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How to Recover from Unacceptable Variances Arising from the Project Plan (#4 in the series How to Control a Project)
By Michael D. Taylor

When an unacceptable variance from the project management plan arises the project manager needs to ensure that a corrective action plan is established. Even though the primary responsibility for the plan falls on the individual who “owns” the variance, the project manager needs to provide support as a solution facilitator.

Avoiding cost growth and schedule completion delays is paramount which means that any resources needed for correction are within the approved scope of the project. Every effort should be made to first develop “soft” recovery plans that do not require additional costs to the project. If that is not possible, then “hard” recovery plans, that do require additional costs or extensions to the project completion date, should be considered. Obviously, prevention of large variances is superior to experiencing these kinds of project impacts.

  • Soft Recovery Planning

    Project managers should first explore corrective action plans that require no additional costs to the project. These may include exploiting lead-lag times, fast-tracking, working non-paid overtime hours, improving cumbersome procedures, reorganizing the organization breakdown structure, moving non-critical resources to the critical path, and reducing project scope. If none of these is possible the only alternative then is to develop hard recovery plans.

  • Hard Recovery Planning

    Hard recovery planning means that any unacceptable variance corrective actions will require more budget or time than what has been allocated to the project. This will require approval by the project sponsor and possibly other key stakeholders before the plans can be implemented. In order to accomplish this the project manager may look into adding more resources, moving non-critical resources to the critical path activities even if it requires more budget, outsourcing certain portions of the project, and premium procurement of commercial off-the-shelf parts.

MICHAEL D. TAYLOR, M.S. in systems management, B.S. in electrical engineering, has more than 30 years of project, outsourcing, and engineering experience. He is principal of Systems Management Services, and has conducted project management training at the University of California, Santa Cruz Extension in their PPM Certificate program for over 13 years, and at companies such as Sun Microsystems, GTE, Siemens, TRW, Loral, Santa Clara Valley Water District, and Inprise. He also taught courses in the UCSC Extension Leadership and Management Program (LAMP), and was a guest speaker at the 2001 Santa Cruz Technology Symposium. His website is www.projectmgt.com.

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