Planning for the Unexpected

Any plan is subject to change and expecting the unexpected is part of the risk management of any plan. Volatility is describing how frequent we’re expecting the change to happen within the planned schedule. The changes can be expected as a result of variety of causes, in summary:

–          Can arise from internal related issues to the project

  • The project target (schedule)
  • The project’s estimated budget
  • The project’s scope
  • Key personnel working on the project

–          Can arise from external issues not necessarily have direct impact:

  • Changes in the industry
  • New technology has been introduced
  • Change in organizational management

Till now I think I have not added anything new to most of you, as what I’m mentioning is an essential part of project’s risk management especially to those who are working in the field.

The interesting part is how much each of those factors affect the project performance? Which one of them affecting the performance the most?

This article addresses these two issues, as researchers found out the following astonishing results after surveying almost 650 experienced project mangers across US & UK in relation to their recent projects,

  1. Changes in key personnel happening once or twice during the project life have a negative impact on the projects performance by being 50% or more under-performance. Moreover, Projects with no changes in key personnel are at risk of under performance by 22%.
  2. Almost all projects experience change and any project is expecting to experience 8 unforeseen changes on average including but not limited to change in schedule, scope and budget. Such changes are expected to extend the schedule by almost 10% than initially estimated.
  3. There is a positive relationship between the size of the project & the volatility. The larger the project, the higher the volatility expected. Ultimately this will lead to affecting the performance negatively.

Drs. Andrew Gemino and Blaize Reich and Dr. Chris Sauer have studied three dimensions of volatility in project management: changes in governance, such as key project personnel; changes in targets, such as budget, schedule and scope, and external changes related to organizational strategy, technology and industry. They found out that out of the three, governance volatility and changes to key personnel had the largest impact and the most devastating.

I don’t have much of experience in project management but I’ve been part of projects during my career path and I think this is very much true. You can have a contingency plan to many factors and succeed but not to human ‘intellectual’ and ‘experience’.

To mitigate this risk, some companies are offering their valuable staff an incentive scheme (retention technique)

1# what do you think, is human asset the most valuable and riskier in running a project? Please share your experience in this matter.

2# what other ways can companies retain their effective staff in order to reduce their risk?



9 thoughts on “Planning for the Unexpected

  1. Thanks for the interesting and critical topic.
    I think all projects have difficulties, the plan which being made considered being in the perfect world. Therefore we have to keep in mind that things might go wrong and plan the risk.
    Since I’m working in the construction field and mainly I’m working in projects this topic is very useful to me.

  2. I think in addition to what’s written in this article, which is very good and very useful, the experience in the field in which you are managing the project or managing the risk and being part of the group who define these risk is a key to identify these risk and have them well mitigated.

  3. Thanks for post ,
    I agree with the other that human asset the most valuable and riskier in running a project , for that we in our organization continually building their capacity and skill to make them competent. Mitigate this risk, by are offering the valuable staff an incentive scheme .

  4. Dealing with people is the art part of project management as we discussed in class, and from my experience human resources in a project is the most important asset, this applies to the project team as well as the project manager himself.
    I have seen project which have been completed successfully but management were not very satisfied with them, and other project who exceeded expectation, and they key difference here was the project manager, his negotiation skills, and how he dealt with his team as well as contractors.
    I believe that breaking down a large project into smaller ones can help in better achieving the end result and it will be easier to manage.
    For a passionate and driven project manager, I agree that the best way to retain him is through incentives as well as assigning him to challenging projects.

    Thank you for the interesting post.

  5. In my experience, key personnel leaving the project can certainly have a negative impact on the project in the short-term as well as the long-term. I have been managing projects and programs over the last 5+ years, and what never ceases to amaze me is that on every project, I can identify my top performers / key players on the project. These are the people with the most experience, apparent commitment, and contribution. If they were to leave the project suddenly, the performance of the project would suffer.

    In terms of incentivizing this type of team member, my fear of doing this is disengagement in this team member and others. If every project team member is already being paid fairly for their contributions, there should not be a need to provide extra incentives to anyone. Ideally, the project team will be kept motivated and invested enough to do great work. This is one of the responsibilities of the project manager – to create an environment where team members feel valued and appreciated, and able to put forth their full contribution on the project.

  6. Very interesting thoughts on the success of project management being clustered around people and the processes involved in the project. After reviewing the article given as reference I can see how you related the effort contingency and schedule contingency elements to people efficiency in terms of intellect and experience. If people are experience they can make better schedules up front in the planning phase of a project, and if people are intelligent, such that they have the institutional knowledge that is required of a project implementation program for a specific group, then the project is must more likely to suffer from high volatility. As such I would have to state that the human assets is the most valuable piece in any project. In my experience, if a company wants a project to succeed they take people from the most critical areas to run the project. What do I mean by critical? The best of the best, the people whose managers fight tooth and nail to keep out of the project because removing them from their essential job duties hurts the organization. By committing people like this to a project, the project is always more likely to exceed. As such retaining people in a project is always hard, because the more complicated the project, the more subject to change the project will face, and people will often be pulled to other more pressing projects, therefore having the right people is essential in completing a successful project.

  7. I understand that you are talking about how to plan for what comes up during a project and what the major problems are that effect the project as a whole. A very important key part that you brought up is losing key personnel. This is not only important because those key personnel more than likely have extensive experience in the field, but there is a high chance that not all of the work they have done is documented. There could be many ideas or parts of the project that have not been recorded yet and by losing these key personnel, all this information is gone. It could be very expensive and time consuming to bring the project back in time.

  8. Losing key personal is very detrimental to the project. These people have had ideas and plans in mind for their specific project and when they are lost, all progress is lost. Bringing in new personal takes time because they need to be found, trained, and updated on the progress of the current project. This will greatly delay the project and almost always cause the deadline to be missed. To reduce the chance for key personal to leave the project a project manager could give a bonus or incentive for when the project is complete. It is also important the members of the project get along and wont run into any problems that might cause project teammembers to seperate

  9. I agree with the consensus of the comments. Personal is the most important factor in staying on budget. However, in my experience, a close second is properly identifying all areas that could slow the project down and properly planning for them. Also, contingency plans are crucial because the initial plan will, in all likelihood, fail somehow. I do have a small amount of experience in project management, and despite thinking I was prepared for problems, I always seemed to be blindsided by something. After gaining more experience, though, I became more proficient at recognizing where problem areas were and creating contingency plans, allowing my projects stay on budget a much larger percent of the time.

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