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9, December 2010

**Towards a Better Assessment of the Durations in PERT Method
**

Nasser Eddine MOUHOUB1 Hocine BELOUADAH2 and Abdelhak BOUBETRA3

1

Computer science department Sétif University ALGERIA Tel.: +213 771 64 98 17 Fax: +213 35 66 63 10 Email: mouhoub_n@yahoo.fr

2 3

Computer science department M'sila University ALGERIA

Computer science department Bordj Bou Arréridj University ALGERIA

Abstract— During many years, two of the most popular approaches to the project management were used. It is about the critical path method (CPM) and the PERT method (Program and Evaluation Review Technique). They were based on modeling by digraphs. CPM is unaware of the stochastic nature of the activities and brings back the model to a deterministic model. PERT holds in account this case but the estimation of the activities is despoiled with several errors. In this paper, this technique is presented. It will be followed by an analysis, criticisms and new proposals to make corrections to this method. Keywords Critical Path Method (CPM), PERT method, stochastic PERT. I. INTRODUCTION To control the project is of paramount importance for organizations and is of utmost concern for the project manager confronted with a world economy where low costs and quality are the key words of the performance [1]. Since quality is not easily measurable, the main part of the research in control of project relate to the evolution of the deadlines and the costs. Scheduling is located exactly in the planning phase of the project management. It carries out the operational followup: management of resources, follow-up of advance, launching of the activities. Technically, to schedule a project consists in programming in time the execution of the activities, while respecting the restrictions and so as to optimize the selected criteria of performance. It is mainly at this stage that interferes the scheduling techniques of the project presented as follows. The fundamental techniques of scheduling, largely applied and sustained by many scheduling commercial systems, are well known such as the bar chart, the method of the potentials (MPM) and the critical path method (CPM/PERT). A variety of special techniques was also developed to solve specific circumstances or issues. With the availability of more powerful computers and software, the use of the advanced techniques becomes of greater importance for the practice. In this paper, we shall examine an extension of PERT, namely the probabilistic case. We shall then, present an analysis and criticism followed by a whole of suggestions.

II.

UNCERTAIN DURATIONSSCHEDULING

The PERT technique of three evaluations is a traditional and a well-known approach for the evaluation experts. Evaluators suggest the optimistic, pessimistic and the most probable durations. Then, a probability distribution is established to adapt the data [2]. It is however interesting to throw a critical glance on PERT method with three estimations to raise the insufficiencies which hinder the prediction validity of the tool performance in a context of interdependence of the paths of PERT network and its effectiveness in the decision-making in context of uncertainty upon the project. In this particular case of the projects, the performance will be measured via the virtuous triangle «cost – time – quality» that the professionals still call « Holy Trinity » [3]. The performance of a project is thus measured in terms of project realization time, of the project cost and its quality. A. Evaluation of activity durations in an uncertain environment The activity duration is the past time required for the achievement of this activity. According to [4], to assess the duration is probably one of the most critical devices of CPM. Several reasons urge the project manager to depart from the achievement of a rigid calendar. For this reason, PERT suggests an assessment technique of activities based on three evaluations of a given activity duration. [5] Explains that each of the three time evaluations presumes a static level of the resource use. These evaluations should be as good as possible because PERT outcomes depend directly on them. It is not easy to obtain accurate evaluations. It will require research, collaboration with members of planning and realization team. These three evaluations should respond to the following criteria: 1) The optimistic time: the period of minimum time so that the activity is achieved, i.e. time that it would take for

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its achievement if all were better than anticipated (this estimation is noted a). 2) The most sensitive time: the best evaluation of the period of time when the activity can be achieved, the most probable i.e. (this estimation is noted m) 3) The pessimistic time: the maximum period of time that would take the activity would take to be achieved, the most pessimistic i.e. (this estimation is noted b). These numbers (a, b and m) can be obtained, for example, by questioning the heads of workshops, building sites, laboratories, etc who carry out the activities. It is acceptable to state these evaluations in days, weeks, or month as a long as measurement is evenly used. When made, the evaluations of the activity time are related and should not be changed. The following reports/ratios of time must be respected: a ≤ m ≤ b

B. Example Let us consider the following example a, b, m being known for each activity, and that the following results are obtained:

ACTIVITY

a 0 7 3 4 6 4 1 3 2 4 7 7 0

b 0 19 15 40 24 28 7 27 20 28 25 37 0

m 0 13 9 16 12 7 04 9 5 7 10 4 0

DURATION

PREDECESSORS ــ α α α B B A,E C,E C D H F I,J,K 0 4 4 36 9 16 1 16 9 16 9 25 0

V(x)

α A B C D E F G H I J K ω

0 13 09 18 13 10 04 11 07 10 12 10 0

E(x)

Table 1. List of the prior and the durations calculated from a, b and m.

A

Figure 1. Time distribution of the activities drawn from [ 6].

1 9 9 D 1 E 1 1

F 1 G 11 H

4

K 1 I 1 ω 1 J

0

The relative values (positions) of a, m and b on each distribution, naturally, depends on the decision and calculations of the appreciator. When established, their relative positions on the distribution affect the value or the position of the average time of the activity noted te which is calculated as follows: te = a + 4m +b 6

α

0

0 B

C

1

7

Figure 2. Activity on Nodes directed acyclic graph corresponding to table 1 with the critical path in boldface.

If one knows the distributions of the activities durations, one can calculate the average duration and the variance for each activity. However, when one has no forward statistics, one can then call upon a frequency distribution f(x).

By using these average durations, the critical activities are α , C, G, J and ω The average duration of the project achievement is equal to the amount of the average durations of α , C, G, J and ω therefore: E (x) = 0+18+11+12 = 41. The variance is equal to the amount of the variances of α , C, G, J and ω thus: σ 2 = 0 + 36 + 16 + 9 + 0 = 61

a + b + 4m E ( x) = ; 6

⎛b − a⎞ σ ( x) = ⎜ ⎟ ⎝ 6 ⎠

2

2

For each activity A, one determines the estimations of the quantities a, b, then m and one deduces from the previous formulas, the estimations of its average duration E(x) and its variance σ

2

( x) .

The standard deviation

σ = σ 2 ( x) = 7,81 .

E(x)=

a + 4m +b ; 6

σ 2 ( x) = ⎜

⎛b − a⎞ ⎟ ⎝ 6 ⎠

2

The reduced centered value is calculated

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t=

x − E ( x) σ (x )

and one can find in a table of Laplace-Gauss the probability so that the project is carried out in a given time, for example:

Project duration 35 Centered reduced value t = (35-41)/7,81 = -0,76 t = (37-41)/7,81 = -0,51 t = (39-41)/7,81 = -0,25 t= (41-41)/7,81= 0 t= (43-41)/7,81= 0,25 t= (45-41)/7,81= 0,51 t= (47-41)/7,81= 0,76 Probability P(+t)=1-P(-t) P(-t)=1-P(+t) = 22,36 % P (-0,51) = 30,50 % P (-0,25) = 40,13 % P (0) = 50 % P (0,25) = 59,87 % P (0,51) = 69,50 % P (0,76) = 77,64 %

the human factor or of the subjectivity which surrounds them. Besides, the relationship between the experience gained in similar projects management on the one hand and the quality of the estimations of the activities duration of an innovative project on the other hand, is perhaps not strong. For all this, it is necessary to add the risk of the durations’ inflation by the manager who wants to give himself a rather broad safety margin. Determinism in the determination of the critical path The determination of the critical path in PERT relates to the expected durations of the activities so that the stochastic element, as to the variance of the activities durations, is taken into account only at the end of the analysis in the probability calculus in order to finish the project in time [8]. As a result, the analysis of the critical path is reduced to a deterministic form such as in CPM: a determinism which hinders the probability of PERT [4]. As a consequence, the total duration of PERT project is in general smaller and never larger than the real duration of the project at time t. Indeed, «the delays caused by the unforeseen and unfavorable winds, are often longer than the advances due to the good luck or a zephyr collaborator» [9]. The hoped total duration of the project in PERT in general undergoes a skew towards the left of the distribution thus towards the optimistic time. It is what makes to say to Soroush [10] that the traditional approach in conventional PERT is unaware of the fact that the probability of the activities durations gives good chances to a range of paths to become potentially critical and so led to an estimation rather excessively optimistic of the probability of achieving the project in time. It is thus another source of error. Archibald et al. [11] show that the critical path determined in PERT being not necessarily the longest, therefore not necessarily critical. In other words, the critical path determined in PERT does not include necessarily the critical activities, the latter which are supposed to be the only ones which attract the attention of the project manager if he wants to avoid any delay in the achievement of the project. It is also another source of error. The interdependence of the paths or the relationship of the paths Two or several ways can share shared activities. They are interdependent or are thus correlated. The ways of the network are thus not always independent from the point of view of their duration, such as presupposed by PERT in the determination of the critical path. Consequently, if a path has a very great duration, the other paths with which it shares activities could also have a long duration [5] Potential errors related to the assumption of Beta distribution One of the fundamental assumptions of PERT is Beta distribution of the activities duration (fig. 3.). • • •

37 39 41 43 45 47 …

Table 2. The probability recapitulation corresponding to each selected total duration for the project.

III

DRAWBAKS OF PERT APPROACH

One understands easily that if mistakes sully the source data of PERT to knowing a, b, m they accuse the righter probability to complement the project in time, taking into account the systematic skew which they make in the calculation of the expected total duration of the project and its variance [7]. In what follows is a general set of notes that seem to us fundamental and which blame the probabilistic approach of PERT. Potential errors related to the inaccuracy of the estimations (a), (b), and (m) The estimation of the source data (a), (m) and (b) of PERT is in general a challenge of size for the project manager. It is frequent to note that (a), (m) and (b) are presented systematically in a symmetrical and a regular form, the kind of 20, 30, 40. For solving this problem, certain authors suggested to replace the absolute values (a) and (b) in percent of orders 5% and 95% respectively or 10% and 90%. From where a source of error [2] By considering the possibility of having incorrect estimations, it seems less certain to obtain the accurate parameters of the supposed beta distribution of the activities duration. Obviously, the estimation depends on the experiment of the responsible person. The estimations can be improbably optimistic or pessimists taking into account •

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beta distribution and other distributions. Thus, the maximum absolute error on the average is 8 [5].

Figure 3. Curve of the distribution Beta drawn from [7].

Based on our distributions D2 and D3 for which we have an estimate of the standard deviation, we also find that the maximum absolute error on the standard deviation is

Archibald et al. [11] recall that since the accurate form of the distribution of the activities durations remains probably unknown and considering the features alleged distribution of an activity to presume a priori that the distribution of an activity duration following a Beta law is potentially an error source. Indeed, other distributions of completely different shapes also possess the properties of the beta distribution, while having a very different average and variance. Consider for example the distributions shown in figure 4. The four distributions have the same mode m and a similar extent [0, 1]. The distribution D1 is a beta distribution. D2 is a nearly uniform distribution, D3 is a function almost delta and D4 is almost zero between 0 and m and almost uniform on the interval [m, 1] where we assume 0 ≤ m ≤ 1/2 (if m is in the other half, the results remain valid, by symmetry).

The error on the average is based on the mode. If the m is very central (close to half), the error on the average is around 25%, however if it is close to bound distribution, the error can be 33%. The standard deviation error does not depend on the mode and is about 17%. Note that we have discussed the absolute error; the difference can be either negative or positive The average and the variance of the Beta distribution are not enough by themselves to characterize a single and identical Beta distribution of the activities duration, the requirement of the asymmetry for excluding the standard model where the average and the variance determine a single distribution. However for practical reasons, it proved to be inevitable to characterize the duration of an activity by its average and its variance only. This is another source of error [12] Third source of error: distributions such as the triangular distribution which satisfy very much and sometimes better the features referred to above, having averages and variances quite different from those of the Beta law. However, the assumption of the Beta distribution does not carry too much the consequence as it fulfills the requirement of the asymmetry of the density function and explains the expression of the expected duration according to the mode (m) and of the extreme values (a) and (b). Anyway, the errors related to the Beta distribution are considered to be negligible compared to the following errors: • Potential errors related to σ and to te By taking the minimal duration of the activity if all occurred (a) exceptionally well, the duration of the activity if one encountered difficulties under development (b) and the most probable duration, most awaited by the manager of project (m), PERT determines the hoped duration (te) of each activity and its variance. It is indeed more interesting to trust the value of the hoped time of the activities than to stick to the extreme values of the distribution of the durations of the activities, the generalizing and compensation average being. In probability theory, the hypothesis follows σ = (a-b)/6. Indeed, the probability that a normal random variable X takes value x belongs to a defined interval by μ ± λσ, which is given in Table 1 for λ = 1, 2, 3. [13] To calculate the total expected duration of the project and its variance, the hypothesis of independence of the activities durations has been chosen for reasons of

Figure 4. Example of possible distributions.

The beta distribution D1 has an average of (4m +1) / 6 (since a = 0 and b = 1) and a standard deviation of 1 / 6 of interval is considered. For an almost uniform distribution D2, we have an average close to half and a standard deviation that is close to p1 / 12. The distribution near Delta D3 has an average close to the mode m and variance close to zero. For distribution D4, the average may be very close to (m + 1) / 2. Although the previous three possible distributions are unlikely to be met (these extreme cases that we want to compare ‘to the chosen beta distribution), they allow us to obtain a bound on the possible error caused by the use of inappropriate distribution. We will therefore calculate the maximum possible difference between the average for the chosen

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convenience and application of the recommended central limit theorem when the range of activities on the critical path is large (30 and over). λ 1 2 3 4

Table 3. Probability P (μ - λσ ≤ x ≤ μ + λσ)

Interval (μ ± λσ)

Probability (%) 68.3 95.4 99.7 0.3

probable time is generally the most improbable time », would not it be indicated to consider a technique of PERT with two estimations: the optimistic duration (a) and the pessimistic one (b)? If we consider a Beta distribution of the activities duration, Golenko- Ginzburg [14] observes that the estimation of the most probable duration (m) on the whole of projects network is «practically useless» and that their value (m) is often close to (2a + b)/3, in addition, there is no significant statistical difference in using the values of (m) rather than the calculated values. Thus the following formulas of expected durations and variances are deduced: te = 0.2(3a + 2b) et σ2 = 0.04(b – a)2 PERT with two estimations has the advantage of simplifying the analysis without affecting the project parameters and offers the opportunity of a combined approach PERT/CPM for the management of the project deadlines/cost, whatever is its environment. 2. PERT/CPM combined approach and analysis of the compromise between resource allocation and the risk of project delay. PERT and CPM are two convergent and synergistic techniques. Why don’t we try to combine them to take advantage of the forces and to correct their weaknesses? MacLeod and Petersen [16] are bent over to study the question. We notice that PERT and CPM rest on the whole on only one estimation of time which is the expected time (te) in PERT and normal time (n) in CPM and that PERT and CPM have also a lower limit of duration for the activities of the project, hence the minimal time of achievement of the activity (c) in CPM and the optimistic time (a) in PERT, one can validly accept with MacLeod and Petersen [ 16 ], the assumption te = n et a = c. In a word, the calculated expected times in PERT are for PERT, the standard times are for CPM and the activity minimal duration is for CPM what the optimistic duration is for PERT. With such an assumption, it is henceforth possible to calculate the effects of additional resource allocation on the probability of finishing the project in time. Hence PERT/CPM combined approach makes it possible to profit from the analysis of the compromise deadlines/cost that only CPM allows and to evaluate the opportunity to achieve the project in time (that is not possible with PERT), as a whole when using a system based on the compromise between resource allocation and the risk of project delay. 3. Taking into account the assumption of the dependence of the paths durations in the determination of the project total duration and its variance. The assumption of independence of the paths durations is error-prone in the evaluation of the risk of the project delay. It is what justifies the opportunity in taking into account of the opposite assumption of dependence of the paths durations. Obviously by considering the most

Based on these assumptions, we obtain the respective estimates of expected time (te) and a standard derivation (σ) of the duration of each activity:

te = (a +4 m + b) /6 and σ = (b - a) / 6

So that, assuming the length of a sequence of activities is equal to the sum of the durations of each of the activities in the sequence. Hence the total of independent random variables of beta distribution and applying the central limit theorem, PERT considers that the total project duration is the total of the expected time of critical activities and the variance of the total project duration is the sum of the variances of the durations of critical activities [13]. While considering a priori that the distribution of the duration of an activity follows a law beta and knowing that the expression of the function of density of this law is well known, one exposes oneself to two sources of errors: First source of error, the variation - type of the duration of an activity was supposed to be equal to (b– a)/6 as previously explained. It is certainly not the true value of the variation - type of a Beta distribution! Second source of error the linear approximation te = (a + b + 4m)/6 made for the true value of the hoped time which is rather a root of a cubic equation. From where the incompatibility of the formulas of hoped time and the standard deviation in practice [2]. Errors related to the assumption of independence of the activities durations. The assumption of independence of the durations of the critical activities is less expected. The toughness of the climate for example, can affect in the same way several activities and lead the person liable to accelerate the project. The net effect of the inflationary and deflationary factors over the total duration of the project would be neglected if activities durations were supposed to be independent [14] IV. SOME SUGGESTIONS 1. A technique PERT with only two estimations. Being given the serious difficulties experienced by the project managers to obtain the estimation of the most probable time until put into practice, «the most •

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plausible assumption of correlation of the paths durations of the network, one improves the chances to obtain a true probability to finish the project in time. Taking into account only the interdependence or the correlation of the paths durations, is to agree to face a tiresome and complex calculation of the opportunity to finish the project within the time t knowing the multi-activities nature and multipaths of the network. Several researchers studied the issue and suggested resorting if the project scope authorizes it, to the simulation of Monte Carlo, or an approximation by the heuristic ones or limiting the probability of finishing the project on a date t given in an interval. This last method (the algorithm of Probabilistic Network Evaluation Technique) is stochastic and the lower and higher limits are respectively the probabilities for finishing the project on the assumptions of independence and statistical paths dependence [17] 4. The construction of a reliable interval around the PMB (Performance Measurement Baseline) under the conditions of a Beta distribution of the activities duration, interdependence of the durations of the paths, of PERT with two estimated and central limit theorem. The PMB is the planned cost (P), set aside of the provisions and the overheads. As such, the PMB is directly related to the project acquired or gained value which is (V). From a practical point of view, the value is gained only if the parts of the work were delivered [2] V. CONCLUSION

marginal benefit of such an approach is, given its complexity. Is the game worthy for such an approach? This is an important concern to be taken into account in further research. At the very least, a future work will provide a rigorous procedure, to illustrate it using digital processing and to demonstrate a real contribution to the project manager. REFERENCES [1] J. COUILLARD, D. GODCHARLES & J-P. PAQUIN, La qualité acquise: pour un meilleur contrôle des projets, Revue Internationale en gestion et management de projet, vol 3, n° 1, 46-59, (1998). [2] C. PESCIO, Realistic and Useful: Toward Better Estimates, Draft version 1.2 - April, (2007). Online reference: ttp://www.eptacom.net/betterestimate/TheMathBehind.pdf [3] J. P. KINDINGER, & J. L. Darby, Risk Factor Analysis – A New Qualitative Risk Management Tool, Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium, Houston, Texas, USA, (2000). [4] G. RULE, Bees and the Art of Estimating, IEEE Software, November/December (2000), p. 23. [5] D. DUBOIS, H. FARGIER, & V. GALVAGNAN, On latest starting times and floats in activity networks with ill-known durations. European Journal of Operational Research 147, (2003). [6] A. KIMMS, Mathematical Programming and Financial Objectives for Scheduling Projects, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston, (2001). [7] L. A. IKA, L’analyse de la valeur acquise en contexte d’interdépendance des chemins : une analyse à explorer, Université du Québec en Outaouais, ASAC, (2004). [8] P.B. ROBINSON, The Performance Measurement Baseline- A statistical view, Project Management Journal, vol. 28, no 2, 47 –52, (1997). [9] Y. NORBERT, R. OUELLET, & R. PARENT, La recherche opérationnelle, 2ème éd., Gaëtan Morin Éditeur, (1999). [10] H.M. SOROUSH, The most critical path in a PERT network: A heuristic approach, European Journal of Operational Research, vol. 78, no1, 93-105, (1994). [11] R.D. ARCHIBALD, & R.L. VILLORIA, Networkbased management systems (PERT/CPM), New York: John Wiley & Sons, (1967). [12] M. JORGENSEN, Realism in Assessment of Effort Estimation Uncertainty: It Matters How You Ask, IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, April (2004). Online reference (draft) www.simula.no/departments/ engineering/.artifacts/framingsubmit.pdf [13] P. Aquino, A PERT approach to cost risk analysis, AACE 1992 Transactions. F.4.1- F.4.7, (1992) [14] M. JORGENSEN, K. H. TEIGEN & K. MOLOKKEN-OSTVOLD, Better sure than safe Overconfidence in judgment based software development effort prediction intervals, Journal of Systems and Software, Vol. 70 Nr. 1-2, (2004).

The acquired value analysis is based on a core planning PERT / CPM. In this article, we stressed the crucial mistakes that undermine the chances for obtaining a good measure, whether the errors associated with data PERT or those related to the particular network configuration of the project. The proposed approach could help reduce such errors. From a theoretical viewpoint, it becomes possible to appreciate the significance of the variances of time and probability of realization of the value acquired at any time. In this effort to provide the project manager of a strong tool for monitoring projects, we should not lose sight of the issue of complexity. Accept, for example, to take into account the hypothesis of interdependence of network paths, it is undoubtedly to face more complexity in the acquired value method. Also, should we admit that the trade-off analysis of cost/time is not adequate for the activities for which the addition of extra resources does not help to accelerate them? This is a first restriction of the approach. The linearity assumption of the project activities costs is also restrictive in that it ignores the case of activities for which expenses are incurred only at the end of achievement. Thus, appears a second restriction of the approach. But the most important, is perhaps the interest of such an approach in practice. We may indeed wonder what the

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Online reference: http://www.simula.no/departments/engineering/.artifacts/p ireviseddesember\_copy.pdf [15] D. GOLENKO-GINZBURG, On the distribution of activity time in PERT, Journal of Operational Research Society, XXXIX, vol. 39, n08, 767 –771, (1988). [16] K.R. MACLEOD & P.F. PETERSEN, Estimating the tradeoff between resource allocation and probability of on

– time completion in project management, Project Management Journal, vol 27, n° 1, 26– 33. [17] J. ABDELNOUR, A. H-S ANG, & A.A. CHAKER, Analysis of activity networks under uncertainty, Journal of the Engineering Mechanics Division, ASCE, 101, 373387, (1975).

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UsefulNot usefulDuring many years, two of the most popular approaches to the project management were used. It is about the critical path method (CPM) and the PERT method (Program and Evaluation Review Technique). ...

During many years, two of the most popular approaches to the project management were used. It is about the critical path method (CPM) and the PERT method (Program and Evaluation Review Technique). They were based on modeling by digraphs. CPM is unaware of the stochastic nature of the activities and brings back the model to a deterministic model. PERT holds in account this case but the estimation of the activities is despoiled with several errors. In this paper, this technique is presented. It will be followed by an analysis, criticisms and new proposals to make corrections to this method.

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