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evolution of planning tasks

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Rob Kearns
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Couple of questions:

1)Given that the project planning task has been greatly automated over the years with the introduction of MSP, Microplan Xpert (My personal favourite - though nobody else seems to have even heard of it), Primavera etc and supported by other tools - Excel, Word etc.

What major differences have there been in the planning role that still makes a project reporting cycle last a month (for larger projects) when what took a month to create project reports and updated plans now takes literally hours?

2)If you are involved in planning RandD projects. How much project management methodology does your company actually use ie is Risk analysis implemented at project level or summary activity

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Bernard Ertl
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I recently published an article (Refining the Project Planning Process) which details the evolution of project planning thanks to computerized processes. Project planning has definately come a long way since the days of organizing markers on a peg-board!

Within the oil refining and petrochemical process industries, turnarounds are very intensive maintenance projects. Real time reporting is a requirement for effective management. We update our schedules every shift (twice a day) in order to manage a very fluid and changing project.

Your project update cycle should reflect your business needs.

Bernard Ertl
InterPlan Systems Inc. - Project Estimating Software, Project Management Software
Tomas Rivera
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Hal:

I agree with you completely. And let me tell you that I am a planner with the competence to plan and engaged with the tools and technology available. Also, in regards to the original question, all of the projects I participate in, are updated every weekend with new reports coming in first time Monday morning. These reports include field and management reports.

Tomas Rivera
Hal Macomber
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Hi,

Lets review the original question,

What major differences have there been in the planning role that still makes a project reporting cycle last a month (for larger projects) when what took a month to create project reports and updated plans now takes literally hours?

While the tasks performed by planners have continued to shift to the computer, less and less of what they do can be called planning. (Please bear with me.)

The cycle of project reporting was once constrained by the access to computer time, the collection process for getting the data, the tediousness of entering data, the endless hours spent finding the errors in the reports, and then the time it took to make sense out of tabular data. Only the most competent planners could bring intelligence to this situation.

All that has changed. The tools are so easy to use (wizards, etc.) and iterate scenarios that the novice person can create something that looks like a plan. Those people who have the competence for planning are often not engaged with the tools for doing the planning. The situation is so bad that the PMI has created a scheduling school to teach planning and scheduling to the computer jocks and administrators who use the tools.

Let me now answer the question directly. Theres no good reason for the projet reporting cycle to remain at one month. Its just the habit. A bad habit at that.

Planning is a conversation. It doesnt happen just once in the life of a project, or when soemthing goes wrong. Planning is an on-going conversation for fulfilling the promises of the project. That conversation occcurs throughout the month. It happens formally at project reviews and informally with project performers. It is a shame to have those conversations without the benefit of project data. Yet, that happens in all too many situations.

Its so easy to update plans that we could be having informed planning conversations daily. The only thing in the way of this is our habit. We can get in the habit of reviewing our preformance of task completion on a daily basis. This gives us the opportunity to replan the up-coming period and the opportunity to address the reasons for nonperformance. Supporting that practice would be a great role for a planner.
Mohamed Gebriel
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Hi Tomas and Rob,

I agree with Tomas, disagree with Rob on their prespective on the role of planners. Let me try to details my point of view. Rob, you asked about the reporting cycle for the project and why it still takes a long time. Now this is a portion of the planning and control role that belongs to control. Playing a proactive role in any project by planners cant go unnoticed, but we have to understand the nature of this role considering the authority any planner can be given.

During the initial planning phase, developing and designing the project plan with time, budget or resource constraints is a proactive role by all means which cannot be debated by anyone. The result though of this phase can vary from one planner to another according to his experience. During the control/report/replan cycle in the control phase of the project, we cant just look at the planners role as a static data entry and reporting role. This would be too far from the real core of this job. During this phase it is the planners role to find the best possible ways to compensate for and reduce current delays, mitigate any other possible delays, consider different catch up scenarios, anaylize time and cost impact of these scenarios and evaluate subcontractors suggestions for delay reduction or time crunching. All of this of course is not developed after any delay occurs, but it is a build up of the planners work during the progress of the project.

Two different planners can deal very differently with dealys. While one can simply react as you said and begin his work from this point forwars, another could have done his homework and could have all his gear ready to quickly reach solutions which are much needed as quickly as possible. No one can say theres no added value in dealing professionally and successfully with delays.
Tomas Rivera
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Rob:

Let me say to you that now I disagree with you! Maybe someone else is going to disagree with me though. Well, I hope this happens, because this is what makes this site enlightening.
When you say that planning should take a proactive role and try getting activities completed on time, you are getting into the project manager’s role. When you say that the planner should be passing relevant information to departments that he is not doing, is this really the planner’s fault or responsibility? Maybe there are no proper procedures in place. Why are not the department heads asking for the information instead? Maybe their responsability is not clear. Or are they acting reactive instead of proactive?
To me, a planner is a staff function. Someone who serves the team. He is not responsible for making sure the project activities are being made. If he were, he should have the power to organize, direct, order, authorize, etc. over the project team. He is responsible for developing and processing all the information the team needs. If I were the project manager, I would not want the planner to be passing information around if I do not authorize it or ask him to do it. One of the more sensible elements in a project, and one that gives a special power, is the proper information in a timely manner, and the determination to say who is going to get what and when.

Tomas Rivera
Rob Kearns
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Hi Clive,
Disagree slightly with you! The Plan is the tool - not the application, Planners are the toolmakers, and the assigned resources the owners.
Rob Kearns
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Hi Mohamed,

Sorry I disagree with you in that to me planning should have evolved from the state where we are purely progress chasers.
The question I was asking was to assess whether planning generally remains a reactive or pro-active project activity. Your answer suggests the former.
I have employed many planners and have always been disappointed with those who purely create and maintain the plans and associated reports. This to me has no particular added value to a project. It is far better for planners to take an expeditious role in getting activities completed on time. For example, This may entail simply passing on relevant information from one dept to another. How many activities slip purely down to this oversight?

Clive Holloway
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PM software is just a planners tool. A good planner needs to provide the necesary input to create the programme. Garbage in, garbage out.
Mohamed Gebriel
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Hi Rob,

Although most business applications have automated and electronized many of these business procedures, they will never be able to replace the majority of human input, creativity and decisive actions.

When it comes to planning and you take a look at current planning tools, youll clearly discover that all what these tools do are the following:

1- CPM calculations to quickly calculate dates and floats for large number of activities.

2- Storage of database information (Resources, codes, cost accounts, etc..) for large number of records.

3- Storage of filters, layouts and reports for continuous usage.

These are the main advantages of these tolls which mainly facilitate dealing with large number of records.

Now when you look at the human side of it, we still are the source of input for everything. A tool can contain a fragnet or template, but the planner with other construction specialists develop the plan, activity structure, logic and resource assignments. A tool can contain many predefined layouts and reports, but still we develop customized reports. A tool can give us analysis charts and tables, but we are the ones to develop catchup schedules using different alternatives. At the end and most important, a tool contains numerous fields for actual information, dates, resources, cost, but surely its us who need to chase site engineers or sub contractors for detailed and accurate updates.

So, as I see it, whatever the level of technology or quality planning tools ever reach, theyll never reach a level where they do these human tasks for us which do consume much time.