A Faster Kind of Project Management

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Using critical-chain project management, the New Zealand chapter of Habitat for Humanity set a world record in 1999 by building a four-bedroom, 1,080-square-foot home in less than four hours with a construction team of 130.

October 01, 2002

Symptoms of trouble in your company's project management system
  • Some tasks can be done by only a few, key individuals.
  •  Work expands to fill the time available to project workers.
  •  People wait too long before they communicate concerns, problems, risks or opportunities.
  •  People communicate what they think the other person wants to hear rather than what is true.
  •  It is difficult or impossible to access historical project data that could help in planning future projects.
  •  Current project methods and systems are so historical and accepted, they are/will be difficult to change.
  •  Project managers have all the responsibility and little or no authority.
  •  Perfectionism hurts project schedules, costs and customer satisfaction.

    Source: Process Quality Associates Inc.'s Project Management System Survey. Available online at www.pqa.net.

  • Using critical-chain project management, the New Zealand chapter of Habitat for Humanity set a world record in 1999 by building a four-bedroom, 1,080-square-foot home in less than four hours with a construction team of 130.

    Sounds like a case of too many contractors in the kitchen, but it worked thanks to careful planning. The leaders broke down the building process into 118 operations that were analyzed to see which techniques and equipment would be best and where staff resources should be deployed. Then the operations were arranged in optimal order.

    It's an extreme case, but critical-chain project management can benefit remodelers as well.

    The idea behind this form of project management is that you start by identifying the constraints or bottlenecks that are preventing a business from achieving its goals. For example: Your customers report they are happy with the workmanship and products that went into their project, but that they did not like that production ran over schedule, even though the lead carpenter or even the president explained all about the unforeseen reason for the delay.

    The National Homeowner Satisfaction research study done by NRS Corp. ("A Study of Exceptional Standards," September 2002 PR) shows that adherence to production schedule is one of the main ways remodeling companies can achieve high customer satisfaction.

    Glenn Black, a consultant on quality to contractors and manufacturers, suggests the following ideas for improving your company's adherence to production schedule:

    •  Rather than basing your schedules on worst-case scenarios, try scheduling based on average time required. (Determine this based on careful analysis of several years' worth of similar projects.) With all carpenters, trades and laborers sharing an equal amount of risk and effort, it becomes easier to identify where - and who - the real slow-ups and problems are. Adopting a Murphy's Law philosophy (that something always will go wrong) tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Black.
    •  Allot "fudge factor" time to an entire project rather than an individual task. Human nature being what it is, people tend to use up all the time they're given to complete a task. By making all the carpenters, trades and laborers responsible for conserving time in case of a real problem, projects are more likely to hit the all-important end date.
    •  Get the team to focus on the big picture - project progress, not task progress. This helps spotlight problems in advance and keeps managers from micromanaging.
    •  Keep project schedules and priorities consistent as much as possible rather than changing throughout the project. Minimize the impact that one project has on other projects. It will keep your employees less frustrated and more involved and boost morale.
    •  Although multi-tasking is a business buzzword, Black suggests setting priorities for tasks rather than asking individuals to work on several things at once. "This alone can cut project schedules' elapsed time by 40%," he says.
    •  Of all the project management software applications available, including Microsoft Project and Primavera, Black recommends ProChain Project Scheduling (www.prochain.com) as the best bang for the buck ($695 for a license).

    If you have questions about how to get started with quality management, call the NAHB Research Center's ToolBase Hotline at 800/898-2842 or e-mail toolbase@nahbrc.org.

    Glenn Black is president and founder of Process Quality Associates Inc., a consulting firm based in London, Ontario. www.pqa.net

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