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Time-critical Interfacing of Project Tasks

Time-critical Interfacing of Project Tasks

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Improving e\u0081ciency: time-critical interfacing of project tasks
Ari-Pekka Hameria,*, Jussi Heikkila\u00c8b
aCERN, EST-Division, CH-1211 Geneva, Switzerland
bTAI-Research Institute, Helsinki University of Technology, FIN-02150 Espoo, Finland
Received 14 April 2000; received in revised form 17 July 2000; accepted 1 September 2000

The paper discusses the management of time-critical operations and their dynamic interrelations in project environments. It is well known in theoretical literature that delayed operative tasks generate a cumulative e\u0080ect, which delays the overall delivery time making e\u0081cient time management di\u0081cult. However, practising managers seem to be helpless with this phenomenon if judged by the often reported poor performance of project management. To control the use of time, managers tend to plan safety bu\u0080ers in their operations, which bias the overall planning of projects. The result of all this is uncontrolled and unknown outcome of the whole operation and, even worse, it inherently makes development e\u0080orts very di\u0081cult to implement, as the true performance of the organization is hidden in the realization of airy plans. Based on case studies in various industrial environments, we propose that project schedules need to be managed by putting special emphasis on the time-use within individual tasks and by ensuring that work proceeds smoothly along the critical chain of tasks. To enable this, high transparency is needed on how time is used in project organizations.# 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords:Time-based management; Project management; Operations management; Throughput time; Distributed operations; Supply chain man-
1. Preamble

A study by the Standish Group scanned more than 8000 projects and compared their anticipated results with the real outcome. According to this study, only 16% of the projects were able to meet the goals set in terms of time, budget and quality [1]. Further on, the project management literature (e.g. [2]) clearly points out that success in project management is often judged according to subjective perceptions:

1. TheFulmar Oil Field in the North Sea was late, but extremely pro\u00aetable for the owner, so it was judged to be successful.

2. TheThames Barrier was late and overspent, and was quite badly managed in its early stages, but is a tourist attraction and made a pro\u00aet for most of the contractors, so it is now judged a success.

3.Concorde was late and overspent, but was a tech-
nical success, gave France an aerospace industry,
and contributed to Britain's entry to the EC, so it
is judged to be successful.

4.Heysham II Nuclear Power Station was well man- aged, and nearly on time and budget, but the judgment is clouded by the rest of Britain's nuclear power program, and the public's perception of the nuclear industry, so it is judged to be unsuccessful.

These large-scale examples highlight the rather ad hoc manner how project success is generally assessed. When measured with critical project success criteria \u00d0 i.e. on time, on budget and delivering what was promised \u00d0 all the above-mentioned projects were failures, with the exception of the power station.

The underlying argument in this paper is that the ultimate measure of project success is time, which pre- cedes all other measures. Associating the time-manage- ment approach with the main problem classes of project failures [3] one can see that time-based coordination plays some role in all problem classes (Table 1).

Juran [4] has de\u00aened project as a problem scheduled for solution. This de\u00aenition highlights the importance of time-based approach in project management. Although the time-management problem has been known for a long time in project management, the essence of using

0263-7863/01/$22.00# 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S0263-7863(00)00044-2
International Journal of Project Management 20 (2002) 143\u00b1153
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +41-22-767-9596; fax: +41-22-767-
E-mail address:ari- pekka.hameri@cern.ch (A.-P. Hameri).

time e\u0080ectively does not seem to get appropriate atten- tion in project management practice. Even if the theo- retical basis of time-based management is well-known in the project management literature, the actual practice seems to be missing the point in many cases. Through the case studies described in this paper, we want to highlight the critical issues of time-based project man- agement to practising project managers.

Studying how time-based management is applied in every day in project management is the main objective of this article. It consists of four main parts. We start with the research method description and the data used in our research. The research questions for the study are outlined, further formulated into a set of research con- structs. Then the empirical cases are presented to probe the practice behind the constructs. The obtained results are discussed and suggestions given for practising pro- ject managers. Finally, conclusions are drawn and pro- positions for future research given.

2. Research method and data

During 1980s and 1990s time was promoted as the prime performance criterion to assess productivity in manufacturing operations [5]. The time-based manage- ment literature [6\u00b112] has highlighted the importance of timely and well-concerted operations to achieve faster throughput times resulting in rapid and accurate deliv- eries. [13] describes how time has become one of the most important sources of competitive advantage in manufacturing industries. He describes the background for the ``Japan's secret weapon'' or ``lean thinking'' [10] by illustrating how the competitive advantage of Japa- nese manufacturing industry evolved from low labour costs-through scale \u00d0 based strategy, focused factory and \u00afexible manufacturing \u00d0 to time-based competitive advantage.

Following the theory of constraints and its later enhancement on project management [14,15], the focus of this research is on management of implementation time in individual project tasks and the critical chain of tasks scheduled around the e\u0080ective use of resources. According to [15] the traditional critical path method of scheduling is too narrow and often ignores the appro- priate planning of bottleneck resources \u00d0 particularly in the multi-project environment. Goldratt suggests, like in his earlier work in manufacturing, that the use of bottleneck resources should be taken as the basis for scheduling. Scheduling is traditionally based on average experienced implementation times of tasks including the used or non-used safety bu\u0080er in the tasks. This results in wrong use of safety in project schedules. The embed- ded uncertainty in tasks is naturally known to experi- enced project managers/employees, who mentally rely on the bu\u0080ered safety when executing their project tasks. The reality tells that despite the safety existing in project plans, project implementation overruns the esti- mates. This is the very paradox that time-based project management is confronting. On the one hand there is bu\u0080ered safety, which should enable timely completion of the project. On the other hand it is the \u00afawed use of this safety that often causes delays and discrepancies between expected and real outcome.

According to the time-based management paradigm, companies are considered as systems with competitive advantage achieved by breaking the ``debilitating loop strangling traditional manufacturing planning'' [13]. Traditional manufacturing required long lead-times to resolve con\u00aficts between various jobs or activities that require the same resources. The long lead-times required sales forecasts to guide planning. Long lead-times made the accuracy of sales forecasts decline. Forecasting errors increased inventories and the need for safety stocks at all levels. Errors in forecasts meant more unscheduled jobs in the production line, increasing the

Table 1
Reasons for project failures viewed against the time-based management paradigm
Why projects fail?
Relationship with time-based management
Ignorance on what other
project teams are doing
Interfaces between consecutive tasks are not coordinated
The time-related interdependencies are not mediated between parallel tasks
Lack of discipline in
design change control
Parallel processes are not using same procedures making time-based measuring incomparable
Plans and schedules are not based on same premises
Diverse views on what are
the objectives of the project
Bu\u0080ering time (and bu\u0080ering all the safety) in individual
tasks bias the true due-date objective of the project
Rigid project planning and
scheduling routines
Reallocating time in tasks is time consuming because of resource constraints and politics of
defending safety bu\u0080ers of individual managers and work teams
Poor ability to react on sudden changes in
the project environment
Preparations for contingencies generate unforeseen e\u0080ects,
because true performance is diluted in the plans
Unforeseen technological di\u0081culties,
excludingforce majeure situations.
Project baseline is not up-to-date leading to product con\u00aeguration-related
problems in later phases of the project
A.-P. Hameri, J. Heikkila\u00c8 / International Journal of Project Management 20 (2002) 143\u00b1153

lead-times for the scheduled jobs. The planning loop expanded, drove up costs, increased delays, and created system ine\u0081ciencies. Stalk [13] suggests that companies have two choices: to produce according to uncertain forecasts or reducing the time delays in the \u00afow of information and material throughout the delivery sys- tem. Focusing on time-based competitive performance results in improvements throughout the system.

The method applied in this paper relies on the case study research approach. We search answers for research questions supporting the knowledge accumu- lation in the way time is used in project management. The data used are cases from the real industrial envir- onment with multiple project deliveries and highly cus- tomized products. According to [16], case studies are preferred when how or why questions are being posed. Such questions deal with operational links needing to be traced over time, rather than mere frequencies or inci- dences. The case study method allows an investigation to retain the holistic and meaningful characteristics of real life events, such as organizational and managerial processes. We outline the following research questions to study time-based management in the project man- agement environment:

1. How is time used in planning and implementing projects? Comparison of the real use of time and the planned use of time. Distribution of the time used versus the planned average duration of tasks.

2. How can the lessons from time-based management in manufacturing industries be applied to improve the time-based competitive advantage in project management?

3. Time-based management means fundamentally the management of information \u00afows across interfaces between tasks and passing of work smoothly from one task and resource to the next one. Transpar- ency in the use of time makes timesaving possible in project schedules, especially in multi-project environments. How is this transparency used and applied in project management?

The unit of analysis is time-based management in projects. Selected research constructs direct attention to what should be studied within the scope of the study. The constructs in this research are:

1. time use in individual project tasks;
2. transparency of time-use in project management;
3. interfacing between project tasks; and
4. bottlenecks in the use of critical resources.

The method of generalization in case research is ana- lytic generalization, in which a previously developed theory is used as a template against which the empirical results are compared. The template theory of this

research is time-based management. The main hypoth- esis of this theory is that focusing improvement e\u0080orts on time improves the overall performance of operations. The central idea of analysing case research results is to constantly compare theory and data \u00d0 iterating towards a practical theory that closely \u00aets with the data. The underlying logic is replication, i.e. the logic of treating a series of cases as a series of experiments with each case serving to con\u00aerm or discon\u00aerm the hypoth- eses that are being studied. In replication logic, cases, which con\u00aerm the researched relationships, enhance con\u00aedence in the validity of the relationships. Cases, which discon\u00aerm the relationships, often can provide an opportunity for richer understanding of the phenom- enon and extension of the theory studied [17].

To increase reliability, the quantitative analysis is based on the quantitative controllability analysis [18], where analysis is based on real data and not on gut- feelings. Although the cases di\u0080er from each other with their product to be delivered, annual volume and stra- tegic positioning in the markets, the operational mode in each case company is the management of projects. In each case the data were sanity checked with the employees and/or managers of the company. Four cases were studied in di\u0080erent industrial environments. The cases and the data studied are described brie\u00afy in the following:

1. A case from the paper industry and its supply chain management is used to show a typical approach of time-based management in the man- ufacturing environment. The case shows that by removing the possible sources of uncertainty in a supply chain, one carves out the true performance, which can be better managed, monitored and improved.

2. Delivering a telecommunication network breaks down into numerous sub-deliveries of base trans- ceiver stations (BTS). Each BTS site forms a small project with its own location and coordination tasks. The numerous parallel projects result in a challenging multi-project environment. Because of these numerous scattered and parallel, yet con- nected tasks the project encloses major uncertainty as the task implementation times vary greatly. This case describes a failure in meeting the planned implementation deadlines.

3. Software projects are known to be chronically late, and once the product is released the quality may not meet the demand. This case concerns a large- scale distributed engineering data management system and its new version's release. The software is in production use and the case highlights how the ``bug'' reporting, \u00aexing and testing can be bet- ter integrated through closer and visual time-based monitoring with links to other tasks of immediate

A.-P. Hameri, J. Heikkila\u00c8 / International Journal of Project Management 20 (2002) 143\u00b1153

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