How to determine Critical Path Tasks on Projects?


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The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines the critical path method or more commonly termed critical path as “the sequence of schedule activities that determines the shortest duration of the project.” The critical path methodology technique can also be applied to “determine amount of float” on various logical network paths in a project schedule network” that reflects minimum total project duration.

What is a Critical Task?

Any task in a project schedule network becomes critical if:

  • It has no slack
  • It has a Must Start On or Must Finish On date constraint.
  • It has an As Late As Possible constraint in a project scheduled from a start date.
  • It has an As Soon As Possible constraint in a project scheduled from a finish date.
  • It has a finish date that is the same as or beyond its deadline date.

Note that a task stops being critical when it’s marked as completed, because it then can no longer affect the completion of successor tasks or the project finish date.

Identification and close monitoring of all critical tasks in a project is a first step to ensure they can be better managed. Fast Tracking & Crashing techniques are most commonly used by Project Managers to manage critical tasks on their projects.

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11


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7 Measures of Project Success


How do you define a successful project? Primarily a project needs to deliver on few basic parameters such as  

  1. Product of Project – This may be a new service, a product or a repeatable process that sponsoring organization intends to use for strategic, operational or business advantage. The customer must be able to use or validate it at project completion.
  2. Cost or Investment: Budget allocated for project should not exceed without changes to baseline scope. This is one of the primary concerns for the stakeholder along with timelines and quality in order to derive reasonable value from investment.
  3. Schedule: Project timelines are met for key deliverables so project’s product is relevant for the intent it is commissioned. This is especially true in the technology domain where go to market time can make or break company’s fortunes.
  4. Project Scope: Has project maintained the agreed scope of work and identified deliverables on time and at desired levels of utility? If there are either missed requirements or “gold plating with increased costs or time, in both cases it points to an element of failure.
  5. Reporting Metrics: Is there an agreement on measurement metrics to identify and report on key milestones and deliverables while project is in flight? If key parameters aren’t defined, it is practically impossible to measure the progress made or how much more time or budget will need to complete the remaining scope.
  6. Stakeholder Expectations: This is a tough one, especially that various involved parties have differing stakes in the project. It is important that your key stakeholder’s perceive the project outcome to be inline with their expectations.
  7. Transition to Operation: Very little thought and planning time is given on the sustainment aspects of a project delivery. It is critical that sufficient time and resources are engaged for ensuring there is smooth hand off & required transfer of knowledge between project & supporting teams at project completion & acceptance in to ongoing operations.

To conclude, your stakeholders will decide whether project was well-managed. Someone (perhaps your sponsor) will decide whether or not the project was a success. Some of the above measures may form the basis of this success. So to help stakeholders understand and decide get project success measures documented and agreed to from the start!

ProZen Global, Calgary
Project Staffing & Consulting Services
Access more resources at www.prozenglobal.com

Project and Program Management differences


Project Management and Management of Programs is different in multiple ways. Some of these difference are described in below table. This is just a short list and in no way intended to be a comprehensive set.

 Parameter Program Management Project Management
Organization Semi-permanent in nature, resourced to address the full range of business requirements associated with achievement of a strategic business objective. Resource requirements may be programmatic in nature and applied to all or major sets of projects undertaken to deliver the program Transient organization in nature, resourced to address a limited set of requirements that may be more temporal in nature and not recurring through all project phases. Output oriented vs. outcome oriented
Organizational Alignment Analogous to building a new company with a sharply defined strategic business objective. When existing owner organizations are adopting program management for the first time, organizational change management processes are an early activity to assure that owner elements understand their changed role in a program delivery approach Team alignment around project and contract requirements. In joint venture or prime-sub project structures this alignment may include “cultural” alignment as well as team building activities
Outcome Definition Strategic Business Outcome (enterprise viewpoint) Defined scope, schedule and budget (output viewpoint)
Risk Management Management of all risks associated with achievement of the defined strategic business objectives Management of assumed risks
Requirements Establish programmatic and system technical requirements and allocate as appropriate to individual projects Manage project to meet the allocated programmatic and system technical requirements
Interface Management Management of all programmatic interfaces between defined projects as well as other programmatic interfaces with stakeholder groups Management of allocated interfaces, if any, and all interfaces within the assembled project team
Execution Planning Program wide execution planning including top level schedule, budget, performance standards, supply chain configuration and contracting strategy Project execution planning consistent with agreed to scope schedule, budget. and performance standards
Sequencing Sequencing of programmatic activities including defined projects; re-sequencing of projects and other programmatic activities as required to achieve the desired strategic business outcome Sequencing of project activities to achieve project execution requirements within any programmatic constraints imposed by contract
Timeframe Through achievement of strategic business objectives (more permanent in nature) Duration associated with completion of project activities
Stakeholder Engagement Identification and integration of stakeholders’ interests and proactive engagement to assure achievement of strategic business objectives Interaction with stakeholder groups only as contractually provided for

Comments are welcome to share other differences you find in Project and Management as per your experience!

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11



Need for PM Training & Certifications


Traditional learning model

Despite the fact that here is a lot of buzz in business about importance of project management skills in resources aligned in delivery of projects, the trend of formally trained individuals is quite small or insignificant. Few years before (when PMP or Prince2 credentials were not as sought after as today) professionals as well as organizations did not feel the need to have formal training for PM professionals. Rather it was more likely that these resources gained ‘hands on’ knowledge and skills while performing the jobs in their day today work life & going through company’s existing processes, procedures in use and learning from mistakes made in the live environment. It is quite obvious that many learned the tricks & techniques with historical tried and tested ‘trial & error’ method possibly unknowingly at the organization’s expense!

PM Training becoming mainstream

It is also evident that due to lack of structure and infancy of the discipline the failure rate of projects were higher that what they might be today. make no mistakes, I am not suggesting that improved success rates of projects today compared to a decade earlier is primarily or solely due to acceptance of formal training and certifications of professionals in the industry, the must have been other factors at play as well such as improved tools and better awareness and knowledge around techniques and off course increased level of maturity of the performing organization. Over the years awareness about value of formal Project Management training has been recognized by the industry and this reflected in the fact that now there are large numbers of training schools/colleges offering variety of training programs for varying levels of needs.

What drives people for credential

Even with much greater emphasis on requirement for industry recognized credentials, the key aim of individual for gaining PMP, Prince2 or similar badges is more to do for financial benefits & due to peer or organization pressure rather to really gain additional subject and process knowledge for practical application purposes. I do believe that going through the process of preparation for the certification does help in the way that individual gains basic level of subject knowledge and terminologies, which in itself has remarkable value.

Why Skill disparity still remains

What actually is used in day today practice is mostly to do with framework established by the performing organizations which depends again on the level of maturity the organization is working. So what it means is that even though 2 individuals with same level of experience and industry recognized credentials may have quite different level of expertise in Project Management knowledge area due to the exposure and practical use will defer based on the adopted practices by their organizations. Credentials & formal training in professional fields act as minimum level of knowledge/skill expected by the Industry from project management professional, this is still an excellent value, given this is what expected out of these programs.

Shyam VermaPMP, ITIL v3
IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11
This article is also available on http://pmpower.wordpress.com  &

Resolving project team disputes effectively


We all know how frequently a small disagreement within the team members can  flash-over into a full conflagration in no time, scorching you and your colleagues in minutes. What it means is that you as the leader of the project team need to think on your feet and take a quick decision to douse the flames before they have any significant negative effects on the team and project outcome.

Conflict resolution does have some trusted and tested techniques that can be used as per the specific situation.  These techniques are listed as below;

  • Confronting: A resolution technique that involves face to face dialog and focuses on win-win outcome
  • Compromising: This is where stakes are small and both parties looking for a quick resolution
  • Smoothing: One party loses or obliges for the sake of achieving the overall larger goal or for future trade off
  • Avoiding: Temporary solution to postpone issue for future. Leads to recurrence of the issue
  • Forcing: Win lose situation where one party wins at the expense of other party; rarely brings a lasting solution

The best answer is to have a conflict resolution mechanism set ahead of time – for example ground rules for the project team. This is something that team already has in place and agrees to abide by and has a buy in from all affected members.

The reason this is the best alternative to choose because trying to resolve a conflict when tempers are high may lead to distrust from one of the parties.  While if you have ground rules laid out well in advance, there is no way it could be ignored by any party privy to the conflict. What has to be done is ascertain the facts and view it from the perspective of the rules already in place! Team norms should ideally be established when the unit is first formed. These are rules that help the group run effective meetings and make sure everyone is heard. Some examples of team norms:

  • Meetings will begin promptly when scheduled.
  • One person talks at a time; there are no side discussions
  • De-personalize discussion of issues – no attacks on people
  • E-mail and other communications will be answered within 24 hours.
  • In event of a disagreement, a final decision would be made by the PM/GM
  • When we pose an issue or a problem, we will also try to present a solution.
  • No responsibilities will be assigned unless the person be assigned the responsibility accepts it

Do you have your ground rules set up for your project team?

Shyam VermaPMP, ITIL

IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11
This article is also available on blog site http://pmpower.wordpress.com

Why Managing Critical Path is Critical!


Practicing PMs should review their schedules on a regular basis to gauge if their project is on track or need some active management to correct any schedule deviation. If there is any deviation, there are a number of project management techniques that can be used to bring it back on schedule. This is where critical path method technique comes for the rescue!

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines the critical path method or more commonly termed critical path as “the sequence of schedule activities that determines the duration of the project.” Project managers can also apply the critical path methodology technique to “determine the amount of float on various logical network paths in the project schedule network to determine the minimum total project duration.”

Critical path method is a modeling technique and is commonly used with all forms of projects, including construction, aerospace and defense, software development, research projects, product development, engineering, among others. Any project with interdependent activities can apply this method of mathematical analysis

To identify a critical task is to construct a model of the project including the following:

  • A work breakdown structure
  • Estimating the time duration required for each activity
  • And dependencies between the activities

What is a Critical Task?

A task in your project schedule becomes critical if:

  • It has no slack
  • It has a Must Start On or Must Finish On date constraint.
  • It has an As Late As Possible constraint in a project scheduled from a start date.
  • It has an As Soon As Possible constraint in a project scheduled from a finish date.
  • It has a finish date that is the same as or beyond its deadline date.

Note that a task stops being critical when it’s marked as completed, because it then can no longer affect the completion of successor tasks or the project finish date

What is Fast-Tracking?

Fast tracking means that activities that are normally done in sequence are done partially in parallel by adjusting the resource availability upfront. For instance instead of waiting for entire design of your IT project to be completed, you consider starting a chunk of development/coding work in parallel. Fast-tracking at times involves risk that could lead to increased cost and some rework later. For example if the design changes at a later stage, development work done in parallel to design may lead to complete or major re-work! So Project Managers have to evaluate based on unique situation of their projects after careful consideration of trade off.

If you’re willing and able to spend more to accelerate the schedule, fast-tracking may be a viable option for you.

Crashing the project schedule

“Crashing” the schedule means to throw additional resources to the critical path without necessarily getting the highest level of efficiency.

For instance, let’s say one person was working on a ten-day activity on the critical path. If you were really hard pressed to shorten this timeframe, you might add a second resource to this activity. Additional resources may come from within the project team, or they may be loaned temporarily from outside the team so crashing usually always leads to some additional incremental cost to the project. Additionally you may also like to evaluate following techniques depending on your project situation;

  • Schedule overtime.
  • Shorten the duration or work on a task on the critical path.
  • Change a task constraint to allow for more scheduling flexibility.
  • Break a critical task into smaller tasks that can be worked on simultaneously by different resources.
  • Revise task dependencies to allow more scheduling flexibility.

In conclusion, both Fast-Tracking and Crashing should be applied only on Critical Tasks on your project schedule, as if they are applied on non-critical tasks they won’t be much useful. Also note that Fast-Tracking is always considered first line of defense mostly because it does not increase your project cost.

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11
This article is also available on blog site http://pmpower.wordpress.com

Evolving role of Enterprise PMO


In recent years, with general adoption of IT Governance practices, Enterprise Project Management has become more critical than ever before as it is widely recognized that a project co-exists with many other projects in the enterprise, or are part of one or more programs. While the initial mandate for PMOs was to only plan and track the existing set of projects and aimed for helping project professionals, envisaged more in the lines of functional department. However, given the strategic value of PMOs in today’s fast paced enterprises, they are not necessarily limited by that original stereotype.

So in that sense, PMOs today no longer exist as isolated function that directed only to the project managers and generated project reports periodically. Even though it is still the owner of setting the organization’s Project management methodology and prioritizes future and current projects against strategic business goals. The later has equally become more important given the pace of development and time to market pressures thereby area of more sought after value

The evolution: Over the years PMO functions have become significantly broad-based from just being the body of knowledge, training and reporting but also leading delivery accountability on critical initiatives. It has assumed and rightly being leveraged by several execution centric organizations as an integral part of delivery arm or business unit. Some time structurally organized horizontally and collaborating with several business verticals and corporate functions that are engaged in delivery of critical project and programs. In that role, it can and in some enterprises already performing the role of ‘delivery assurance’ continuously setting baselines and metrics of delivery efficiency as well as providing that crucial insight in to longer term strategic planning.

The Integrator: With its continuously evolving role, today it is much more aligned with not only with technical functions (R&D and technology Labs) within the organization but also business, HR and legal functions playing much-needed ‘integrator’ role with the bigger picture mandate. Based on the knowledge of past projects, baseline technical standards & over time potential improvements, it also provides the planning confidence to set the bar right for what is feasible against what is not for execution stage.

Value for top management: PMOs provide CIOs the structure needed to both standardize project management practices and methodologies for repeatable project processes as well as business value in identifying best suited program initiatives for implementation and funding viability for achieving organizations strategic intent. . Clearly today PMOs are more strategically valuable for business leaders and senior managers including the C level executives as much as it is with project professionals in day-to-day role as it advises and champions the business initiatives with best ROI on investment for the company.

Shyam VermaPMP, ITIL

IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11
This article is also available on blog site http://pmpower.wordpress.com