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Beyond the Gantt Chart Project Management Moving On

Beyond the Gantt Chart Project Management Moving On

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Beyond the Gantt Chart:
Project Management
Moving on
European Management JournalVol. 19, No. 1, pp. 92\u2013100, 2001
\u00a92001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved
Printed in Great Britain
0263-2373/01 $20.00
PII: S0263-2373(00)00074-8
HARVEY MAYLOR,University of Bath

Large-scale engineering projects have traditionally dominated the subject of project management. Today, however, project management has become a core business process for most organisations. This paper argues that the academic subject and many of the practices have lagged behind this change. Particular problems are identi\ufb01ed with the role of strategy and planning, the units of assessment, the planning process itself and the body of knowledge of the subject. An alternative view of project man- agement is proposed based on an integrative model and areas for further development are identi\ufb01ed.

\ue0002001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved
Keywords: Project management, Gantt charts, Strat-
egy, Operations management

During a recent study of new product development practices in a wide range of \ufb01rms, one of the issues addressed was \u2018Tell me how you manage projects.\u2019 Many responses were to the effect of \u2018If you mean, \u201cdo we have a Gantt Chart for every project?\u201d The answer is no.\u2019 It wasn\u2019t what was meant, but the fact that so many, both during this study and during the many executive development courses I have taught, viewed the Gantt Chart as representing \u2018project man- agement\u2019 is indicative of a very limited approach to the subject. The Gantt Chart alone is a blunt instru- ment. In this paper, the traditional view of projects will be compared with a new view \u2014 termed the

Beyond the Gantt Chartapproach. This is a hybrid

approach, which combines best practices from prac- titioners with leading-edge management theory, with the objective of de\ufb01ning a way forward for the sub- ject and the practice of project management.

Speci\ufb01cally, this paper reviews the current state and
potential future directions of project management
European Management JournalVol 19 No 1 February 2001

and associated research activities. Projects are econ- omically important, both as direct value-earners and as means of carrying out organisational change. Indeed, a shift in value-adding activity from repeti- tive to project-based organisations has been noted (Kerzner, 1998; Peters, 1999). In addition, the skill- set of the project manager is very much in demand (Fortune, 10/7/95, pp. 121\u2013122).

It will be demonstrated that this economic impor- tance has not been re\ufb02ected in the level of importance given to the subject area, both in academe and in business. Currently, performance in business projects is generally perceived to be poor (Atkinson, 1999). At the same time, the subject appears to have failed to capture the imagination of academics in the way that knowledge management, for instance, has done. This lack of wide-scale attention has resulted in the situ- ation today where there is considerable potential for the subject area to be developed, from both an aca- demic and a practitioner perspective. This paper will identify the areas where this potential exists and sug- gests speci\ufb01c issues that could move the subject for- ward. Such change has successfully taken place in repetitive operations (both in theory and practice) over the past twenty years; a key question is whether this development can also occur in the project arena. It will certainly require a fundamental re-think of the nature of projects and the role of management in the project environment, and how this differs from the approach that has been used since the 1950s.

We conclude that many relevant issues are given very limited treatment under the traditional approach to project management and that this does not \ufb01t with the context in which project managers (regardless of whether they have that title) operate today in many industries, not least those of the \u2018new economy.\u2019 In particular, the need to make the subject area a more inclusive discipline is argued. This paper closes with a set of recommendations for exploration to develop their application within this approach.

Is There a Problem?

Whether there is a need for a new approach depends on establishing that there is indeed a problem with the existing approach. The existing or traditional approach is based on the computational planning and control models originating in large projects from the 1950s onwards, and used extensively by many traditional project industries, predominantly contrac- tors to the aerospace, defence and large construction (Kerzner, 1998). The models are highly deterministic and based on techniques \u2014 notably PERT. Whilst these models have been re\ufb01ned signi\ufb01cantly over the years, they are not considered useful by a large num- ber of world-class organisations. For example, con- sider the approach taken by the Japanese automotive \ufb01rms in their newproduct development projects and these methods and approaches are nowhere to be seen (e.g. Clark and Fujimoto, 1991). Whilst whole- sale adoption of Japanese working practices is not being advocated here, the methods of Toyota (Sobek

et al., 1998) in developing new vehicles in half the

time of their western counterparts, are surely worthy of study, particularly when they are so different from more traditional project management. Given that many of the current business needs more closely resemble those of Toyota, operating in saturated, hyper-competitive fast-moving global markets rather than that of the cost-plus defence contractors of yore, it is only appropriate that project management be re- considered. Firms such as Hewlett Packard and Motorola have done so with their practices making the traditional approach look anachronistic. Clearly, practice has moved ahead of the body of knowledge in many respects.

In addition to the project context having radically changed, there is even some doubt as to whether the traditional methods are effective in many sectors. Collins and Bicknell (1997) showed that problems with IT projects were perennial. In the construction sector, various reports have highlighted systemic problems with the methods of management in the industry (Egan, 1998). Indeed, one interviewee dur- ing this work commented that, \u2018The only way we hit targets is if we continuously \u201cadjust\u201d the baseline.\u2019 Shoot \ufb01rst and whatever you hit, call it the target. Given that project managers usually have an input to the original baselines, how these were constructed is surely a topic for investigation.

There are clearly problems with the traditional approach. The next question is whether other areas may provide ideas for improvement.

Are Other Areas Doing Better?

Many repetitive operations have improved their per- formance signi\ufb01cantly over the past 20 years. In parts of the automotive supply, electronics and retail sec- tors, it is now common for deliveries to be demanded

European Management JournalVol 19 No 1 February 2001

within a very limited time period, at a cost that decreases year by year, and with a level of quality that is expressed in Parts Per Million (PPM). Twenty years ago, deliveries were infrequent and often late, cost escalation was normal and quality levels were expressed in terms of % defective (or Acceptable Quality Levels \u2014 AQL). This change in operations practices and performance has been re\ufb02ected in the literature. Starr\u2019s operations text (Starr, 1972) ignores strategy, in favour of Operations Research (OR) with manpower management covered in reference to work study alone, and a heavy reliance on numerical methods. In modern texts, operations strategy is a key driver of the text and the role of OR has been signi\ufb01cantly reduced.

On the other hand, the chapters on project manage- ment have changed little over this 20-year period. Unlike operations\u2019 rapid improvement, the problems of projects seem to be repetitive. \u2018War stories\u2019 of pro- jects that have run over time, over budget or both are commonplace in the press. This apparent lag behind operations as a whole is considered further in the next section.

The Key Issues
Role of Strategy

Buttrick\u2019s (Buttrick, 2000) analysis of project failure shows that the lack of a clear strategy is a root cause of failure. I would go further and say that more than 80 per cent of all problems at the project level are caused by failures at a board level in \ufb01rms to provide clear policy and priorities. This is consistent with Deming\u2019s observation about product defects \u2014 that the vast majority are caused by \u2018the system\u2019 rather than by individual failure. The result of this at the project level is con\ufb02ict and confusion and ongoing tension over resources \u2014 particularly where they have to be shared with other projects. The traditional approach to project management provides little help in this respect, putting the project manager in a \ufb01rmly reactive position, with the causes of project failure already built into the project because of these con\ufb02icts.

Many \ufb01rms believe that it is vital to providefocus to the project resources through the prioritisation of project resources and anaggregate project plan (Wheelwright and Clark, 1992; Maylor, 1999). It would appear that as Wickham Skinner showed in manufacturing (Skinner, 1969), an organisation which attempts a limited number of projects at any one time is more likely to be successful than one that attempts many (due to the effects of queuing and bad multi-tasking \u2014 Goldratt, 1997). As with the devel- opment of manufacturing strategy (production man- agement re-invented as a strategic competence), the same potential exists in project management. Cru-

Figure 1 Approaches to Strategy

cially, the business imperative now exists in suf\ufb01cient areas of business to warrant such development. The comparison of the traditional and the BTGC approach are shown in Figure 1.

As shown in Figure 1, the two approaches are sig- ni\ufb01cantly different. Using a traditional approach, it is often found that rather than aiming to create com- petitive advantage through projects, project man- agers are forced into the mode of trying to \u2018minimise the negative potential\u2019 of projects (Hayes and Wheel- wright, 1984).

Units of Assessment

In the literature on the traditional approach to project management, it is striking that all of the project sys- tems are geared towards assuringconformance to budget, scope and time constraints. Higher level con- siderations such as the need for excellence, continu- ous improvement and achieving customer delight are apparently outside the scope of the project manager. This is a major weakness and one that is similar to the manufacturing management approaches to qual- ity management of the 1960s, where the emphasis was on quality control and conformance to standard/speci\ufb01cation. The quality revolution in the 1980s and 1990s completely changed the agenda in manufacturing, but this paradigm shift seems to have passed project management by in both the literature and many instances of practice. Whilst project man- agers are judged by measures of conformance, the modern project requires realperformance. The follow- ing discussion suggests further reasons for the cur- rent state and the gap between repetitive operations and project practices in this respect. Table 1 summar- ises the comparison between conformance and per-

Table 1 Conformance and Performance Measures of Project Success
As planned
As budgeted
As speci\ufb01ed
As short as possible
As cheaply as possible
Maximising customer delight
European Management JournalVol 19 No 1 February 2001
formance measures in the basic project success cri-
teria of time, cost and quality.
Manufacturing or Service Paradigms

The manufacturing approach to quality championed conformance to speci\ufb01cation as the metric for suc- cess. This relied on quality being de\ufb01nable through a precisely measurable set of characteristics. Whilst this may work well for large-scale engineering pro- jects, the modern project environment requires a much higher degree of customer orientation, con- sidering management of both perceptions and expec- tations. Furthermore, many modern projects do not have tangible outputs. Rather than applying product- based measures of quality in such instances, service- based de\ufb01nitions and derived measures are far more appropriate. The contrast between the two is illus- trated in Table 2.

Focus of Project Management Activities

Tatikonda and Rosenthal (1999) note that \u2018Although there is a substantial Operations Management [sic] literature on the topic of project management the pro- ject execution phase has received little attention in this literature.\u2019 Indeed, most texts implicitly suggest that planning and systems are everything, and that if plans and systems are put in place using the right procedures, then the project will succeed. As this literature appears to have been relatively stable over the past 20 years, an opportunity therefore also exists for a greater discussion of the role of managers in the execution of projects. Further consideration suggests another difference between the traditional approach and current practices, concerning the nature of the

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