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Synchronization: A Key to Effective Project Management
By William Hoefle

The key to effective project management is synchronization – which, frankly, runs completely contrary to the way most organizations of any size are set up. Ironically, conventional infrastructure is established in an effort to better management of the various pieces – unfortunately, that is usually not the result.

As organizations grow, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain visibility of the holistic picture – that is to say when an organization is small, one can see and touch and manipulate the various pieces of the organization. As it grows, and the number of resources and links in the chain explode, the ability to see all of the connections diminishes exponentially.

In order to try to maintain control of a large organization, typically management will begin dividing them up into various pieces – departments, divisions, projects, etc.

The idea, of course, is that these smaller pieces will be easier to control, and then if we can control the outputs of these various pieces, we can gain a higher level of control over the organization as a whole.

There are a slew of negative results that come out of doing this (and perhaps I’ll cover in a separate article at some point), but for now I want to address this within the context of the project environment.

Any project is a chain of dependencies – both task and activity dependencies.

One of the common characteristics of the multi-project environment is the matrix organization – resources belong to certain departments or groups. They are not dedicated to specific projects. They are dedicated to their resource functional area – and they are shared amongst any projects in process.

On the other hand, project managers are dedicated to a specific project – and they have the responsibility and the accountability for the timely completion of their project. Unfortunately for them, they have all of the accountability for on time completion without any of the direct authority over the resources required to do the work! The matrix below is representative of this type of environment:

Distribution of Resources in a Matrix Environment

Figure 1: Distribution of Resources in a Matrix Environment

This type of organization creates an inherent conflict within the system between the project managers and the resource managers – project managers are tasked with finishing their projects on time – which, of course, entails resourcing their tasks. Resource managers, however, are tasked with supporting all projects.

It is easy to create conflicts between project managers and resource managers in the above environment – particularly when they lack any kind of synchronization.

So what do we need in order to have control in a situation like that shown above?

We need a system that can give us status of the project at any point in time – not only at a missed or hit milestone or due date. Ideally, such a system would include reporting like this:

Project Reporting: Fever Chart

Figure 2: Project Reporting: Fever Chart

By tracking the remaining work on the longest chain (the critical chain is the baseline) and comparing it to the amount of buffer consumed, a project can be given an objective status from day one – start date is known, end date is known, all tasks in between are fluid – as they complete early or late (or are projected to complete early or late) the system can calculate amount of baselined work completed versus the amount of baseline safety (project buffer) consumed to create a ratio – a one to one ratio over the life of the project means it is on time. If work is being completed at a faster rate the project will shown in the green. If safety is being consumed at a greater rate than work is being completed, the project will show in the yellow or red zones.

Next issue we will get into the task level prioritization and synchronization involved in an effective system.

William Hoefle is a partner at The Goal Institute, Inc. He is also a Managing Director of Alex Rogo Ventures. William has an MBA degree and he’s Theory of Constraints Expert at Indiana University. You can read more from William on his blog.

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