Monday, January 15, 2007

January 22, 2007


Some time ago I was visiting with a government agency in the western United States who was developing a new system for modeling highway construction. When I asked the Project Manager about the status of the project, he told me they were stuck in the development of a key sub-system that maintained the files, but his people assured him they were 90% complete and expected to overcome this hurdle shortly. I returned about four months later and met with the Project Manager again who told me they were still 90% complete. This surprised me and I asked, "Wasn't this where you were four months ago?"

He informed me the project team had run into some technical glitches but assured him everything was back on track and they were 90% complete.

I didn't visit the agency again for quite some time, about a year. When I returned, the Systems Manager told me the project had stagnated and, as such, he had to shake up the project team, including the appointment of a new Project Manager. I met with the new Project Manager who proudly informed me the sub-system was 90% complete.

Last time I checked with them, which was a few years ago, the sub-system was still 90% complete.

This story illustrates the problem with reporting project status using the "Percent Complete" technique. The project may be 90% complete, but that last 10% will kill you.

The fact that we are using a percentage implies some form of calculation. Regrettably, "Percent Complete" is reported as a wild guess (a primary value) as opposed to any precise computation. It also implies "Percent Complete" is not a realistic means of reporting the status of a project, phase, or task; it is simply "guesswork."


I have discussed the concept of the use of time and the "Mini-Project Manager" concept in the past; see:

No. 09 - "Managing from the Bottom-Up" - Jan 31, 2005

In essence, the concept seeks the active participation of the individual worker in the preparation of estimates, the execution of their duties, and the reporting of time. Employees are empowered with project activities and held responsible for their actions. This is a "bottom-up" approach to management as opposed to "top-down" where the worker's input is not solicited. Under this scenario, the workers prepare the estimates for their project assignments, thereby expressing a personal commitment. This estimate is then used to calculate schedules and resource allocations.

As workers proceed with their assignments, they should report the time expended and periodically (e.g., weekly) assess the remaining time to complete the assignment or as we refer to it as "Estimate To Do" (ETD). This ETD is their personal assessment of the remaining work and it is not automatically deduced by subtracting the time worked from the original estimate. Perhaps this will be the case, perhaps it will not. Let's demonstrate how this works in practice:

Original Estimate: 100 hours
Time Reported for Week: 30 hours

Perhaps the worker will have 70 hours remaining on the assignment, and perhaps not. Perhaps the worker will find the assignment is more difficult than originally anticipated and declare there is 136 hours remaining. 136 + 30 = 166 hours total which will, in all likelihood, have an adverse effect on the worker's schedule (which may, in turn, effect other worker's schedules - a "chain reaction"). Conversely, the worker may find the assignment easier than anticipated and declare there is only 20 hours remaining. 20 + 30 = 50 hours which will also affect the worker's schedule (and others). Obviously, if the "Estimate to Do" becomes larger or smaller than anticipated, the original estimate should be revised.

What makes this work is to delegate authority and have the worker prepare responsible estimates, accurately report time, and carefully provide an assessment of the remaining work. If this is done properly, we can then accurately CALCULATE "Percent Complete": (Time Spent X 100) / Estimate


This brings up another important point: Never devise a project assignment without a measurable deliverable to substantiate completeness. It has either been done, or it hasn't.

"It ain't over till it's over"
- Yogi Berra

Wishy-washy defined assignments will produce wishy-washy results. If you cannot substantiate the deliverable, you will never know if it has been successfully completed. For example, if a computer program needs to be produced, spell out its specifications. A worker can hardly be expected to produce an accurate estimate based on vague generalities.


Today, there are several Project Management packages on the market. Many offer fine facilities for defining work breakdown structures and dependencies, scheduling, and project reporting. But be wary of those packages that record "Percent Complete" as a primary field entry entered by the worker. This will lead to erroneous conclusions in terms of project status.

The "Mini-Project Manager" concept is concerned with creating responsibility and gaining commitment from workers. As such, it is more conducive to a Theory Y participatory management philosophy as opposed to a Theory X dictatorial approach. It seeks to empower workers and create a sense of project ownership. This is done by having workers participate in the estimating process, reporting time, and assessing the remaining work effort. If we want workers to behave like responsible professionals, we have to treat them as such. But it all begins with a simple premise, that the worker is mature enough to assume responsibility. Bottom-line, we have to recognize that we accomplish projects through people. Further, a project will only be accomplished if the individuals performing the work want to do it. If we engage the worker in the planning and execution of the project, the greater our chances are for success. This can be accomplished simply by asking the worker, "What do you think?"

For additional information, see:

No. 17 - "Taking the Mystery out of Estimating" - Mar 28, 2005

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As you grow older and have a family, you inevitably find out that Dads are saddled with the dirty jobs in a household, be it swatting a spider, fixing a clogged sink, changing a tire, or whatever. I guess it all goes with the territory. I've got a new one though that I would like to add to the list, namely eliminating armadillos; you know, those little critters with cute pointy ears shaped like an armored tank. When I was younger I couldn't understand why people liked to run them over with their cars. In Texas for example, I think its the national pastime. But now I think I understand why.

Prior to moving to Florida years ago, I had never seen an Armadillo up close and personal. But over the last few years I have had to do battle with them on more than one occasion. They're actually pretty destructive little critters that can easily dig up your yard and burrow under your house. And no matter how hard you try to get rid of them, the more determined they try to pester you. For example, when all you do is shovel the dirt back into the armadillo's burrow, they will simply come back and dig it out again. I also tried to fill it up with rocks and other debris, but the armadillo digs them out as well. I even went so far as to try and put some of my pool chlorine pucks into the hole, thinking the smell would discourage them. Nope, they have no problem with it. Frankly, I suspect they munch on the pucks like crackers.

A little known fact about these critters is that they are one of the few animals that can spread leprosy. This makes the job even dirtier as you don't want to physically touch them. I can't shoot them either as you are not allowed to discharge firearms in my area. So what do you do? As for me, I got a box-like metal trap about four feet in length and one foot in height and width. I've discovered you don't have to bait these traps either; besides I'm not quite sure what armadillos eat other than grubs. But I've discovered if you set the trap in an area they frequent, they will simply walk into it and trap themselves. I guess they're not that bright.

Then comes the problem of disposing of the armadillo. I've seriously thought of drowning them by throwing them in a nearby lake while they are still in the cage, but I guess I didn't want to foul the lake. Instead, I usually drive them out into the country where I release them. I guess I owe a lot of farmers an apology. I sometimes wonder if the armadillo I just released will try to return home to my property, but I think the chances of this are slim to none. Why? I guess its because of all of the armadillo carcasses I see on the highway coming home.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


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I received an e-mail from Kurt Davis in Cincinnati who wrote me regarding last week's essay, "What Ever Happened to Ergonomics?"

Kurt writes:

"I was surprised by your comments regarding the differences between executing a program using a command language versus the use of a Graphical User Interface. Could you explain this a little further?"

Thanks Kurt for your note,

Understand this, a Graphical User Interface (or GUI) does nothing more than issue program commands behind the scenes. The benefit of the GUI is its ease of use, not necessarily its performance. For example, if you are intimate with a command language, you can easily outperform a GUI based program. Its like the difference between speaking a foreign language like Spanish or Italian, and having to look up the words in a dictionary or, even better, a translation tool. The more intimate you are with the language, the faster you can communicate withough having to wait on the dictionary or tool, regardless of how easy they may be to use.

I hope this helps.

Again, thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567. For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

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Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."



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