Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Forecasting part deux

Vicissitudinous. Now that isn't a word you'll hear everyday, let alone everyday in the field of project management. But is should be and if it wasn't such a challenge in terms of spelling and pronunciation, my feeling is that it would be a good deal more used than it is. In short - prone to adverse change.

As is my habit, in my last post I talked at some length about the shortcomings of the Pert weighted average. I'll try and suggest one or two improvements.

First however, a simple suggestion that quite apart from any estimating technique will help immediately with the accuracy of your plans and the forecasting effort.

Keep your tasks short in duration / work - never longer than week, ideally to a maximum of 2-3 days. Decompose your tasks to a level that can be undertaken by one person.

Sounds obvious doesn't it? I have however lost count of the number of project plans in which a few vague words (usually something like "Re-provision host environments" or some such hides 300 man days of work and a 60 day duration. And when, as surely you must, you enquire as to the specifics of the host environments and quite what their 're-provisioning' entails you'll often be greeted by a wall of jargon or a dismissive wave of the hand which suggests if you don't know already, you shouldn't be asking. 

Keep digging. How long does it take to change a tyre? Actually, I'm not certain - but I know the following questions are easier to answer.

  1. How long does it take to remove the spare from the boot?
  2. How long does it take to jack up the car?
  3. How long does it take to unscrew the wheel nuts?
  4. How long does it take to find the locking wheel nut adapter? Ah-ha - you say you don't know where the locking wheel nut adapter is? Well, that's very interesting isn't it...
So you get the picture, decomposing the task through what is sometimes call 'progressive elaboration' is time well spent. Estimating shorter smaller tasks is easier and it tends to throw out details that might otherwise get overlooked.

I don't think I want to get too side-tracked here but I will take the opportunity to address a concern. The drive towards productivity very often means that planning phases are curtailed both in terms of duration and the degree of rigour that is sponsored / supported. Equally, there's often the (somewhat incredible) imperative to spend money quickly (usually this is about allocated budgets and financial drivers). In short, the PM is busy trying to create product breakdown structures, product descriptions and plans that actually reflect the work to be done, and the project sponsor / board is saying - get on with it. Remarkable.

I'll spend some time on how to address this particular concern at a later date, but right now (for all you project sponsors who don't support detailed and structured planning) I offer the following. For your project to be any kind of success you will need to address the following.

  1. You will need to identify all requirements
  2. You will need to elaborate the work to deliver the requirements
  3. You will need to identify and broker the resources to do the work
  4. You will need to do the work to deliver the requirements
  5. You will need to undertake such quality assurance work as is necessary to find defects in products being delivered.
  6. You will need to fix any defects you find.
  7. You will need to pay for items 1 - 6 above
Accepting (as I hope you will) that 1 - 7 are somewhat inevitable, you can do all that at the end of a project if you so choose. It's a darn site more expensive that way and tends to get up the noses of your stakeholders something rotten. Okedoke - I concede that I've wandered a little off my intended track here - but surely worth it for the word vicissitudinous alone!

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