such' .. but we will always use lighter or customised versions of such practices in our daily business operations.

So welcome to a whole new 'Practical oriented' PM blogging ..
Enjoy your stay and keep visiting !


Sreejith Kesavan