The on-deck project. It’s there, waiting in the wings, ready to go as soon as your team wraps up its current efforts. You and your stakeholders are probably excited to get going on it. It may be a garden-variety project, or it could be a one-time, strategically important initiative that will catapult the company forward. Either way, if its start date hinges on completing other tasks, it’s in a precarious position, because if something—anything—goes wrong with your present schedule, that on-deck project will almost surely be bumped.
One common problem organizations encounter is the existence of multiple concurrent plans for a single project. Between the various cross-functional groups, from accounting to engineering to HR, you may discover there are too many schedules in use. With all these timetables floating around, how can you trust any of the resulting progress estimates? The true status of each activity soon becomes a big question mark. Sound familiar? It’s the “many truths” problem and it could doom your project to failure.
Every PM strives to provide the executive team with useful data. Unfortunately, it isn’t always clear what kind of information an organization’s leadership group wants. Some executives have expressed an interest in being involved at each stage of a project’s lifecycle, while others prefer to be updated on the highlights and leave the details to someone else.
With numerous stakeholders to support and ambitious corporate goals to achieve, project teams sometimes fall into the trap of over-committing themselves as they try to make everyone happy. Some agree to aggressive schedules in hopes they can shave time off along the way. Others begin projects with a too-lean budget expecting they will somehow keep expenditures below normal levels. In each case, the team usually ends up looking bad in the end, as the project’s target completion date encounters delays and requests for additional funds pile up.
The need to develop new processes should be an expected part of any facility startup project. Depending on the type of site that’s being launched, the organization may not have established protocols that address any number of functions—inventory management or materials receiving, for example. Or it’s possible that formal processes do exist within the company, but that they aren’t comprehensive enough to encompass all the activities that will occur in the new facility.
Complex projects often have more than one critical path, and in order for the project to reach a successful completion, each of these paths must be carefully managed. Even if the primary path is achieved, a lack of progress on any of the follow-on paths could doom the project to failure in the long run.
Teams that execute these challenging projects need to be mindful of what it takes to manage multiple layers of requirements and actions. A strong awareness of all the paths that make up a project is critical if the Project Team wants to ensure that nothing falls behind schedule or drops off the radar.
If your center of excellence is facing a can’t-fail project with multiple paths, it’s important to understand the risks that exists and where opportunities for success can be found.
The risks behind multiple critical paths
One risk often encountered when executing projects with more than one critical path is the potential for tasks outside the primary path to be neglected. It’s easy for the project team and executives to be so focused on the primary critical path that other important issues outside of that narrow scope go unnoticed. Without a course correction, this fixation can cause the additional paths to become critical as well. Milestones might be missed or, as schedule adjustments are made to reflect the project’s progress against the target completion date, activities outside the primary critical path may not be properly re-sequenced.
If activities in one path begin to slip, it will eventually trigger problems for the team and could cause considerable grief to the project. The organization may need to spend more time or money to get progress back on track than was originally estimated. Not only could the project’s completion date be in jeopardy as a result, but the Project Team may also go over budget trying to set things right.
The other common risk arises when any of the secondary or tertiary paths overtakes the primary critical path in importance. Occurring most often as a result of failing to adequately attend to follow-on paths, one of these lower-priority paths could suddenly become the most important path when the team realizes they’re dangerously behind schedule or not prepared to execute activities as needed. The primary critical path is then at risk of also falling behind.
Tips to successfully manage multiple critical paths
Driving these complex efforts to a successful completion requires a cohesive methodology that delivers the necessary insight, while also providing the tools to act quickly and effectively.
Robust project controls are a vital component when managing multiple critical paths. The right project management methodology will enable the team to identify problem areas early. With insight into the project’s progress and a knowledge of potential challenges lurking on the horizon, the Project Team will be able to maintain sufficient awareness of not only the primary critical path, but also all everything that follows behind it.
Communication is another key to sustaining the right level of connection across all of the important paths that are part of the project. Information sharing should be a focus as the Project Team works to balance the needs of the critical path alongside those of the secondary and tertiary paths. Data must flow from the project team up to the executives to ensure everyone is aware of progress and issues. It will also need to be channeled from the leadership group down to the center of excellence. This may be in the form of strategic direction that influences project decisions or activity scheduling, or input to help resolve problems so the project can move forward.
The ongoing uncertainty about Brexit—what its impacts will be in the marketplace and when those effects will be felt—has many companies considering where they may need to cut costs or reallocate their resources. As organizations try to navigate this changing landscape, solid project management expertise will continue to be a vital asset.
Project teams are increasingly aware of the value of using a dynamic schedule to sequence and oversee activities. With the ability to effectively address any schedule impacts by reflowing or compressing tasks to maintain alignment with the target completion date, the center of excellence gains tangible benefits that can help keep difficult or complex projects on track.
Managing the Impacts of Testing and QC on Manufacturing Projects| PMAlliance Project Management Blog
Testing and QC programs are a useful and necessary part of the manufacturing sector, but PMs need to be ready to address the significant impacts these activities can have on projects that are already in progress. Once the results of a testing or QC program are released, the effects on the project can range from delays in downstream activities to changes in the project’s scope. Successfully executing tasks in spite of these impacts—sticking to the target completion date and approved budget—can be tricky. But while juggling mid-project changes is often challenging, there are strategies organizations can use to ensure that testing and QC efforts don’t put the project’s success in jeopardy.
Companies worried about the future should instead turn their focus toward planning. Contingency planning has long been a core skill behind successful project management, and it’s a competency that organizations can turn to as the Brexit process moves forward. After reviewing the firm’s goals and where the changing environment might intersect (or interfere), project managers will be able to lay out several contingent paths that can guide the business through the uncertain years ahead, leaning toward one or another of these potential paths as information about the future becomes more clear.