Getting the project back to target

A contingency plan should, of course, already exist as a result of the risk analysis methods described in Chapter 7.

The schedule is not sacrosanct - it is a plan that should be adhered to so long as it is relevant and cost-effective.

Almost any project will, at one time or another, be subject to delays and unexpected events. One of the tasks of the project manager is to recognize when this is happening (or. if possible, about to happen) and. with the minimum delay and disruption to the project team, attempt to mitigate the effects of the problem. In most cases, the project manager tries to ensure that the scheduled project end date remains unaffected. This can be done by shortening remaining activity durations or shortening the overall duration of the remaining project in the ways described in the next section

It should be remembered, however, that this might not always be the most appropriate response to disruptions to a plan. There is little point in spending considerable sums in overtime payments in order to speed up a project if the customer is not overly concerned with the delivery date and there is no other valuable work for the team members once this project is completed.

There are two main strategies to consider when drawing up plans to bring a project back on target - shortening the critical path or altering the activity precedence requirements.

Shorten the critical path

The overall duration of a project is determined by the current critical path, so speeding up non-critical path activities will not bring forward a project completion date.

Extolling staff to 'work harder' might have some effect, although frequently a more positive form of action is required, such as increasing the resources available for some critical activity. Fact-finding, for example, might be speeded up by allocating an additional analyst to interviewing users. It is unlikely, however, that the coding of a small module would be shortened by allocating an additional programmer - indeed, it might be counterproductive because of the additional time needed organizing and allocating tasks and communicating.

Resource levels can be increased by making them available for longer. Thus, staff might be asked to work overtime for the duration of an activity and computing resources might be made available at times (such as evenings and week-ends) when they might otherwise be inaccessible.

Where these do not provide a sufficient solution, the project manager might consider allocating more efficient resources to activities on the critical path or swapping resources between critical and non-critical activities. This will be particularly appropriate with staff - an experienced programmer should be significantly more productive than a more junior member of the team.

By such means we can attempt to shorten the timescale for critical activities until such time as either we have brought the project back to schedule or further efforts prove unproductive or not cost-effective. Remember, however, that shortening a critical path often causes some other path, or paths, to become critical (see Section 6.16).

Time/cost trade-off: there is a general rule that timescates can be shortened by buying more (or more expensive) resources; sometimes this is true.

Reconsider the precedence requirements

If attempting to shorten critical activities proves insufficient, the next step is to consider the constraints by which some activities have to be deferred pending completion of others. The original project network would most probably have been drawn up assuming Ideal* conditions and 'normal' working practices. It might be that, to avoid the project delivering late, it is now worth questioning whether as yet unstarted activities really do have to await the completion of others. It might, in a particular organization, be 'normal' to complete system testing before commencing user training. In order to avoid late completion of a project it might, however, be considered acceptable to alter 'normal' practice and start training earlier.

One way to overcome precedence constraints is to subdivide an activity into a component that can start immediately and one that is still constrained as before. For example, a user handbook can be drawn up in a draft form from the system specification and then be revised later to take account of subsequent changes.

If we do decide to alter the precedence requirements in such a way, it is clearly important to be aware that quality might be compromised and to make a considered decision to compromise quality where needed. It is equally important to assess the degree to which changes in work practices increase risk. It is possible, for example, to start coding a module before its design has been completed. It would normally, however, be considered foolhardy to do so since, as well as compromising quality, it would increase the risk of hav ing to redo some of the coding oncc the final design had been completed and thus delay the project even further.

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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