Yes you heard it right. Project planning is a waste of time, why? Simply put it takes it up so much of it, do you not agree?

  • How long does it take to put a Project Plan together?
  • Can you be sure you have covered all angles?
  • What happens if you overlook a sizable piece of work?

How much value added is it to be spending time behind a computer updating a Project Plan as something has changed, only to find out a few days later that something else has changed too, therefore having to continuously change the plan.

  • Does firefighting this process comply with Pareto’s 80 – 20 Rule?
  • Or does it sit in Quadrant 2 of your Time Management Box (Not Urgent but Important, i.e. looking to the future)
  • Are all the above relevant questions that you worry about or are they scenarios that you find yourself in quite often
  • Does this comply with LEAN THINKING?

Here is a scenario that I am, and I am sure many of you are, familiar with

Project Update meeting

–          Review plan with team

–          Receive updates from team

–          Issue comes to light – resource / material will be 2 weeks late

–          Other issue show up

–          Review what’s going to be carried out next week

You go off and modify the project plan, which takes a few hours, then you realise those issues have a snowball effect which cause the critical path to fall out of alignment so..

You call another meeting to highlight the new issue, which takes a few hours between planning and executing and could also be days in Leadtime. If the problem isn’t solvable, then you have to go the management team to highlight the issue, another hour and possibly a day or 2 in leadtime, probably take some verbal abuse and everything is your fault as you are the PM. Then you just go about your day / project none the wiser to things outside of your control. Then you are under pressure to pull things back into the scheduled time. And what happens?

You end up pushing your team to work overtime, begging people to work with you and more often than not, your team has their own day to day jobs which is their first priority. This becomes a catch 22 and the project begins to show signs of stress! Bottlenecks happen, mistakes can get made or things are missed because of the all important deadline.

So to get this far, how much time have you wasted? How can you effectively manage your team and project when you are constantly firefighting. In addition, how does firefighting add value to the project?

Moreover, what about those curve balls that come out of nowhere, that could never be planned for in the first place?

So who can relate to that?

This is a typical scenario in lots of projects; in fact, I’ve never come across a project or talked to a PM that hasn’t come across this scenario, this is typical of how projects, in practicality, operate.

Project plans are impossible to get accurate, very rigid and phenomenally difficult to change. I can recall a project a number of years ago, where I actually spent over 50% of my time behind a computer rehashing plans due to the nature of the environment. Why? As that was always the focus, to have plans up to date. Keeping plans up to date more often than not can be a full time job.

Project Planning success rateAlan Mulally, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, estimates that about 30 percent of the cost to develop a new airplane is REWORK. This means that one of every three people working on the project spend their full time just re-doing what two other people did wrong in the first place. Regardless of the total cost of the project, that’s a huge waste. If the rework can be eliminated, you have just improved your productivity by that same amount.

The chart shows a report published by the Standish Group that reflects the success rate of projects. If you break down the chart the way I see it, you will find that 83% of projects get into difficulty.

So what does that tell you in terms of how much money / time / resources are put into projects against the success you gain from them?

Can you see now why I believe Project Planning can waste so much time?

These results have been attributed to poor planning and lack of understanding of customer requirements.

I believe another reason for failure of projects is people’s lack of understanding of what actually it means to Project Manage, or what defines a Project. And to have an appreciation of what I am talking about, just google Prince II or the Project Management Institute. This IS NOT a simple process to execute and is HIGHLY COMPLEX.

Can they be resolved. Absolutely, however at what cost?

So where am I going with this?

 In Lean we talk about getting processes RFT as in Right First Time. In essence that means when we operate a process our quality is of a high standard.  A world leader in quality would be producing above 85% RFT. Compare this to the 17% above.

When conducting a Lean Project, we always start at the current state, we map it out and deconstruct it so we can make it better and we develop a Future State Vision. We then build a plan to achieve. However we pilot first, so we assess that our Future State vision is doable, when things don’t plan out as we thought, we tweak and in some cases as we tweak, we discover there is a better solution. My point here, is never go too far ahead with your vision as it may not be achievable and in fact can take you down the wrong path. So this Future State Vision is stepped back into something we call an achievable Future State.  What happens if we think too far ahead? Well simply put

–          We can invest a lot of money in capital equipment and resources only to realise there is not a market anymore, something has come obsolete. Just think of all the unfinished projects over the last 5 years or so due to the economic crisis.

Project Management in many cases is a very rigid process, with clear cut costs, milestones and targets. Is real life like that? Do things stay stationary or do they change?

So what do we do?

Enter Workflow Management

I am not saying that project management is useless, not for one second, in fact project preparation is of the utmost importance. What I am suggesting though is that we need to be more effective at how we execute work so we can always focus on the vital few things. Too many people use disciplines that are hard to understand, work with and take up too much time.

And what happens when things are hard to understand and to work with? Yes, mistakes happen, and with mistakes countless loops of that rework cycle we mentioned above.

So how can we use Lean principles to control our work?

Lets look at 3 basic lean concept

1. Flow

One of the concepts that is fundamental to it’s success, in fact it’s one of the principles 5 Lean Principles, is Flow. Create flow and the key to creating flow is limiting the amount of work in the system.

So what does this mean?

Have you ever been on a motorway, outside of peak hours and notice how there are no obstacles (as in other cars) that hamper your speed (flow). It’s very efficient yes? Ok now change that vision to peak hours and the motorway is like a car park, obstacles / cars everywhere and you are hardly moving.

Simply put, once the motorway reaches a certain capacity it ceases to operate efficiently and the more cars that enter, the slower it becomes.

So there is a limit at where the motorway doesn’t add value anymore to its purpose or to the drivers.

Enter Kanbans

In Lean, to control that flow, we put limits at every stage of the process so flow is never affected, the process never becomes overwhelmed and it means work gets done. Should we encounter any issues, which we will, we have then also limited the effect and the system is also flexible to allow a level of issues as we have protected ourselves to a degree with a controlled amount of WIP.

 2. Pareto 80 – 20 Rule

Very simply put, what is that 20% of the work which will return 80% of the results

This also sounds easy in principle to do, however in practice it’s a completely different situation.

A good example of this is what we discussed earlier on, the countless revisions of Project Plans, the organised meetings about the revised plans, the verbal abuse the PM receives. Does any of this fit into that 20%, absolutely not! In addition, in fact, the project will suffer.

Lets look at all the task that need to be executed in a plan. They all add value, yes? In most cases they do, however some are those necessary things that just need to be done e.g. reporting. However what about those validation reports that we need to get signed off, chasing people who are not around. Does that add value?

Before you begin any project, I recommend you divide all the tasks in to a number of different categories

  1. Effective  / Value added
  2. Necessary
  3. Wasteful
  4. Deceptive

Very much like the 4 Quadrants of time management techniques. The first category is essentially the 20%.

These are the tasks that you MUST always focus on. No matter what tempts you away remember these are the priority!

Yes there will be urgent things and other people, processes trying to distract you. Preparation is key here so if you can brainstorm what are the things / people that are going to cause you delays, once you can list them, why not develop counter measure strategies

 3. Visual Management

The key to a successful Lean Program is Visual Management. That is a system that uses visual techniques to control the project / process.

A good example of this is a daily activity board where KPIs / Performance Charts / Issue & Pareto Analysis are all displayed for all to see. Every day a cross-functional team meet first thing in the morning to discuss issue resolution and to discuss any potential issues today and how can they be mitigated. It’s a very effective way of keeping in touch with performance related issues and all stakeholders are involved. Management’s commitment is to pay attention to these boards and that is the primary source of their information, no email trails, voicemails or anything that can be lost among lots of other updates. Should they need more information or to assist anyone, they go straight to them.

So how can we adopt these 3 Lean Principles to managing our work? Whether it be  a Project, a department working method or even personal goals

It’s easier than you think

  • Control the amount of Work in the System   – SET YOUR LIMITS
  • Meet every morning to discuss and update  – ALL STAKEHOLDERS TO MEET EVERY DAY FOR 5 MINS

Is that too much to ask?

Workflow Management