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Reduction of Project Duration

by Karen Patel, UoPhx MBA program,  May 26, 2007


The following report summarizes project duration reduction and the project closing.

 

For numerous reasons, projects fall behind. However, project managers do have different options in crashing or reducing the project duration. Some include adding additional staffing or resources, outsourcing, and adding overtime.


Constructing a project-cost duration graph identifies costs to reduce project time with the focus of getting the project completed sooner.


Project cost reduction alternatives also exist as do time reduction techniques. Some examples include project scope reduction, outsourcing, and identifying tasks that customers can do themselves.

 

An important, but unfortunately sometimes overlooked, step includes project auditing. Auditing allows a company to incorporate best practices and continuous improvement techniques for project management. The actual process includes the phases of initiation and staffing, data collection and analysis, and reporting.

Many times, projects fall behind the promised date, and a conflict of time versus cost arises. Project managers must decide or determine what factor supersedes the other or realize how to balance the two in the best interest of the project. Another factor comprised for time includes quality. “The project duration time is set while the project is in its “concept” phase before or without any detailed scheduling of all the activities in the project” (Gray, 2005, p. 283). Without carefully creating a detailed plan of the project, the project duration cannot have an accurate forecast.

 

Some reasons to reduce the project duration include an imposed date created by a key stakeholder, on-time market demands due to global competition and technological advances, incentive contracts for completing the project before schedule, and making up for unforeseen delays (Gray, 2005, p. 281).

 

Different options exist to crash or shorten project time as defined by Clifford Gray in chapter 9 of the Project Management textbook. The most common method includes assigning additional staff and equipment to the project activities. Additions cannot occur too late in the project; otherwise, the project duration can potentially drag out longer than anticipated. Next, outsourcing or subcontracting can occur. This option allows the project to access experienced professionals.

 

Experience in key areas can help reduce times and increase the quality of work. Another option includes adding overtime. Even though this alternative is an easier choice, the project manager must consider the additional costs and potential employee burnout involved. Establishing a core team that is dedicated to the project includes the fourth option. A core team enables speed and focus for the project. Project managers also have the option to perform activities twice. The first completion of the activity occurs as a quick and sloppy solution. The second completion occurs the right way. Fast-tracking includes a method where critical activity completion occurs parallel rather than sequentially. Critical-chain involves a method that prioritizes the project activities to incorporate rapid project completion through long-term commitments. “Probably the most common response for meeting unattainable deadlines is to reduce or scale back the scope of the project” (Gray, 2005, p. 287). For example, project managers can choose to reduce the number of features for a new product or service. Managers must not lose the value the project results offer. A re-examination of the requirements can help keep or even improve the project values and increase the speed while reducing costs. The final option includes reducing the quality of the product. Managers should evaluate this alternative very carefully as the wrong decision could essentially cause project failure.

 

A project-cost duration graph represents an identification of costs to reduce project time so that comparison acknowledgement occurs with the benefits of getting the project completed sooner Gray, 2005, p. 287). Constructing a project-cost duration graph involved three major steps as defined by Clifford Gray.

 

  1. Find total direct costs for selected project durations

  2. Find total indirect costs for selected project durations

  3. Sum direct and indirect costs for these selected durations

 

The first step usually involves the most difficulty. “The central concern is to decide which activities to shorten and how far to carry the shortening process” (Gray, 2005, p. 289). Project managers need to identify critical activities they can shorten with the least increase in cost per time. Indirect costs are usually easily obtainable from the accounting department.


Managers should assess other factors besides cost evaluation when choosing a method for project time reduction. First, activity timing needs consideration (Gary, 2005, p. 294). Second, the impact on employee morale and motivation needs evaluation (Gary, 2005, p. 294). Finally, project managers should consider the potential risk involved (Gary, 2005, p. 294).


As options exist for reducing project duration, they also exist for cost reduction as defined by Clifford Gary. First, a reduction for project scope not only gains additional time but also produces cost savings. Another option includes having owners take more responsibility. Managers should identify tasks that customer can do themselves. Third, outsourcing parts of the project or the entire project can create cost savings. Finally, communicating with team members can produce ideas on cost savings. Members can brainstorm and introduce savings.


Project Audit and Closure


Mistakes will occur throughout a project; however, if carefully assessed, errors can introduce what to do or not to due for future business processes. “The project audit and report are instruments for supporting continuous improvement and quality management” (Gray, 2005, p. 461). In order to incorporate best practices for project management, the business must evaluate past failures and successes. Companies that thoroughly audit their projects, lead in their field (Gray, 2005, p.461).


The project audit process consists of more than status reports. Other factors the audit offers as defined by Clifford Gray in chapter 14 of the Project Management textbook include the following.

  • Reason to why project was selected

  • Reassessment of the project’s role in organizational policies

  • Organizational culture check to ensure facilitation of project implementation type

  • Assessment if project team is functioning well and staffed appropriately


Project audits can act as both reactive and proactive forces for project managers. Conducting audits while in the process of a project initiates proactive responses. Conducting audits after the fact allows PM’s to approach future projects with improved processes.


Before conducting a project audit, Clifford Gray outlines steps to help ensure a successful assessment.

  1. Keep the mindset that the audit is not a witch hunt

  2. Focus on project issues not the individuals performing them

  3. Auditing should impose minimal threat to employees and efforts of sensitivity should be made

  4. Data accuracy should be verifiable

  5. Senior management should openly support project audits and provide the team with maximum access to audit needs

  6. Audit objectives include learning from mistakes and conserving value

  7. Audit process should be quick

  8. Audit leaders have access to senior management above project managers


The actual auditing process falls into three steps. First, the initiation and staffing phase occurs, with results dependent on the organization. This step works well as an automatic process in removing perceptions of a witch-hunt approach (Gray, 2005, p. 463). Characteristics possessed by the audit leader include no direct involvement in the project, respect for stakeholders, willingness to listen, reporting without fear, having the best interest of the organization for decision-making, and experience and expertise in the organization or industry (Gray, 2005, p. 464). Data collection and analysis stem from two auditing perspectives including organizational and the project team views. Organization views help determine such questions as the organizational culture correctness, sufficient management support, intended project accomplishment, identification of appropriate risks, and adequate staffing during and after the project (Gray, 2005, p. 464). Project team views answer such factors as appropriateness of plans and control systems, over or under budget and schedule numbers, adequate stakeholder communication, and sufficient access to organizational resources (Gray, 2005, p. 465). The third step includes reporting to capture changes needed and lessons learned.

 

“The report serves as a training instrument for project managers of future projects” (Gray, 2005 p. 465). A general outline for the reporting process includes the following as defined by Clifford Gray.

  1. Classification of project

  2. Analysis of information gathered

  3. Recommendations

  4. Lessons learned

  5. Appendix

Conducting project audits involves an important aspect of project management. “When done on a consistent basis, audits can lead to significant improvements in the processes and techniques that organizations use to complete projects” (Gray, 2005, p. 466). Once projects are in the closing process, different forms of closure exist. First, the most common form occurs when the project is simply completed; this is the normal condition (Gray, 2005, p. 471). The premature circumstance occurs with early project completion through elimination of certain parts of the project (Gray, 2005, p. 472). Next, the perpetual condition occurs when the project becomes continuous due to required changes; thus seeming never-ending (Gray, 2005, p. 472). The fourth project type includes the failed project where the project fails due to different reasons (Gray, 2005, p. 473). The final project condition, changed priority, includes projects that incorporate revised priorities to reflect changes in organizational direction (Gray, 2005, p. 473).
Project closure includes the five main activities as defined by Clifford Gray.

  1. Receive delivery acceptance from the customer

  2. Shut down resources and release to new uses

  3. Reassign project team members

  4. Close accounts and verify payment for all bills

  5. Evaluate the project team, members, and manager through such methods as performance reviews

Conclusion


Project managers must learn to balance time, cost, and quality. Often, the project time or duration becomes longer than desired. Managers can take different steps to reduce the project duration. Some options include adding additional staffing or resources, outsourcing, adding overtime, establishing a core team, performing activities twice, creating a critical chain, reducing the project scope, and reducing the quality of the product or service. Managers should assess activity timing, employee morale, and potential risks along with cost evaluation when choosing the method for project time reduction. Mistakes will occur throughout a project; however, with careful assessment, PM’s can introduce continuous improvement and best practices. The proactive process of auditing includes initiation and staffing, data collection and analysis, and reporting. The reporting step allows future projects to have a training instrument to ensure for a more successful outcome.

References


Gray et al. (3rd ed.). (2005). Project Management: The Managerial Process. [University of Phoenix Custom Edition e-text]. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies. Retrieved April 10, 2007, from University of Phoenix, rEsource, MBA/590- Strategic Implementation and Alignment: https://ecampus.phoenix.edu/content/eBookLibrary/content/eReader.h


 

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