Evolution of a Project Management Schedules Fable
Author: Joel Fleiss Date: Dec 01, 2014
Project Management Fable
Akila was a very intelligent, resourceful man who many of the elite Egyptian society used for major construction projects. He was often contracted to build and modernize the royalty’s castles. Several affluent business men used his expertise to construct offices for their businesses. He had been conducting construction projects for over two decades before the Egyptian pyramids were built 4,500 years ago. One day the Pharaoh came to Akila and said “I want you and your team, Akila, to build a monument to my father, sons and me.” In the next five minutes the Pharaoh described what he expected.
Being a clever soul, Akila mentioned that this would be an extremely ambitious effort. It would take multiple decades and require significant resources. The Pharaoh then asked Akila to think about it for a couple of months and create a plan as to how it could be accomplished, how long he would estimate each part of the “pyramid’s” construction would take and present sketches of what it would look like when finished.
Akila had already built numerous beautiful castles and several buildings. He began pondering what was needed and how this massive effort could be accomplished. He wisely thought that to estimate this mammoth effort he would need support from from his key engineers and project managers. He knew he needed a plan that considered all the tasks required to accomplish the Pharaoh’s vision. The challenge was there were no computers, no scheduling tools and to construct such a monumental entity would be extremely diffiuclt. Akila gathered his engineering team and said, “We need to create a form that we can use to describe each major task on our project of building this monument as a tribute to our great Pharaoh.”
On this design form he told his team “we will list the major tasks needed, then put them in a logical order and estimate how long each task would take and what resources would be required for each task. He told his team they would work together to specify what they jointly felt were the tasks (brainstorming) for the next 3 weeks. After listing what they felt were all the tasks he said to his troops, each of you will be responsible for providing detailed information for each task that I have assigned to you based on your previous expertise. The information would include for each task at a minimum:
- Type of Laborers and How Many Required
- Estimated Effort
- Estimated Duration
- Anticipated Problems (Risks)
- Material Needed
- Tools Needed
- Supporting Documentation
- Maintenance Considerations
After his team completed the initial specification of all the tasks, Akila told the Pharaoh that he estimated that he would need approximately 3,000 dedicated workers and the project would take nearly two and a half decades. He was very nervous. No one had ever undertaken such an ambitious effort for such a long period. As you can imagine the plans were enormous. Pages and pages of the thousands of thousands of tasks were documented. The plans not only included the building of the pyramid but also the development of a set of tools for moving the blocks of granite, creating pillars along with building homes and facilities for the working team.
The Pyramid project took almost three decades instead of the estimated two and a half. Costs were difficult to measure, since the compensation of the majority of workers were minimal. Akila, who was 42 years old when the project started, died a couple of years prior to its completion as did the Pharaoh a year earlier. His oldest son, Akila Jr. completed the effort and the Pharaoh’s son was delighted with the results. His father and grandfather were moved to the resulting pyramid and all Egyptians marveled at the creation. Having been trained by his father and being every bit as industrious, bright and ambitious, Akila Jr. met with his key engineers and discussed the project’s results (lessons learned) so there next effort might be even better.
Project managers for the next 4,400 years wished they had followed a similar process with only minor deviations from what Akila did. In fact, Akila’s processes, management and leadership style was far superior to a significant percentage of how most organizations conduct their projects today. Of course, without computers keeping the task attributes up-to-date, bookkeeping was a nightmare. Even with the advent of computers followed shortly with the advent of software scheduling tools, only a few sophisticated organizations for the most part have improved on this process. Yet projects too often are delivered late, cost more than originally estimated and often do not fulfill all the requirements.
Akila was a fantastic project manager as he had to be to successfully lead such an ambitious project. If Akila was real, the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) would have dedicated multiple chapters to his successful management of such a complex project. His ability to create a process that divided a complex problem into solvable parts and subparts provided mankind a methodology to implement future project in an orderly, organized fashion.
Modern scheduling tools such as Microsoft Project, Oracle Primavera, CA Clarity, EPS EPPORA and numerous others can trace their origin to Joseph Priestley who lived from 1733 to 1804. Mr. Priestley is given credit as the originator of the “bar chart” which he called the “Chart of Biography.” The “Chart of Biography” plotted nearly 2,000 famous lifelines on a time-scaled chart. The length of the line represented the duration of time. William Playfair in his “Commercial and Political Atlas” of 1786 developed a set of statistical charts including the line, bar (histogram) and pie charts. The Atlas contained 43 time-series plots and a histogram.
The predecessor to the Gantt chart was created in the mid-1890s by a Polish engineer, Karol Admiecki. Mr. Admiecki ran a steelworks in southern Poland and had become interested in improving management processes. The time phasing and duration of tasks were shown by a “vertical sliding tab” (like a bar in a bar chart) and tabulated successors and predecessors. Thus it really was a predecessor to the PERT and CPM systems developed some 60 years later.
Fifteen years later an American engineer and management consultant, Henry Gantt, devised his own version of the chart and it was this chart which became widely known in western countries. Because of the popularity of the chart, the charts were named Gantt charts in his honor. The initial Gantt charts were prepared by hand, which was a very tedious effort. Each time a changed occurred to the project, the chart needed to be redrawn, and since projects of any complexity continuously change, their usefulness was minimized.
Today Gantt charts are used for providing a pictorial view of a project’s schedule with software tools able to re-draw the charts in a few minutes instead of the days it took prior to computers. Today’s Gantt chats not only include a timeline for each scheduled task, usually represented by a rectangle, but also percentage complete, resources used along with dependencies and successors. Some also allow users to access all of the task’s attributes with a simple click of the mouse.
James Kelley Jr. and Morgan Walker during 1956 to 1957 while working at DuPont developed the algorithms that were later known as “Activity-on-Arrow” and “Arrow Diagramming Method” (ADM) scheduling methodology. In March of 1959 they published a paper on critical path scheduling. The advent of scheduling tools combined with the “micro” computer enabled project managers to create schedules for large projects without a cadre of professional schedulers using expensive main frames trying to accomplish what a single project manager could accomplish with a PC in the 1980s.
Dr. John Fondahl in 1961 developed the Precedence methodology (PDM). In Europe at nearly the same time the Meta Potential Method (MPM) was developed. Both of these methods attempted to improve the use of the data generated by the schedulers. In 1969 Dr. Martin Barnet of the United Kingdom described the “Iron Triangle” of cost, time and output. During the last few years it has been changed to the triple constraint of cost, schedule and scope.
With superior tools from Microsoft, Oracle, Computer Automation, IBM and many others, why are so many projects failing? We often hear projects of varying size costing factors more than their original estimates, delivered well beyond the estimated finish dates or not fulfilling all the original requirements. What is it that causes organizations not to seek better tools with well over half of their project portfolio investment wasted? If Akila were alive today he would have probably investigated the major causes of project failure. Determine what tools are need to eradicate the majority of these failures. Had his cadre of engineers create a tool that solved the majority of these problems.
This is exactly what Enterprise Portfolio Software, Inc. (EPS) has done over the past seven years. EPS has created a product, EPPORA (Enterprise Project Portfolio Optimized Resource Allocation) that solves the majority of the critical project portfolio challenges. EPS has just completed its initial testing of EPPORA and is looking for a few forward thinking organizations that are willing to use EPPORA to improve their bottom line.