Posts Tagged ‘Quality’

PostHeaderIcon Setting Baselines in Microsoft Project

Baselining a project plan is essential to facilitate accurate tracking of project progress. Project schedules that lack baselines make progress reporting a combination of guesswork and blind faith, yet it is surprising how often this occurs.

Setting a baseline is typically the final act of planning. It should only be done once the sponsor has approved the project plan for implementation, thereby signifying the transition of the project from planning to execution. All documents that reflect the approved project plan should be designated as baseline records, but most importantly it is the detailed schedule that needs baselining to facilitate accurate tracking of progress.

Two Pre-Steps

Before actually setting the baseline, there are two important pre-steps:

  1. Ensure the schedule has been quality checked
    This includes validating the WBS (see A Checklist for Work Breakdown Structures), and verifying the integrity of the duration estimates, dependencies, constraints and resource assignments
  2. Obtain approval of the schedule from the project Sponsor
    This should include a review of all major incremental milestone dates and the level of schedule risk associated with each – not just the final deadline.

Quick and Simple

Saving a baseline in Microsoft Project is a quick and simple thing to do and here’s how:

  • Select either Project, Set Baseline… (Project 2010), or
    Tools, Tracking, Save Baseline… (Project 2003/7)
  • Click to select Baseline
    (rather than Interim plan which is normally used for saving draft versions of plans)
  • Select Entire Project
    Microsoft Project now copies all current schedule information such as Start/Finish dates, estimates and costs into Baseline fields so they can be used as comparisons with Actual information once the project gets underway (see image below).
  • Select View, Tracking Gantt to see the baseline schedule displayed together with the current schedule.

An updated project schedule showing current progress on each task (Start/Finish columns, blue/red bars) compared with the original baseline (Baseline Start/Baseline Finish columns, light grey horizontal bars). Also shown is the total slack on each task (positive slack/blue horizontal lines displaying the late schedule, negative slack/red horizontal lines).

Re-Baselining

Microsoft Project provides for re-baselining via the “Baseline 1”, “Baseline 2” etc. dropdown selections in the Save Baseline dialog. The options for displaying the Gantt bars for any baseline can be set up in Format, Bar Styles (click Insert Row to assign bar and color options for any re-baseline, e.g. for Baseline 1 select “From” as Baseline1 Start and “To” as Baseline1 Finish).

However, once set, the baseline schedule should only be altered (re-baselined) under extreme circumstances (such as a Sponsor-approved major scope change), that render the original baseline schedule obsolete and no longer a meaningful target to aim for and report progress against. Continually re-baselining is not project management – it’s playing politics.

PostHeaderIcon Completion Criteria Ensure Done Means Done

How do you know for sure when something is declared “Done”, that it really is? By defining completion criteria. These little nuggets are one of the single most important – yet frequently overlooked – aspects of project planning.

Completion criteria root out ambiguity (see The First Law). They align stakeholders, team members and the customer on the conditions for acceptance and validation of the project outputs. And they improve estimating quality by enhancing understanding of the desired work result.

Its a Binary Thing – “done” or “not done”

Completion criteria should be defined first for the project deliverables, which in doing so will actually help identify tasks for the WBS, and second for (ideally) each task in the WBS itself. Well-written criteria:

  • Are defined by the deliverable or task owner
  • Clearly state the characteristics and attributes of the output  – “what done looks like”
  • May include the measurement and validation requirement – e.g. “who reviews what”
  • Are defined in a binary way (i.e. totally unambiguous).

Can we really do this for every task? You decide – it’s a tradeoff between increased planning effort vs. increased risk. But consider that while this may initially seem onerous, the reality is that it does not take much more effort to write a statement or a couple of bullets specifying what ‘complete’ means (for example in the Notes field in Microsoft Project). Put in the context of the project overall, it’s a seriously small price to pay for dramatically increased clarity and reduced risk of misunderstandings.

PostHeaderIcon Credibility requires Detail (the 2nd Law)

Most projects are underplanned. They’re already late before they start. For a host of reasons – the usual suspects include a lack of project management discipline, inadequate tools and training, unclear objectives, top-down influence, overworked and under pressure team members – projects get planned with insufficient detail.

The reality is that detail is the basis for accuracy in all projects. Plans that lack appropriate detail can’t be believed. This is what I call the Second Law of project management.

The consequence of a lack of detail is a project suicide spiral:

Understate what’s needed… Misunderstand what ‘done’ looks like… Miss stuff out… Underestimate time and effort requirements to do the work… Overcommit resources to unrealistic schedules…
Present bad news to customer.

Breakdown Checks

Without a credible plan, a project manager lacks credibility with the team and stakeholders. Only when we get to the detail is the full extent of work revealed, which means developing a great Work Breakdown Structure. Here are a few WBS must-do’s:

  • Ensure tasks are small enough so that-
    • Estimates of effort and duration are as accurate and credible as possible
    • Task durations are typically no greater than the time between progress updates
  • Define explicitly what ‘done’ means-
    • Especially for any task that is unfamiliar, complex or difficult to break down
  • Assign a single owner to each task-
    • Have them verify that the expected workflow minimizes likelihood of any missing tasks
  • Use a checklist of often forgotten tasks-
    • e.g. meetings, defect resolutions, reviews and approval cycles.

They say the devil is in the details – and just looking for a chance to cause trouble. Good process and a little extra planning time will build protection.

(See all 5 Laws summarized in The 5 Laws of Effective Project Management)

PostHeaderIcon Construction Industry needs Project Management Education

When I first started in the project management services business, I was repeatedly led to believe that the construction industry was the beacon of leadership in project management maturity. My own experience over the years tended to question that wisdom and now the truth is out that this is indeed all nonsense. According to a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), which represents 42,000 members and sets standards for the management of the total building process, the construction industry has much to learn about project management.

The Shocking Truth

Not a towering force in project management

Not a towering force in project management

The survey results are based on data from 73 companies and over 2,000 projects. Its conclusions are available on the CIOB website – you can also watch an interesting video of the CIOB president Keith Pickavance presenting the results at the Project Management Asia Conference 2008. They make for a highly uncomplimentary denunciation of the state of project management practices in the industry- for example:

– more than 50% of projects reported on managed with simple bar charts and no CPM
– less than 15% used a linked network to define the schedule
– only 10% had a QA system in place to quality control the network
  • less than 15% used a linked network to define the schedule
  • more than 50% used only simple bar charts
    • (no chance of a critical path)
  • more than 50% used paper (not computerized) records
  • less than 15% kept logs of changes
    • (not much good in court)
  • 95% did not report delays to progress because they:
    • hoped no-one would notice
    • hoped they could catch up
    • did not want to upset the client
    • thought they could blame someone else.

Its not a pretty picture. Little wonder then, that the industry is dogged by delays, compensation claims and disputes.

The Way Forward

Clearly there is a need for some serious project management skills development. In the words of Mr. Pickavance himself:

We have no standards, we have no training, we have no qualifications.

All of which should be manna from heaven for project management educators, particularly in those regions where construction investment is being pumped up to help resurrect limp economies. Assuming of course that the building firms are open to changing their ways.