A Few Points on Project Management

Jun 29, 1998

As A/E/P or environmental consulting firms, we love to tell our clients that we can meet the schedule, stay within the budget, and provide high quality. Then under our breath, we mutter: “Pick any two, because we can’t do all three at the same time!” While there’s a great deal of anecdotal evidence to support this statement, it needn’t necessarily be the case. Let’s take a look at why we have problems in these three areas (schedule, budget, and quality): Schedule-wise, I find three reasons why we blow deadlines. These are: There’s too much work to do. People have been over-scheduled. This occurs because our managers aren’t working, we don’t have a recruitment process that consistently provides quality candidates, and/or management is afraid to hire because they got burned in the past by rapid growth and rapid decline. The company culture says its O.K. to blow a deadline. This results in an attitude that it’s “no big deal” if a deadline is missed. There are no consequences associated with doing so. The boss sets a poor example and misses deadlines him- or herself. Everybody misses deadlines. People don’t know what the deadline is. This happens more often than you think. There may never have been a proper project plan prepared. And if there was one, the people working on the job have not been informed of what it is or where it is if they want to check it. Budget-wise, I find three reasons for why these are blown: We don’t let people know that meeting the budget is critical. There is no data shared with the entire firm on budget variance by PM. We are afraid to demotivate a PM by showing evidence of their non-performance in this area. Once again, there are no negative consequences for blowing a budget. The PMs don’t have any staff that’s theirs, so we don’t blame them for blowing the budget. It’s a classic matrix, and the PMs rely on department heads to assign them people who can do the job. Instead, they may get whoever is available. Then they can’t fire these people or reprimand them in any meaningful way—they (the offenders) work for someone else. People working on the project don’t know what the scope and budget are. See comments under “schedule” above for the reason this is a problem. Quality-wise, I find three reasons this doesn’t meet expectations: We aren’t experienced (or the people we have working on the project aren’t experienced) in working on jobs for this specific client or client type. Once again, the primary culprit is the matrix organization structure. The firm probably has the experience— otherwise the job wouldn’t have been a sale. But no one is assigned to the job that has the experience! The culture allows for poor quality. Management never talks about it. The firm routinely turns out poor quality. Client satisfaction is not measured. The office is a mess. The people are slovenly. Budget is more important than quality because that’s all anyone ever looks at. People working on the job have no idea of what the scope is. They are just doing what they normally do. There was no kick-off meeting, they haven’t seen a contract, and no one has really talked with them about what the client expects. Readers will notice that every one of the problems I listed above are within the control of the firm to solve. More specifically, they are within the power of management to solve. Here are some things you can do: Set up a standing team structure. Get away from the matrix. Put PMs in charge of people that report to them permanently. Let the PM juggle where he or she can, but with full knowledge of all the projects being performed by the team. Let the PM hire and fire as necessary, and do performance reviews and set salaries of all team members as well. Decide what you want to measure and report on as it relates to PM performance. Have measures for schedule, budget, and quality that you track. Ignoring any one of these will result in it being de-emphasized. Share all data with everyone. Set up electronic project files. Make sure these files include everything on the job—the contract, the kick-off meeting notes, the project meeting minutes, and so on. Let everyone have access to this information. Encourage them to access it. Randomly quiz project team members to make sure that they have looked at this stuff and know what they are supposed to be doing. Punish those who fail to meet schedule, budget, and quality standards. You will be willing to do this if you have a good talent supply line. If you don’t, you will be paralyzed out of fear to do anything about your performance problems. There’s more I could say but implementation of my suggestions above have to help! Originally published 6/29/ 1998.

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