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Expert Talk on Managing Time Delays with Girija Pillai

Today we have enjoyed another show of our ProjectManagers.org Expert Talk, on the topic of Managing Time Delays. Our PM Expert Girija Pillai has covered the main keys for managing this difficult situations and succeed.

Following you can read all our interview:

Q: Time Delays are frequent in Project Management. Girija, is it possible avoid time delays or is better learn to manage them?
A: Yes Angel it is true that Time delays are frequent in Project Management. To answer your query I would cite examples of very big successful incredible projects which are completed on time and within budget.

Such examples include Rotterdam port expansion project in Netherlands which spanned for about 10 years and adopted PRINCE2® methodology, it was completed within time and budget. It was a 2.9 billion euro project which aimed at enlargement of the current port by 75%, especially for new container ships, it is the largest port in Europe and want to stay as the largest port in Europe. 

Knowledge and experience helped to complete this project on time.

Another example is the London Olympics project 2012, for which theme was “inspire a generation”. Fully integrated programme management was crucial to ensure that the complex programme of work delivered the programme-wide benefits the Olympic Delivery Authority had committed to, and met the cost and delivery targets agreed with government.

Another example I would like to cite is Pan African e-network project an initiative by India government to connect all the 53 nations of African union by a satellite and fibre optic network that would provide effective communication for Tele-education, Tele-medicine, Internet, Videoconferencing and VoIP services and also support e-Governance, e-Commerce, infotainment, resource mapping, meteorological services etc. Pan African e-network project is funded by India government and the implementing agency is TCIL, a public sector telecommunication consultancy.

Note: The data given above are derived from the published data by the respective authorities.

Hence it is possible to avoid time delays through professional project management methods along with knowledge and experience. During the course of the project time delays can happen, but we should learn manage them so that the end delivery date is met.

Q: What should we do to prevent Time delays?
A: Effective planning is the first step towards preventing time delays. Schedule management plan is a part of project management plan. Schedule management plan will select a scheduling methodology, scheduling tool, and sets the format and criteria for developing and controlling project schedule. For developing schedule, we have to:

  • Define activities which are required to produce the deliverables. A well defined scope and hence a good work break down structure is necessary for this. Project deliverables, assumptions and constraints from project scope baseline are considered for this. Work package which is a unit of work within WBS is broken down into activities, taking help of team members in this process will give accurate results. 
  • Sequence activities – to determine the logical relationships among activities. When activities are sequenced the lead time and the lag time of activities are considered to get a realistic project schedule. A lead allows acceleration of a successor activity and a lag means delay in successor activity. 
  • Estimate activity resources – Estimate the type and quantity of resources which include people, material, equipment and supplies required to complete the activity. In this process we have to look at resource calendar to ensure the availability of resources. Attributes such as Resource skill set, experience level and the geographical locations from where they are originating are also to be considered. Also look at alternative analysis also. Many schedule activities have alternate ways of accomplishment. When as activity cannot be estimated with a certain degree of confidence, the work within the activity is decomposed into more detail. 
  • Estimate activity duration – Estimate the number of work periods required to complete each activity. We can use different types of estimating like analogous estimating, parametric estimating, three point estimates. We have to do reserve analysis also to account for uncertainties. Contingency reserve may be a percentage of the estimated activity duration, a fixed number of work periods or may be developed using quantitative analysis methods. In activity duration estimates, there is an indication of range of possible values. we will say 2 week +- 2 days like that. 
  • Develop the schedule: Analysing activity sequences, durations, resource requirements and schedule constraints to create project schedule. Developing an acceptable project schedule is an iterative process. Revising and maintaining a realistic project schedule continues throughout as the project progresses. For developing schedule we can use critical path method, critical chain method. Resource levelling help us to optimise the distribution of work among resources and what if scenario analysis help us to assess the feasibility of project schedule under adverse conditions. 
  • Control schedule: Monitoring the project progress and managing the changes to the schedule base line is also equally important. 

Q: What should we do to manage when they occur?
A: Schedule base line is compared with actual results to determine if a change, corrective action or preventive action is necessary when time delays occur.

In PRINCE2® methodology, exception process is well defined. As the project is performed in stages, if the stage level tolerances are exceeded, PM has to raise an exception and if project level tolerances are exceeded, project board has to raise an exception to the corporate. Based on the exception plan, a decision will be taken. It can be a premature project closure also if it is found that the project is not viable and is not worthwhile to continue with the project.

In Earned Value Management method, the schedule variance and the schedule performance index are calculated to determine the magnitude of variations. Major delay in a non critical path may have a little effect on project schedule while a much shorter delay on a critical or a near critical path may require an immediate action.

In Critical Chain method, the difference between the buffer needed and buffer remaining can determine whether corrective action is appropriate.

In case of major delays, the concerned stakeholders need to be informed about the variation and about the corrective action plan to be adopted as an exception report.

In Scrum method, which is an Agile method, the duration of sprint is fixed like 1 month, so if there is time delay, it is the scope which is going to be impacted.

So actions we take based on time delays depend on the magnitude of the delay and the type of Project Management methodology we adopted.

Q: What techniques can we use to regain the time lost?
A: There are different techniques adopted to regain the time lost:

  • Resource Levelling: This is to optimize the distribution of work among resources. This ensures that some of the resources are not overloaded with work and some are without work
  • What-If scenario analysis is used to review various scenarios to bring the schedule in alignment with plan
  • Adjusting leads and lags to adjust project activities that are behind into alignment with plan. 
  • Schedule Compression techniques are used to bring project activities that are behind schedule to alignment with plan. The examples include additional resources allocation, approving over time, expediting activities on the critical path etc, called crashing but this will bring about increased cost. And we can run activities parallelly to reduce fast tracking, this will increase Risk. 

Schedule variance analysis, review of progress reports, review of performance measures and modification to the project schedule can result in change requests to the schedule base line. In some cases the schedule delays can be so severe that the development of a new target schedule with forecasted start and finish dates is needed to provide realistic data for directing the work.

Q: How do we manage costs for compensating that time lost?
A: For compensating time lost, as we said, we adopt methods like crashing where more resources are added. This will impact the cost baseline and the base line needed to be updated. So in choosing the schedule compression method, the cost/schedule trade-offs are analysed to determine how to obtain the greatest amount of compression for the best incremental cost.

Q: Any final advise about how to manage delays on Projects?
A: To manage delays in projects, effective planning and estimation is required. Constant monitoring and control will help to take corrective action as and when needed. Adopting professional project management methodologies coupled with experience and knowledge, the project delays can avoided.