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Monkeys or Humpty Dumpties… Which is Worse?

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David Bordoli
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Thought you might be interested in this article from the October issue of ’Construction Manager’
(http://www.construction-manager.co.uk/story.asp?storyType=143§ioncode=203&storyCode=3096539).



Is your planner a monkey?
October 2007

Lack of knowledge about planning and too much emphasis on software skills is resulting in overruns, claims consultant

It’s not surprising that time management on construction projects is so poor: contractors are employing people who have no idea about planning to produce construction programmes.

This is the verdict of Keith Pickavance, MD of Hill International’s Hong Kong office and president-in-waiting, who is researching the extent of this problem with a view to setting up training through the CIOB for planners and programmers.

‘The guys who used to do it in the old days used to work things out by hand and draw by hand. To do that, you need to understand it,’ says Pickavance. ‘Now we have got a sophisticated calculator in the form of software. We have people who can operate calculators, but have very little or no idea of what the answer should be.’

To compound the problem, architects and engineers often don’t understand the software, and the contractors just provide print-outs. ‘Nobody is checking things to make sure they are meaningful until things go wrong and they are sent to someone like me and we see a complete load of junk,’ says Pickavance.

Pickavance makes the distinction between planners and programmes. Planning is an art form, he says, whereas programming is part art, part technical as the programmer translates the planner’s thoughts into the software.

The problem has been growing since 1998 when the development of the Pentium chip meant that programmes could be redrawn instantaneously. Technology has advanced immeasurably, those using it haven’t, claims Pickavance.

The big problem for contractors is a shortage of good planners. ‘They’re like hen’s teeth,’ says Pickavance.

CIOB is sending out a survey to chief executives this month to assess whether firms are struggling with overruns, what sort of time risk management systems they have in place and whether they would send employees on relevant training were the CIOB to provide it.

For a copy of the questionnaire, contact Michael Brown, CIOB deputy chief executive, at mbrown@ciob.org.uk


Replies

Scott Sando
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"... assumption is that if someone ... writes a book they are fit to tell us all where we are going wrong."

This is not something about which I have thought much, but I tend to read books with a healthy (some might say rampant) scepticism. I regard books as nothing more than the author’s opinions, and consider how well those opinions are supported by logical arguments and/or (the author’s) personal experiences.

I suppose there are some who regarded each and every printed word as Gospel. I find this concept mildly disturbing, but do not begrudge anybody the right to write and publish their opinions.
David Bordoli
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Brad...

Lack of ambition? Don’t knock it... I started as a trainee planner in 1977 and I am still a planner, I just hope I am better now that I was then - but I can’t guarentee that!

David
Brad Lord
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wow what a reply, im just a little old contractor whom does not want to be a high flyer very happy in situ,

regards

brad
David Bordoli
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Brad

There is a myth that, in 1899 a US Patent Office official resigned and recommended that the Patent Office be closed because he thought that everything that could possibly be invented had already been invented! Isn’t that a bit like saying there are enough books out there to last a lifetime? What if Rapheal has discovered the secret of [planning] life?

My original intent in starting this thread was about people in glasshouses throwing stones – maybe I was too subtle though (but that is not usually one of my strongest suits). In my opinion, it takes someone to be very narcissistic, or over-confident, to criticize the efforts of other so roundly when they themselves are, apparently, not paragons of good practice and, as far as I am aware, have not experienced some of the things that they imply others ought to.

I do tend to agree with you that to become a planner is from experience and of working on projects at a junior level and learning from experienced planners, PM’s etc; though not necessarily the only way and perhaps the ‘perfect planner’ would have other ingredients too. Our problem in today’s market seems to be to me that no-one wants to stay the course in planning and after a few years the preferred career move (especially for high-flyers) is up and out into project management and contracts management.

As I said before the world is full of ‘experts’ – and the assumption is that if someone studies a subject, passes exams and perhaps just writes a book they are fit to tell us all where we are going wrong; some might be, some might not. The same is true of experience; just being there is not enough, it has to be the right or ‘good’ experience that counts.

And Brad, whilst your contributions are amusing (?), and we all need levity at times, they don’t really raise the level of the debate or help in determining answers to some of the problems posed.

No offence intended, just think I got out of bed too early and on the wrong side today.

David

ps. I say I am in ‘Forensic Claims Analysis’ because that is the closest match in the list to what I mainly do. Projects I work on are not always run badly by my clients, as often as not I work on projects that have been run badly or administered by others or that have got into delay or trouble for a whole list of reasons that can’t be accurately described as someone’s fault. Whether it is a nice market to be in or not is debatable, it is a lot less comfortable than being an ‘overhead’ in a large organisation for instance.
Brad Lord
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david get bitchy there mate, theme or not there are enough books out there (if rapahel wants to write one then go ahead) to last a lifetime, the only way to become a planner is from experience and of working on projects at a junior level and learning from experienced planners, PM’s etc, you are in claims which says to me you work on projects that have been run badly by clients of yours, whicn is a nice market to get into i believe,

regards

brad
Raphael M. Dua
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David B

As a good writer of papers/books already I know I have to attribute peoples work, but only if it is good work and adds to the Knowledge.

Otherwise the round filing cabinet has to take a beating.

Boy we realy got something going there.

Raf
Raphael M. Dua
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David B

Hell no, I have mates I have worked with who have been at it since the days of Kelly and Walker and they are over ten years older than me !

I agree about "Experts", which is why I called my product
X-Pert.

A Little learning is a dangerous thing I was once told by a wise and young guru, but then it was back in the days of rationing !

Sheer slog, hard metres (we don’t do yards any more)hours and hours having deep and meaningful discussions with the Project Manager, who always knew the critical path went through the lift motor room, so your plan is no good, because it doesn’t.

Hardens you up, keeps you wise and you still go on.

It is amazing to think that 15 years after the Boston report on project failures came out in 1992, the most recent KPMG one, came out with almost the same result.

But in that 15 years we have accredited tens of thousands of professional project managers.

Perhaps they need to listen to the Planners and Schedulers a bit more and accept that you really can’t do do two years work in 18 months.

Ah well, must go back to my planning

Ciao

Raf
David Bordoli
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R... you answered already - put them in the box marked ’Brad’ (or did Brad already contribute with the theme!)
D
Brad Lord
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what do you want to know whether good or evil won you will have to wait until you have written your books wont you!!1
David Bordoli
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Raphael

I forgot to ask - what are you going to do with the suggestions/contributions from Charlie!

David
Raphael M. Dua
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Brad

I guess you will not be contributing then :-(

Raf
David Bordoli
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Hey Raphael...

And I thought I was the oldest planner in town!

I look forward to your book... will that solve the perceived problem... I mean what is to stop Johnny-come-latelys saying I read a book (or even worse, ’I wrote a book’) therefore I am a planner.

I can’t remember where I read it (maybe it was somewhere on PP) but someone said the problem is that the world is full of ‘experts’ - the assumption is that if someone studies a subject and passes exams they are fit to tell us all about it. What they don’t mention is that without basic common sense, people cannot interpret what they have been taught - in fact they may not even have been taught correctly (as other ’experts’ tend to be their teachers!).

David
Brad Lord
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cant wait will it have elves and dragons and wizards, and dont forget goblins and trolls and a big scary castle, you could write 7 off them and call them harry potter the trainee planner

ha ha
Karim Mounir
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WOW! 50 years of XP, that makes a long career path, really I admire your endurance.

Karim
Raphael M. Dua
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Gentlemen

None of them

What is actually worse, is a person who knows some of the basics, gets to attend a software package course, is given a certificate of ATTENDANCE and is suddenly employed as Senior Planner and Scheduler.

Because there is a shortage and there are NO STANDARDS.


Well watch this space as I am working on producing a book on what actually makes a P & S good

After all I have the PP forums to aid me and 50 years experience and a huge number of people I have trained.

Whay makes them good, is because like London Cab Drivers, they have the knowledge of how to be a Planner and Scheduler.

All (any) contributions will be acknowledged :-)



Raf
Brad Lord
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all this chit chat about monkeys and humpty dumpties, what about big ted and little ted and doogle and dont for get tom and jerry they are all great planners are they not

David Bordoli
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Dave…

I think, with respect, you are missing the point if you were addressing my reply to Clive’s post. I was trying to make the point that, in my opinion, there is no connection between 1998, Pentium chips and the fall in the skills of planners and that planning and programming was not better in the good old days before computers were in everyday use. And, again with respect, do you mean KP agrees with your theory that Planning is an Art (that you agree with him).

On one hand you say the “ability to analyse a project and critically review the information thrown out by the software is one of the most important skills a planner has” and then “one of the fundamental problems is the complete and total lack of understanding of the contractual implications of their work, and the potential damage it can cause to an entitlement claim etc”. Does the latter skill depend on years of experience too?

What I am really finding difficult in all this is the apparent general accusation/presumption that the majority of planners are crap and are merely software jockeys. If that is the case, what sets those who criticise apart from the rest of the dross? Whilst I am guilty of paraphrasing it seems the general response to this posting is ‘I agree, most of the planners I have come across are rubbish, but not me I’m one of the few good ones’. As far as criticisms of software jockeys go, you might recall the following from the Skanska judgement:
It is evident that the reliability of Mr Pickavance’s sophisticated impact analysis is only as good as the data put in. The court cannot have confidence as to the completeness and quality of the input into this complex and rushed computer project.


Art or Science? Surely too much of a philosophical question and one that needs more analysis. I tend to think that Planning and Programming are inseparably linked, so it is too simplistic too say one is an art and the other is a science as if they are separate entities. I am an ardent supported of the principals of scientific management, Henry Gantt was a mate of Frederick Taylor; would HLG be considered a scientist or an artist? In the Mirant case KP was cited by the Judge, at paragraph 122:
In the helpful work, Delay and Disruption Contracts by Keith Pickavance (LLP 2005), the author makes the point that the Critical Path Method requires detailed and sophisticated analysis and that in complex projects it is unlikely that a critical path can be identified inductively, i.e. by assertion. "It can only reliably be deduced from the mathematical sum of the durations on the contractor’s programme to be completed in sequence before the completion date can be achieved." This is an important cautionary word in this case where a number of witnesses were convinced, without the benefit of any such analysis, that they knew where the critical path lay.
It seems to me that the mere assertion of where the critical path lay without scientific analysis (99 times out of 100 by use of computers and software) is what ‘artists’ do.

David
Dave Rouse
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Dear All

I think you are missing the point here. It is not an issue of computor chips, it is an issue of the quality of planners.

KP has confirmed my theory that Planning is an Art that uses scientific means to achieve the end result. It is NOT a science.

A planners ability to analyse a project and critically review the information thrown out by the software is one of the most important skills a planner has. This skill takes years to develop and refine, and can only be based on experience.

Having worked oversea for several years now, I am tired of employing "planners" that turn out to be nothing more software jockeys, who simply punch information into the computer and cannot interogate the output ("Sir, we’ve slipped six weeks in the last month"...???!!!???). Don’t get me wrong, occassionally one appears that is half decent, but these are few and far between (like hens teeth!).

In my opinion, one of the fundamental problems is the complete and total lack of understanding of the contractual implications of their work, and the potential damage it can cause to an entitlement claim etc.

Dave

David Bordoli
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Clive...

No doubt you will be able to meet up for dinner or more :-)

As you would expect I am not overly swayed by KP’s meat, and that he should be saying this sort of thing about likely members of the CIOB on the even of his presidency amazes me. He seems to be forming an opinion based on the programmes that land on his desk – it’s odds on that they will be a bit suspect, part of the reason the projects get into dispute in the first place.

And, I don’t think the good old days that he suggests really existed. I am one of those old farts who drew boxes on paper and did the sums. Not sure if it made me or makes me any better – back then I would never even think about planning in the detail I do now, the maths was just to tedious and for a similar reason we did not do lots of ‘what ifs’ or testing of different scenario. Even on big projects with big networks that we sent away for processing the cost and turn-round time meant that real-time planning was not a reality.

Of course there is a hint of inconsistency and bluff here… KP seems to be implying that he is not a ‘monkey’ planner but and, far as I know, as he is an ‘architect with construction management experience’ he was not involved in planning when it was necessary to draw networks by hand for jobs from scratch but somehow has managed to rise above being a mere calculator operator with little or no idea of what the answer should be. He also seems to be of the opinion that the ‘problem’ began in 1998 because of the Pentium chip – again that shows either a lack of practical long-term experience or a reshaping of history. Software and PCs were able to ‘instantly’ redraw (reschedule?) programmes long before then – even I was using Pertmaster in 1985 on 80286 chips (or was it 80386) and processing was pretty must instantaneous then.

David

ps. please explain "possibly he preffered pink to red chuffing t**t"
Clive Randall
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So Keiths in Hong Kong

a place where P3 is used because nobody can be bothered to change the spec

on a recent building project i was asked to print the programme rather than provide it to the architect on disc because he did not have p3 software
didnt of course stop him making comments on the print out, and on what basis did he do it, possibly he preffered pink to red chuffing t**t

To the meat, I agree with Keith

Planners very few of them about, programmers thousands
Contract programmes generated often by people aspiring to be monkeys having not even got that far up the food chain

However, will it change "the computer says no"


Ha ha
David Bordoli
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Thanks for your reply Raviraj

Well perhaps, except I though the saying was ‘as rare as hen’s teeth’, maybe I am being pedantic. You might have read that hen’s teeth do exist “What we discovered were teeth similar to those of crocodiles - not surprising as birds are the closest living relatives of the reptile”. I am sure Mr P is not intending to say planners are also similar looking to crocodile’s teeth! Anyway, if we believe all we are told about the UK economy, good anythings, let alone planners, are in short supply!

David
A D
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Thanx for this Gr8 article David and nice use of proverb by pickavance "Good Planner are like hen’s teeth". :-)