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My Project Is Making No Progress!

I had a situation recently where a client stated that despite his people working as fast and seemingly efficiently as they could, he was seeing next to no progress reflected in his performance reporting, his end date was pushing out, his efficiency was down, people were asking questions.

Now, it's not uncommon to see under staffed or under resourced projects falling behind schedule, the causes are usually pretty evident, but what about when you think you've done all the right things and still, there's no evidence of the progress you expect, despite your best efforts?

Unfortunately, I've witnessed and inherited a few projects like this, and below I'm going to outline three reasons that I've seen to cause this situation, please by all means comment below if you've experienced this same situation.

  1. Measuring the wrong things. If your schedule is not a true reflection of how the work is being undertaken, there will be progress on something, but not on what you are showing within your schedule. To get this right, you need a product based Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), one that reflects the major project deliverables and most of all, is reflective of how the work will be carried out. I see many projects that set up their schedule and budgets along the lines of functional departments, because that's what their accountants want, this is wrong, you need a WBS that is specific to your project, sure there will be functional groupings in the lower levels of the WBS, but to really drive home a project, your WBS should reflect your project execution strategy.
  2. Doing the wrong things. Closely related to the previous point, but subtly different is when you have a schedule and budget that follow the correct format or sequence, you see progress, but in all the wrong places. In this situation there is plenty of activity, efficient activity at that, but the people executing the work are not working on the activities and tasks that will move the project forward in accordance with the project plan. There can be a number of reasons for this: they don't have the information, material or equipment required to tackle the scheduled work so they undertake other work where they have the resources to progress, or there is no control over the work sequencing by the people (manager's) charged with executing the work. The first reason is fairly cut and dry as to the reasons, the solution is usually not such a quick fix and involves firstly marshaling the resources required and then re-directing the work effort back toward the critical path tasks. The latter unfortunately can be an indication of much deeper rooted issues in the organization, but the key to avoiding this situation is to have those executing the work involved in the development of the project plan, gain their buy-in and communicate progress, lack of progress and where the focus is required on an ongoing and regular basis and re-plan work arounds that reflect what is actually going to be done.
  3. Less haste more progress! I once started working on a failing project where I was brought in to have a look around a week before the unfortunate Project Manager was to be given his marching orders, I was there on the premise of taking another role. After walking the project a few days, I asked the Project Manager, "When are you going to finish?", he produced a single A4 schedule (it was May, I'll never forget) and he proudly replied "August!" (I think because that's what the contract said), well I was taken aback, a lot, I had formed an opinion it was going to be the next Jan/Feb. So after his departure, we got down to business sorting the mess out, we had about 750 workers on the job and believe me if there was a decent schedule to measure progress, we'd have been reporting negative progress, we had an 60% weld failure rate (wrong welding processes), we had a massive re-work rate on top of the welding problems (day shift put it up, night shift pulled it down), no drawings, the list of project atrocities was endless and frightening. After a month of trying to sort through this, I made an unpopular call and stopped all work, sent the workforce home or re-deployed them to other projects for two weeks, just so we could get a breather, get the materials, processes and people we needed, re-load and start again. We slowly re-introduced the workforce as work fronts opened up with information material and equipment, some systemic problems too big to tackle remained, we finished the project in May, 9 months late, I still have nightmares about it, easily the worst project I ever worked on.

This last case was probably a combination of the two points above, plus a massive dose of inefficiency caused by a lack of information and other resources, plus the wrong information, the project was a massive step up in size and complexity from what the company had been used to and were right out of their depth, they had no frame of reference upon which to measure how poorly they were performing.

The interesting thing in all of these cases is that people will continue to work, continue to book hours, continue to burn your schedule and budget regardless of whether the plan and information is right or wrong, it is our responsibility to ensure they are given the resources to perform at their best.

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