Painting vs Planning

Practicing project planning in the company does not eventually mean the efficient management of the project itself, though the company might be positive in its progress. Such issuesas delays and budget overruns might still take place, however, they turn into managed and controlled tasksin the hands of a competent planner. Many project leaders claim to exercise project planning in their companies with reference to using such software products as Microsoft Excel or Project.

This, however, does not mean they take advantage of all the features and benefits provided by the project management software. Professional project planning is not just about “drawing” tasks one-by-one with an approximate overlap in time on a two-level structured plan (in a fortunate case) in Excel or even in a professional planner.

Getting updated information is a burning issue of efficient planning. If a project manager is well informed about the issues below, they are more likely to succeed:

  • Current activities of all the contractors.
  • Delays accurate within a day.
  • Funds needed for a particular project in the near future according to the budget breakdown.
  • Budget overrun accurate to a cent.

Let us consider some practical examples. Clients and contractors in the companies described above often schedule their works on objects (ex. Engineering) as shown in figures 1-2.

Excel Project Painting

Fig.1. Planning in Microsoft Excel

 

Planning in AxProject

Fig.2. Planning in AxProject.

 A whole number of questions arise concerning the project and its implementation when you analyze the list of activities with duration from a month to five months in fig.2. What are the specific activities of plasterers within the “Foundations” task during the whole period of works? What is the scope of works needed? What resources (qualification, cost, quality) do we need to have each task performed?

Costs are the next cornerstone there.  In the figure, we see that it is impossible to determine the cost of laying the foundation as well as of other project stages. This fact certainly causes difficulties in budget management in addition to the lack of its initial step-by-step planning. The final project cost set forth in the contract does not help in any way to estimate and control the implementation costs and possible budget overrun.
Many short-sighted specialists prefer the “accounting on the actual basis” method which implies no cost planning before the construction starts. It is an absolutely wrong and – above all – a failure-oriented approach. Acting reasonably, a professional can precisely indicate and define, within a particular project stage, the resources and cost of their work, the number of tasks and work breakdown structure, start and finish dates and the key factors affecting those. It is by-turn the ground for activity planning.

A particular task requires some logical and integrated interrelation with other tasks, otherwise we get the case as shown in fig.1. The start and finish points are defined at random. It is so because, guided by the given facts, we cannot know which subtasks are included in the “Foundations” task and what we are to do before the “Steel Erection” task starts. Moreover, a particular task’s lagging or leading is not displayed within the timeframes of the entire project.  This has nothing to do with the real situation.

How can we define the physical percent complete or the current stage by such “project painting”? Very often, people in such companies use the “of-this-date” method to determine the completion percentage. Or they directly contact a contractor.
For example, we are in a situation when we utterly need to know the works completed and costs spent. How can we do that with such a schedule? There is no way. Neither time lag nor resource lag on the “Form and Pour Concrete – Floors and Roof” task is mentioned. The lack of interrelations provides no information about the potential lagging of the successor tasks.
You can find the “Finish variance” and “Cost variance” fields specially developed in the AxProject project planning software product which make it possible to avoid confusing marks about deviation using a resource or any other ways of marking, fig.3.

Task Finish Variance in AxProject

Fig.3. Deviation alert.

 There are certainly projects performed by Contractors within the fixed terms and costs. But it is worth mentioning that it is not a trend. It means that a company should plan its activity not only with the help of graphical tools of Excel or Gantts diagrams (so called project “painting”). As in the case described above, the following difficulties can occur upon such painting:

  1. Lack of sufficient project details. On the contrary, exact awareness about project completion with a lag of 5 days and additionally required amount of money allows one to adjust a budget, marketing activity, etc.
  2. Lack of information about required work and material resources, facilities. It is critical to know what part of resources and within what time period should be reallocated to different tasks in case of changes in start-finish dates, and which project starts should be postponed in that relation.
  3. Lack of rational planning of project budget.
  4. Lack of task interrelation.
  5. Lack of tracking of project implementation dynamics.

 Now we can take all the remarks into account and look at the graphic in fig.4
This is the example of how we can make the task on “Foundations” more detailed.

Task Outline level

Fig.4. Outline level 2.

The present graphic provides sufficient information concerning the critical questions. The start-finish dates of every subtask included into the ground floor construction are presented there. Besides, the cost of every subtask is indicated, which simplifies the evaluation of the current project status and its factors.
Browsing through that graphic, we can get detailed data about some parts of work completed, start/finish dates of the next parts, and not some abstract and relative values of task completion evaluation. It gives us an extensive description of tasks and their scope, the materials required and costs.
Also, from the graphic, we can get information about salaries to be paid and costs associated with the operation of machinery and equipment.
 
Thus, we can always get the necessary information with the help of Outline levels 2 and more. And we can also find answers to the critical questions below:

  1. What are the specific current activities of your contractors?
  2. What funds do you need for a particular project in the near future according to the budget breakdown?

The planning process with the use of these drill-down levels provides us with a timely report on the tasks performed and on project stages. This means you will know:

  1. Delays accurate within a day.
  2. Budget overrun accurate to a cent.

 Having the answers to these and many other questions that require discovering more details about the project, we can stay assured that the project is properly managed and scheduled. You wouldn’t be able to go this deep in understanding your project if you just had it “painted” in Excel.

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