A senior VP came up to me and said, “Congratulations! It looks like we are going to finish the project 2 weeks ahead of schedule! Good job!” As I looked at the plan, I had a question for an engineer who had been working on the project: “Why are all of these tasks marked complete? I didn’t know that we had already finished building this module in 5 days when it should have taken 20!” I looked at the plan and sure enough, this person had booked all of their time to a single task for one week!
Have you had this happen in your organization? On many occasions, I’ve had to do dance well in order to reset stakeholder expectations based on false reports from an inadequately executed project schedule. Many would like to blame the tool for these kinds of problems. I’ll hear from many business customers that MS Project is simply getting in the way. The truth is that the organization’s training process is probably broken.
You see, the business world has progressed to the point that a basic competency in computer applications is expected at the time of hiring. As a result, the company spends no time training new hires, contractor or otherwise, on their software platforms. They fail to train on their operations processes or how that software is used.
This lack of training results in poor use of many powerful applications. For instance, MS Excel gets used as a simple task list and calculator when proper use of all its functions could yield linear programming predictions, estimates using Monte Carlo analysis, and regression forecasting on a t-distribution.
In the opening story, MS Project is too often used as a task checklist instead of a project analysis tool. If proper training on the posting of time had been delivered, the situation with the engineer could have been avoided. The project schedule would have stayed in line and expectations for senior stakeholders would not have flown wildly off track.
When I’m called in to rescue a project, I suggest to companies that they first look at their internal business processes. What about our daily operations process could have contributed to this schedule delay? What about our training program could have let down new contractors we have hired?
When making assumptions of new hires for a project, a company needs to invest training time into those people so that they are familiar with how the company does business. What terminology or acronyms are peculiar to this organization? How should the new hire post time to MS Project? What is the process for issue escalation? What are the proper communications tools for posting progress? Sometimes a new hire will start a new Google Group and collaborate with other project team members using this option. How does the health care organization who has privacy concerns feel about that?
In mature organizations, the new hire should expect some modicum of training on how they use software in their daily business. When this training is lacking, the organization is usually less effective, especially with new hires and contractors. In this day and age of outsourcing and short term project teams composed mainly of contractors, training in an organization’s software use and business processes will go a long way to ensuring a productive engagement.
The next time a VP asks you why the project is out line, use it as an opportunity to educate. Suggest a short training class on how to really use the software.
I’d love to hear your stories. Feel free to post a comment.