Implementing EPM in Different Levels of Scheduling Maturity

Reading James O’Brien and Frederic Plotnick’s definitive book on construction scheduling, and I came across this passage that was rather thought provoking (well, it is for me, but I’m a bit of a scheduling nerd):

“….the primary and secondary purpose of the [schedule] must be to promote the project.  A tertiary purpose to support cost control, facilities management, or home office concerns should be acceptable as long as such do not detract from the primary purpose.

“Enterprise Scheduling software and implementation must be carefully managed to prevent increasing the burden of such on individual projects.”

First off, I’ll emphasize that Enterprise Project Management (EPM) is a rather broad term encompassing many of the capabilities required to deliver projects effectively: portfolio optimization, business case development, business architecture, etc.  In this case, we are focusing on a subset of these capabilities, specifically the field of enterprise scheduling.

Now, when it comes to enterprise scheduling, it seems to me that we are typically confronted with two different kinds of organizations in a “normal” engagement:

  1. Organizations with low scheduling maturity that are both trying to enhance maturity and enhance visibility into their project schedules.
  2. Organizations with high scheduling maturity that are only trying to enhance visibility into their project schedules, i.e. the “dashboard” scenario.

I would say that outside of simple question of visibility, most of the organizations I’ve worked with that fall into the latter category are also dealing with issues related to the ongoing “Great Shift Change,” where many of the schedulers who have highly mature (albeit unconsciously competent) processes are retiring, and enterprise scheduling is seen as a way of capturing their knowledge in the form of process and templates so that it may be passed on to the next generation of schedulers.

This also speaks to the role of the dashboard in an EPM engagement.  Specifically, as I always point out, there are two sets of controls being implemented here:

  1. Visibility into the actual dates of the deliverables within the schedule.  When will we hit key milestones?  When will the pipeline be ready to transport gas?  When will various crews be required to roll in and complete their work?  What are the risks that critical activities will get pushed into deer season and thus have to be delayed to ensure none of our personnel get shot accidentally?
  2. Visibility into the quality of the schedule.  How well are our schedulers following the basic precepts of solid CPM scheduling?  Do all tasks have predecessors and successors?  Are resource assignments correctly set?  Are constraints used correctly?

As annoying as they may be, the latter set of criteria are what’s important in driving up scheduling maturity.  They provide the reinforcement metrics required to take a group of engineers with limited scheduling experience and drive them up the maturity curve – which is most often what is called for when an organization decides to embark on an EPM journey.

The risk though, and I’ve seen this again and again, is that the organization gets lost in the wilderness of dashboard visibility into key milestones without spending the time and effort to build scheduling maturity.  That’s probably the main place where EPM engagements go off the rails.  In this case, the “schedulers” become obsessed with reporting the desired data – at the cost of developing valid schedule models.  (Your Schedule is Totally Mental)

So how do we avoid the dead end low-value result of having a bunch of simple reporting schedules?  Through education of the actual folks doing the scheduling.  Through emphasis of the right metrics.  Through the use of the correct information in driving the day to day decisions required to manage complex programs and portfolios of projects.  Most importantly, perhaps, through not skimping on the level of effort required to train and support these schedulers (and their bosses) as they make a mental leap from project managers who do some scheduling to actual bona fide schedulers.

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Implementing EPM in Different Levels of Scheduling Maturity

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