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Helpful Thoughts About Scheduling and Coordinating Projects
on 14 May 2004
There is an old saying: To a carpenter, every problem looks like a nail.
Having now read two of Mr. Goldratt's books, it appears that to him every management issue is a scheduling and coordination problem. While that's true, product development management of difficult tasks is also sensitive to many other things like getting competent resources, having the right amount of input from each function early in the process, and developing the ability to produce the finished product efficiently and effectively. Those other issues are essentially untouched in this book.
Think of this book as applying the system coordination and optimization concepts of Mr. Goldratt's famous novel, The Goal, to project management.
If you have already read The Goal, this book will be much easier to understand than if you have not. Although many of the same concepts are explained here as in The Goal, the explanations in this book are not nearly as thorough and clear. Also, the plot and plot line in this book will probably not be as enjoyable to you as The Goal. I rated the book down two stars for these kinds of weaknesses.
If you have read The Goal, Mr. Goldratt basically substitutes scheduling safety margins for work-in-progress inventory, and then applies the same debottlenecking concepts as in The Goal.
If you have not read The Goal, Mr. Goldratt's argument is that schedules are put together with too much slack. Everyone wants to be almost sure they can meet a deadline. The deadkube date they pick usually relates to the most they can get away with. Usually, that much time is not needed and people start late. If they end early, they never tell anyone. So any delay puts the whole project back because there is no project scheduling slack. With many tasks going on simultaneously, often none of them get done well.
The solution is to cut back on each individual schedule in favor of having all of the slack managed for the whole project, and communicating frequently about when the work really will be done so the next step can be ready to take up the baton. Then focus all measurements on project completion, rather than task completion. Give priority to whatever can hold the whole project back. Add resources there, too, if possible. In doing this, focus on both activities and resources as potential bottlenecks.
The book also has some good sections on how to negotiate with external suppliers to improve performance, and how to think about the tradeoffs between speed and cost as a supplier and as a purchaser of supplies and services.
Without changes in top management policies, most project managers will not be allowed to use all of these principles. So be sure to share this book upward, as well as sideways, and downward in the organization. If you are in a small company, it will be much easier to do.
After you have finished reading this book, I suggest that you look at the last 20 projects that your organization has done. What was done well? What was not? Which of these issues can be helped by Mr. Goldratt's ideas? Which cannot? For these latter, I suggest you look for best practices and imagine what perfection could look like to design a simple, but effective, alternative with better communications. The new book, It's Not the BIG etc., may be helpful to you in this regard.
May you continuously improve your effectiveness in project management!