Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 24, Issue 22;   May 29, 2024: Rescheduling: Project Factors

Rescheduling: Project Factors

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Rescheduling is what we do when we can no longer honor the schedule we have now. Of all causes of rescheduling, the more controllable are those found at the project level. Attending to them in one project can limit their effects on other projects.
The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge, part of Boston's "Big Dig." One of the many problems contributing to cost overruns in the project was a sequence of delays in determining the design of the Charles River Crossing. Once this decision-making overran its schedule, very serious problems developed later in the project, in both management and engineering and construction. For projects that take years to complete, inflation can be a significant cause of cost overruns. In the case of the Big Dig, the original cost estimate in 1982 was 2.8 billion dollars with completion in 1998. It was completed in December 2007 at a cost of over 8 billion dollars (in 1982 dollars). It has been estimated that over half of the overrun was due to inflation, though that figure is somewhat controversial. The lesson for long-lived projects is that initial cost estimates should be calculated in year-of-expenditure dollars.

A failure to allow for inflation might be traceable to the ambiguity of inflation itself. We have difficulty assessing the validity of cost projections that anticipate inflation in the future, because inflation is so difficult to predict. Buyers don't demand such projections, and financial experts have difficulty producing them.

Pictured is the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in a later construction phase, as it emerges from the Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. Tunnel to cross the Charles River. This particular crossing is very near the one referred to as "two if by sea," in the poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere", by Longfellow (1860). Photo courtesy Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

When rescheduling a collaborative effort becomes necessary, we tend to focus on the mechanics of rescheduling this effort. To focus on this effort is understandable, because this effort's schedule is the immediate problem, but there is benefit in taking a wider view. By considering the causes of the need to reschedule the present effort, we can reduce the probability of needing to reschedule other efforts.

Among the best-known causes of rescheduling is a cognitive bias known as the planning fallacy. [Kahneman 1977] [Kahneman 1979] [Brenner 2020.6] This bias is the tendency of planners to pay too little attention to historical evidence of project performance, and too much attention to evidence supposedly related to the present effort, even when that evidence is scanty or questionable. Another well-known cause: underestimating the work involved.

In this post I consider other project-related causes of the need to reschedule. These factors aren't specific to any particular kind of project; rather they relate to how projects are conducted generally, which enables us to identify factors that are generally applicable. For each of the factors below, I offer a definition and suggestions for limiting their effects on other projects.

Miscommunication
In a recent series of posts on miscommunication, I described nine antipatterns — nine patterns of behavior that tend to produce communication confusions. One of these is the discredited McNamara fallacy. To manage an effort using the McNamara fallacy is to manage it relying solely on metrics, while disregarding any consideration that cannot be measured.
The McNamara fallacy and eight other antipatterns account for much of the miscommunication that occurs in collaborative work. Tracking the incidence of miscommunications can be useful in controlling miscommunication as a cause of the need to reschedule collaborative efforts.
Inadequate risk planning and risk denial
It can be very difficult to allocate budget
and schedule for remediation of the impact
of a risk event that hasn't yet occurred
When risk events occur, we must remedy their effects. Remedies almost always consume budget and schedule. But it can be very difficult to allocate budget and schedule for remediation of the impact of a risk event that hasn't yet occurred, especially when that allocation comes at the expense of objectives held dear. And advocating for budget and schedule to deal with such events can seem to be "negative" — even disloyal.
This dynamic even applies to risk mitigation efforts directed at reducing the probability of a risk event occurring.
Inadequate risk planning and risk denial are surely among the more common causes of delusional scheduling and therefore rescheduling. Examine the history of collaborative efforts in your organization. Estimate how many missed dates, and how much in total budget overruns, can be attributed to plans that underestimated the likelihood of known risk events occurring, or their impact when they do occur.
Hidden scope expansion
Scope creep, also known as scope expansion, is a well-known cause of budget overruns and schedule slippage. The more obvious causes of scope expansion include those traceable to added objectives. Because they're obvious, they're more manageable. But there are many other causes. See "Some Causes of Scope Creep," Point Lookout for September 4, 2002, for a collection.
Perhaps the most consequential causes of scope expansion are those that are hidden from view because they look like something else. For example, perfectionism can lead a team to invest in quality at levels far beyond what the customer requires. Perfectionism thus appears to be a quest for quality, but it excludes from the definition of quality basic factors such as on-time delivery.
A second example of hidden scope expansion is the search for efficiency. Occasionally, we fold one effort into another, claiming that the combination would be more efficient in the sense that there will be cost savings and velocity increases. But the reconfiguration itself creates delays and costs of its own, which we rarely recognize. Examine historical data in your organization to uncover correlations between rescheduling and the various forms of hidden scope expansion.
Management staff changes
One more cause of rescheduling that can occur at the project level is a change of management. Changing the occupant of the role of project manager, product owner, scrum master or the like can create a need to reschedule in at least two ways. First, the new occupant might need a short time for orientation. The new occupant needs introductions to members of the team, status of the effort, familiarization with current "hot button" issues, and so on.
Second, and more important, some new occupants want to make a mark, to put their own stamp on the effort. They might bring along staff of their own, or adjust the overall strategy of the effort. These changes can have more significant effects on schedule, whether or not they are worthwhile.
In my experience, management staff changes are often politically motivated. Interventions based on outcome optimization by preventing politically motivated management staff changes are rarely successful. Altering or preventing a politically motivated staff change usually requires political action.

Last words

Next time I will explore what I call the Reactive Rescheduling Cycle — how rescheduling itself can lead to more rescheduling.  The Reactive Rescheduling Cycle Next issue in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Reactive Rescheduling Cycle  Next Issue

How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsProjects never go quite as planned. We expect that, but we don't expect disaster. How can we get better at spotting disaster when there's still time to prevent it? How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble Starts is filled with tips for executives, senior managers, managers of project managers, and sponsors of projects in project-oriented organizations. It helps readers learn the subtle cues that indicate that a project is at risk for wreckage in time to do something about it. It's an ebook, but it's about 15% larger than "Who Moved My Cheese?" Just . Order Now! .

Footnotes

Comprehensive list of all citations from all editions of Point Lookout
[Kahneman 1977]
Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. "Intuitive Prediction: Biases and Corrective Procedures," Technical Report PTR-1042-7746, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, June 1977. Available here. Retrieved 19 September 2017. Back
[Kahneman 1979]
Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. "Intuitive Prediction: Biases and Corrective Procedures," Management Science 12 (1979), 313-327. Back
[Brenner 2020.6]
Richard Brenner. "Seven Planning Pitfalls: III," Point Lookout blog, September 16, 2020. Available here. Back

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