Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.

Be the chinese doctor of your projects. Watch their vital signs.

Be the chinese doctor of your projects. Watch their vital signs.
2010-04-152013-02-11IT managementen
Just like a Chinese doctor, who is paid to keep his clients in good health rather than to look after them when they are sick, the project manager has to follow the vital signs of his patient, the project, and to address them before it seriously gets sick....
Published April 15, 2010 by Michel Operto in IT management

As a Chinese doctor, who is paid to keep his clients in good health rather than to look after them when they are sick, the project manager has to follow the vital signs of his project, and to address them before it seriously gets sick.

•  Definition and implementation of concrete measures

•  Critical path

•  Respect for the schedule (variance of + or - 10 %)

•  Current efforts and results reached compared to plan

•  projected costs and actual spend

•  Quality of the deliverables

•  Open Problems (number, time of resolution, age)

•  Periodicity of reviews

•  Management and control of the risks

•  Morale of the team and human aspects

•  Participation of the sponsor, Involvement / satisfaction of the customer

•  Anticipation by the trend analysis of the indicators

•  Definition and implementation of concrete measures

Without measures, it is difficult to judge in a factual and objective way, even though I think that some subjective signs are as important as facts. Hence, the important metrics known of project managers to establish a baseline and compare progress with regards to this reference. We shall thus measure the delays with regard to the planned milestones, the requests of change, the variations with regards to the projected costs and resources consumption (BCWP, ACWP, BCWS, ACWS for the PMI fellows). We shall also count the number of open unresolved problems, and record their processing time. As well as the risks' levels, the involvement of sponsors and customers, the regularity of the communications and the frequency of project meetings ...

•  Critical path

Key element of the schedule, the critical path, is the logical chain of tasks which, if they were not completed in due time, would inevitably delay the completion of the project. Thus, a sign of proper health of the project to be watched by the project manager.

•  Respect for the schedule (variance of + or - 10 %)

In fact, any significant variance must be analyzed to understand the reasons of the difference, envisage corrective or palliative actions and learn from these to prevent a repetition of these problems on other parts and phases of the project.

•  Current efforts and results reached compared to plan

I was able to notice that it is rather frequent to start the project in situation of under staffing because it can take time to identify and to recruit the best persons. The effective spend during this period will thus be significantly lower than planned. Nevertheless, it does not inevitably mean a delay in the progress of the project. Indeed, I saw the under staffed team often compensate for the vacancies through better coordination and greater mobilization of its members. It is necessary to always put in perspective the work realized with the resources used. On the contrary, any threat of delay in the deliverables or in reaching milestones of the project is sign of strong fever and to be dealt with as a matter or urgency.

•  projected costs and actual spend

Any significant overspend will obviously receive a good level of attention. But you should not forget to worry about situations of "under spending". This weaker signal can prove itself critical later on. It can be an indicator of delays to come: slow start, late deliveries of materials and software necessary for the project on future tasks ... It can also result from simple errors of costs allocation that will catch up on you at a later time. And, it could also be used in one of the favourite games of our financial colleagues (during the biannual or quarterly budgetary reforecast) to propose a lower estimate of total costs at the end of project when they sum all costs already recorded in the accounting system to the costs of what remains to be done. Hence the importance for the project manager to master precisely the amount of the expenses engaged versus invoiced.

•  Quality of the deliverables

The quality is according to me more important in the customer satisfaction than time and cost, even if these are necessary. Without quality deliverables, there is no sustained customer satisfaction. Thus, any decline of the quality produced with regards to the authorized specifications is to be analyzed in detail to understand the root causes and eradicate them. It is not productive to deliver in time and at the planned cost a product which would not satisfy the customer, even if it apparently addresses the expressed needs. The focus of the entire team has to be above all the customer satisfaction which will bring success in the long term and will lead to a stream of future interesting projects. And the satisfaction only comes with the quality of the deliverables and the relationship built between the customer and the project team.

•  Open Problems (number, time of resolution, age)

No project comes free of problems, thus no reason for panicking. But it is advisable, I believe, to watch quite particularly the backlog of unresolved open problems and its evolution over time. If this backlog increases, there is real concern. Additionally, the age of the known problems and their time to be resolved are key indicators. Do not limit your analysis to averages (average age, average response time). As said by one of my directors, " a person not knowing how to swim can very well drown himself by crossing a river which is on average 20 centimeters deep ! ". Thus, let us try hard to understand the amplitude of variability of these indicators (possibly according to the criticality of the problems: "Show Stopper", important, average, minor), with regard to acceptable min-max to be defined for the project. For example, any important problem should be addressed in 10 day; or, we shall leave no more than 10 problems of average criticality outstanding during more than 3 weeks. And let us set up alarms when such targets are exceeded.

•  Periodicity of reviews

Do not let the elapsed time between two project reviews stretch out to the point where you have to "jump" a scheduled session in the calendar. If the strategic checkpoints cannot take place, it can indicate an excessive workload, delays which are starting to accumulate, indifference of some stakeholders, poor communications, uninteresting agendas, too long sessions ... As many reasons to get worried and take actions.

•  Management and control of the risks

No excuse is acceptable to justify not revisiting the risk register very regularly to update it, enrich it, and activate mitigation plans. The conditions and the environment of the project change and the risks evolve with them: new ones appear; existing ones should be retired or updated... Furthermore, the risks are often linked and evolve together. This is prone to create a snowball effect if we are not careful. For example, an increase of the probability of occurrence of several risks from low to medium is indicative of danger. Thus, never let the risk register take the dust on a shelf.

•  Morale of the team and human aspects

Repeated late arrivals in the morning, early departures, absenteeism or on the contrary systematic overtime are some of the observable signs. They often come along with a tense climate, with quarrels, with escalations requiring your arbitration, nasty emails, the dumbness, the shrugs of shoulders ... So many demonstrations of an illness to be taken into account to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.

•  Participation of the sponsor, Involvement / satisfaction of the customer

If your sponsors seem to be less and less interested in your project: danger!
The causes can be relatively minor: other current projects are in crisis, operational emergencies, a big contract in preparation. Others can strongly impact the project: new projects with greater priority, upcoming reorganization, shareholder's change, weak or changeable directions from management ... It is better to spend a little of bit of time to investigate the situation.
If it is the customers who appear to be more remote, less implied or dissatisfied, you have a red alert. Immediate actions are probably necessary to seek their opinion, listen to them, understand them and propose necessary changes.

•  Anticipation by the trend analysis of the indicators

The evolutions of indicators are often (always?) more important than their absolute values. Why is such or such indicator on a dangerous slope? Why is this other one erratic, unpredictable or weak? It is somewhat similar to the monitoring of the trends evolution of the vital signs of patients at hospitals, such as fever, pulse, red and blank corpuscles ...


These are some of the vital signs of our projects which I wanted to share with you. Watch them with the greatest possible attention, as would do the Chinese doctor who has to keep his clients in good health if he wants to get paid!

I certainly missed aspects which will seem important to you, do not hesitate to indicate these in your comments to this post and share your experiences.

"Dr" Michel.

Add comment

comments

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <br>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Email HTML

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Change the display