The Difficulty Of Managing By Phases Alone

Early project management concepts introduced the idea of gaining control by partitioning the project into phases. Because it was moving in the right direction, this was a good step, but it didn't solve the total problem. As practitioners have come to recognize, using the disciplines, methodologies, and development techniques did not automatically guarantee project success. Those early project developers found that the phases could be very long and that they still couldn't determine if they were on schedule. So they tried breaking the phases into major milestones, with each milestone representing a significant project event.

Again, the use of milestones was a move in the right direction, but it was still not the total answer. The significant events were hard to identify, and progress was hard to monitor. Milestones were very far apart, and estimators had a difficult time sizing up the effort it took for completion. Long periods elapsed before the project manager could evaluate status; consequently, valuable time would be wasted before the problems were recognized and corrective action could be taken. There was no really effective way to evaluate progress, so status was reported as a function of percentage against hours used (e.g., if a job was estimated at forty hours and the worker had spent twenty hours on it, the job was reported as 50 percent completed). This is one of the ways projects got to be 90 percent complete so quickly, while the last 10 percent took another 90 percent of the time.

A better approach is to partition each milestone into smaller pieces. Commonly referred to as inch-pebbles, these bits and pieces afford better control of the unknowns and easier monitoring of progress. The sum of many small estimates is more reliable than one large estimate and is also harder to shave down during scheduling negotiations.

To begin, inch-pebble jobs can be assigned to one person, making status easier to determine. Similarly, status is easier to report when the state of a job can only be binary: The job is either 100 percent complete or 0 percent complete; no other status is meaningful. This approach diffuses the impact of the subjective reporting of fractional percentages of completion, which are often expressed simply as a function of how much of the original effort has been consumed. Using smaller estimates and reporting binary status also reduces the possibility of the last 10 percent of the project taking another 90 percent of the time.

With smaller jobs, status is reported more frequently. If progress is poor, the manager knows it right away. Corrective action may be taken sooner, thus helping to avoid the wide differential between expected progress and actual progress. And finally, the smaller the estimate, the smaller the interval between the extremes. The smaller the confidence interval (the range between the longest and shortest estimates), the higher the level of statistical accuracy in the estimate.

Thus, the secret to successful project management is to partition the project into pieces of pieces of pieces until a statistically reliable level is reached. For example, the project can be divided by phase deliverables. The phase deliverables, in turn, are separated into their significant milestone deliverables. The milestone deliverables are then partitioned into major deliverables, and the major deliverables are broken into individual deliverables. Inch-pebbles are statistically reliable and are usually found at the individual deliverables level. It takes the completion of a significant number of inch-pebbles to produce a major deliverable. A fair number of major deliverables contribute to the completion of a milestone. And, of course, every phase has a certain number of milestones.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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