Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Taking Corrective Action Part 1

So far in this series of articles on project control, we have used a medical analogy to guide our approach. We began by showing that all maladies on a task can be attributed to one of four types of problems, or a combination of them. Then we formulated questions, much the way a doctor would, in order to determine which of these offer the most likely source of what ails the task.

In this article, we turn our attention to the types of actions project managers take in order to solve problems. Unfortunately, again like medical treatments, these can often have side-effects. Therefore, when contemplating which line of action is the most appropriate, the project manager is thrust into a classic decision-making situation in which he or she is required to consider options, examine their associated consequences and pick the alternative which in some sense minimises the potential damage to the project.Let us examine a typical situation. Consider the diagram below:
The lower bars represent the baseline (i.e. the original plan) while the upper reflect the current best forecast. At present these agree. Now imagine that half of the planned duration of the first task has elapsed and that we are told that the job is only 30% complete. Notice that we have allowed a contingency period between the dates of scheduled and promised completion.If we expect the progress measure to run proportionately with time, then it appears that we have a problem. Of course we don't always jump to action. It may be that the best alternative at present is to nothing and wait for developments. However, if things don't improve of their own accord, we shall at some stage wish to intervene.

In attempting to identify the most appropriate action, it is always important to determine the nature of the problem caused. This is why we ask the questions we do at each update period (see previous article). However, this does not always indicate how we should solve it. After all, it might be that our choices are constrained by external factors such as availability or time and we may simply need to fix things as best we can given these factors.The following is a selection of potential actions and their corresponding effects. It is not possible to identify the 'best' option without considering the circumstances and context in which a particular project is taking place. We present them only to stimulate thought. Of course you would have to weigh up their relative merits and select what appeals most to you. Or perhaps you can come up with actions of your own.

Option A:
Extend the Task Duration We may choose to lengthen the task, i.e. allow the team more time to complete the work. The situation is described in the diagram below. However, the move could lead to a number of problems. Firstly, the team members scheduled to work on succeeding tasks (tasks 2 and 3 for example) would now need their commitment to the task to be extended but they may not be available for the extended part and would have to be replaced.If they are available, there is the possibility that the tasks on other projects they were otherwise scheduled to work on during the new dates would be left without resources, leading to disruptions and delays there. Also, extending the task duration might mean that additional effort (relative to the baseline) is required to be expended, implying an increase in costs. Finally, we are required to consume some of the contingency time we had made available to the project, thereby making it a little bit less secure.

Option B: Extend the DeadlineIn this case, we assume that no contingency was allowed at all and so we are required to advise the client or other affected parties that the project finish date would be delayed.

In this case all of the negative implications discussed under option A would apply with the additional inconvenience to be experienced by the client as well as the probable loss to our credibility and professional reputation.

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