Overall Situation Analysis Process

Maintaining sharp and continuous monitoring of project schedule, cost, and performance is, of course, an essential element of effective project management. Indeed, the ''nuts and bolts'' of project management involves the continuous positing of these questions:

1. Are we on schedule?

2. Are we within budget?

3. Are we satisfying all performance requirements?

However, if we get a ''no'' answer to any of these questions, or if other issues surface that could adversely affect them, the question then becomes: What else should the PM be doing? The answer lies in situation analysis (SA), which is fundamentally a problem-solving process at the project level. It is an adaptation of the ''case study'' approach utilized in some business schools. It may also be viewed as follows: Case studies are to an overall enterprise (or key portion of an enterprise, such as a division) as situation analysis is to a project. Situation analysis is a sequence of steps to be undertaken by the project triumvirate (PM, PC, and CSE) once one or more problems or potential problems have surfaced.

The general situation analysis process is depicted in Figure 4.4. The first step (Box 1) in such a process is, as might be expected, to gather up, or restate, the facts that are known in the given situation. Such facts are usually in the domains of schedule, cost, or performance, but might be other facts not as immediate or obvious. Examples of the latter type of facts might be

1. A strike at the plant of a major supplier or subcontractor

2. Serious conflict between members of the project team

3. Resignation of a key member of the project

After such facts have been identified, two paths are suggested. One leads to a set of evident problems (Box 2) and the other to potential or inferred problems (Box 3). The former represent clear and irrefutable problems, normally of a high priority, that must be dealt with. Examples include:

1. Schedule slippage on the critical path

2. Expenditures greater than budgeted amounts

3. Missed contractual delivery dates

4. System testing failures

Figure 4.4 General situation analysis process.

All are evident problems, almost by definition. How significant these problems are remains to be investigated in detail.

In the category of potential or inferred problems, we normally find occurrences that may or may not lead to significant problems. In this regard, one finds secondary events that might eventually do serious damage to the project. Such events might be:

1. Project staff perturbations or conflicts

2. A change in the PM's immediate supervisor

3. Company reorganizations

4. Loss of key people, not on the project team, but in support organizations such as accounting/finance, contracts, and human resources

5. Changes in subcontractor/supplier organizations

The point of separating evident (obvious) problems from potential or inferred problems is to assist in the eventual step of sorting these problems in order of priority (Box 4). A priority list is intended to force a discipline that assures that key problems cannot be ignored or placed on the back burner. Without this discipline, a PM might be otherwise inclined to tackle more tractible issues that are of little or no real importance and avoid handling critical problems that might be difficult to confront. Such behavior may be difficult to understand, but it is part of human nature to not want to face unpleasant and stressful tasks.

Given the problems in priority order (Box 4 of Figure 4.4), the next step is to develop plans for solutions (Box 5). Plans at the top of the list must be addressed; plans at the bottom of the list might be deferred until further data are obtained. This is a judgment call that should be decided by the project triumvirate. The usual journalistic questions of who?-what?-when?-where?-why?-how? should be considered, noting that a plan for situation analysis is not the same as a project plan. Plans must be evaluated in terms of risks (assuming that the plan is implemented), benefits, and costs (Box 6). Alternatives are recommended so that all reasonable solutions are at least placed in evidence. Leaping to premature or incorrect ''solutions'' can be more damaging than the original problem.

An important footnote to the formulation of the plan for solutions (Box 5) is the question of who it is that devises such solutions. Overall responsibility rests with the PM, PC, and CSE, but it is suggested that a team approach to problem solving be undertaken. In other words, information and proposals for solutions should be consciously elicited from members of the project team. Full or partial team meetings are a good way to kick off such a process. In this manner, participative management can be demonstrated in addition to being expounded. More importantly, it usually leads to clearer definitions of problems and more effective solutions. More is discussed in this regard in Chapter 6.

Another implicit question is: When does the PM give an alert to the boss when there is a problem? The recommended answer is, for most situations, after the PM has developed an appropriate plan for solving the problem. In general, do not ''hide'' problems from bosses. At the same time, it is prudent to come to the boss with a complete plan for solution. This shows the boss that the PM is on top of the problem. It also gives the boss a last opportunity to provide input into the plan, or to modify the plan if necessary. Implementing a solution without consulting the boss carries some risks with it, especially if the problem is severe.

Thus, the situation analysis process shown in Figure 4.4 involves two additional and very important considerations:

1. When and how to involve the project team

2. When and how to involve the PM's immediate supervisor

Interim plans that are not considered satisfactory (Box 7) have to go back around the loop for improvement and consideration of alternatives. Once the plan is approved, implementation starts (Box 8). After that, the normal monitoring function is resumed.

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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