9 Easy Ways to Speed Up Project Delivery

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Sir David Higgins This is the message sent to the Government in a keynote speech by the recently appointed HS2 Chairman Sir David Higgins in Manchester on Monday as he delivered his long awaited review, HS2 Plus, of the mega project’s direction, costs and project delivery method.

The best way of keeping costs down for the £50 billion UK High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project between London and Birmingham, and then from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds in Phase II, is to build it as quickly as possible.

While this is not strictly related to this article it makes a compelling point: project delivery speed plays its part in a successful project delivery.

I will not talk any more about HS2 and I will just focus on presenting some methods which can aid project managers in delivering their projects.

With that out of our way let’s get started.

Managers have several effective methods for crashing specific activities to speed up project delivery when resources are not constrained.

Several of these are summarized below.

Project Delivery Options: When Resources Are Not Constrained

Adding Resources

The most common method for shortening project time is to assign additional staff and equipment to activities. There are limits, however, as to how much project delivery speed can be gained by adding staff. Doubling the size of the workforce will not necessarily reduce completion time by half. The relationship would be correct only when tasks can be partitioned so minimal communication is needed between workers, as in harvesting a crop by hand or repaving a highway.

Most projects are not set up that way; additional workers increase the communication requirements to coordinate their efforts.

For example, doubling a team by adding two workers requires six times as much pairwise intercommunication than is required in the original two-person team.

Not only is more time needed to coordinate and manage a larger team; there is the additional delay of training the new people and getting them up to speed on the project.

The end result is captured in Brooks’s law: Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.

Frederick Brooks formulated this principle based on his experience as a project manager for IBM’s System/360 software project delivery team during the early 1960s. While subsequent research confirmed Brooks’s prediction, it also discovered that adding more people to a late project does not always cause the project to be later.

The key is whether the new staff is added early so there is sufficient time to make up for lost ground once the new members have been fully assimilated.

Outsourcing Project Work

A common method for shortening the project time is to subcontract an activity. The subcontractor may have access to superior technology or expertise that will accelerate the completion of the activity.

For example, contracting for a backhoe can accomplish in two hours what it can take a team of laborers two days to do.

Likewise, by hiring a consulting firm that specializes in ADSI programming, a firm may be able to cut in half the time it would take for less experienced, internal programmers to do the work.

Subcontracting also frees up resources that can be assigned to a critical activity and will ideally result in a shorter project delivery duration.

Scheduling Overtime

The easiest way to add more labor to a project is not to add more people, but to schedule overtime. If a team works 50 hours week instead of 40, it might accomplish 20 percent more. By scheduling overtime you avoid the additional costs of coordination and communication encountered when new people are added. If people involved are salaried workers, there may be no real additional cost for the extra work. Another advantage is that there are fewer distractions when people work outside normal hours.

Overtime has disadvantages. First, hourly workers are typically paid time and a half for overtime and double time for weekends and holidays. Sustained overtime work by salaried employees may incur intangible costs such as divorce, burnout and turnover. The latter is a key organizational concern when there is a shortage of workers.

Furthermore, it is an oversimplification to assume that, over an tended period of time, a person is as productive during his or her eleventh hour at work as during his or her third hour of work. There are natural limits to what is
humanly possible, and extended overtime may actually lead to an overall decline in productivity when fatigue sets in.

Overtime and working longer hours is the preferred choice for accelerating project delivery, especially when the project team is salaried. The key is to use overtime judiciously.

Remember a project is a marathon not a sprint! You do not want to run out of energy before the finish line.

Establish a Core Project Team

As discussed here, one of the advantages of creating a dedicated core team to complete a project is project delivery speed. Assigning professionals full time to a project avoids the hidden cost of multitasking in which people are forced to juggle the demands of multiple projects.

Professionals are allowed to devote their undivided attention to a specific project. This singular focus creates a shared goal that can bind a diverse set of professionals into a highly cohesive team capable of accelerating project delivery.

Factors that contribute to the emergence of high performing project teams are covered in detail in this article.

Do It Twice—Fast and Correctly

If you are in a hurry, try building a “quick and dirty” short-term solution, then go back and do it the right way.

For example, the Rose Garden stadium in Portland, Oregon, was supposed to be completely finished in time for the start of the 1995- 1996 National Basketball Association (NBA) season.

Delays made this impossible, so the construction crew set up temporary bleachers to accommodate the opening-night crowd.

The additional costs of doing it twice are often more than compensated for by the benefits of satisfying the deadline.

Project Delivery Options When Resources Are Constrained

A project manager has fewer options for accelerating project delivery when additional resources are either not available or the budget is severely constrained. This is especially true once the schedule has been established. Below are some of these options, which are also available when resources are not constrained.

Fast- Tracking

Sometimes it is possible to rearrange the logic of the project network so that critical activities are done in parallel (concurrently) rather than sequentially. This alternative is a good one if the project situation is right. When this alternative is given serious attention, it is amazing to observe how creative project team-members can be in finding ways to restructure sequential activities in parallel.

One of the most common methods for restructuring activities is to change a finish-to-start relationship to a start-to-start relationship.

For example,  instead of waiting for the final design to be approved, manufacturing engineers can begin building the production line as soon as key specifications have been established.

Changing activities from sequential to parallel usually requires closer coordination among those responsible for the activities affected but can produce tremendous project delivery time savings.

Critical- Chain

Critical-chain project management (CCPM) is designed to accelerate project completion. The jury is still out in terms of its applicability. Still CCPM principles appear sound and worthy of experimentation if project delivery speed is essential.

At the same time, it would be difficult to apply CCPM midstream in a project. CCPM requires considerable training and a shift in habits and perspectives that take time to adopt. Although there have been reports of immediate gains, especially in terms of project delivery times, a long-term management commitment is probably necessary to reap full benefits.

Reducing Project Scope

Probably the most common response for meeting unattainable project delivery deadlines is to reduce or scale back the scope of the project. This invariably leads to a reduction in the functionality of the project.

For example, the new car will average only 25 mpg instead of 30, or the software product will have fewer features than originally planned.

While scaling back the scope of the project can lead to big savings in both time and money, it may come at a cost of reducing the value of the project.

If the car gets lower gas mileage, will it stand up to competitive models?

Will customers still want the software minus the features?

The key to reducing a project scope without reducing value is to reassess the true specifications of the project. Often requirements are added under best-case, blue-sky scenarios and represent desirables, but not essentials. Here it is important to talk to the customer and/or project sponsors and explain the situation—you can get it your way but not until February.

This may force them to accept an extension or to add money to expedite the project. If not, then a healthy discussion of what the essential requirements are and what items can be compromised in order to meet the project delivery deadline needs to take place.

More intense reexamination of requirements may actually improve the value of the project by getting it done more quickly and for a lower cost.

Calculating the savings of reduced project scope begins with the work breakdown structure. Reducing functionality means certain tasks, deliverables, or requirements can be reduced or even eliminated. These tasks need to be found and the schedule adjusted.

Focus should be on changes in activities on the critical path.

Compromise Quality

Reducing quality is always an option, but it is rarely acceptable or used. If quality is sacrificed, it may be possible to reduce the time of an activity on the critical path.

Conclusion

In practice the methods most commonly used to speed up project delivery are scheduling overtime, outsourcing, and adding resources. Each of these maintains the essence of the original plan.

Options that depart from the original project plan include do it twice and fast-tracking. Rethinking of project scope, customer needs, and timing become major considerations for these techniques.

Image courtesy of Freepik.

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