The Need for Visibility
To have a clear view of information about the project, visibility is important in both designing the CPMS and controlling the project. Of course, management needs timely and relevant information in almost any situation, but in a project setting this need is magnified for several reasons:
- The task and the method of approach are often new to the people involved, and these people may not know what information is relevant in decision making
- Many projects are complex, with a great variety and amount of activity going on and information available
- The project approach is often reserved for tasks that have firm and demanding deadlines, which puts management under pressure to make timely decisions
- Since projects are one-time affairs, it is simply not possible to do it again "right this time" - so the need for information to be available when decisions are made is accentuated.
The overall effect of these conditions is to place a high premium on information reliability and timeliness and a high cost on unnecessary or irrelevant information. Several project management techniques serve the need for visibility well; CPM (critical path method) allows a manager to determine which of many project activities must be monitored closely because they are critical to the timely completion of the project. Exception reporting, based on the assumption that everything is proceeding according to plan unless reported otherwise, supplies management (presumably) only with information that requires some sort of action.
CPMS designers need to know what information is needed and how to get it. What information is important depends largely on the success criteria for the project. Compare, for example, a federally funded public school project, a major maintenance project in a large plant, and a medical science basic research project
In the public school program most of the funds are allocated to salaries of permanent staff, so there is a relatively low priority on cost information. Since the objective is to demonstrate change, a high priority is placed on visibility of performance information such as measures of improvement in children's spelling skills. The program is geared to the school year so the completion date is fixed; therefore information on the schedule aspects of the program is not essential - management just needs to know that the program is under way. Since customer (particularly school-bond voter) satisfaction is crucial, information on the "pulse" of the voter is important.
In the maintenance project high costs are absorbed each hour a major piece of plant equipment is inoperative, so a high premium will be placed on completing the work on or ahead of schedule. Information relevant to schedule control decisions will be important.
In the medical science program the task involves discovery of a virus and no completion date can be established. The program is funded for a fixed number of years. Important information here would involve cash flow and technical progress. Procedures would be developed to facilitate the regular monitoring of expenses and continual updating of technical developments.
The sensitive nature of information gathering and the interaction of visibility with other CPMS components can be illustrated by two cases I have encountered:
In a development project where timely completion was crucial, management was maintaining tight control over schedule. A schedule exception report was instituted. Management rather severely reprimanded anyone who slipped behind schedule. It was only after many weeks of apparent on-schedule performance that management discovered many people were simply not willing to risk reporting themselves off schedule even if that was the case.
In an innovative education project, people were expected to inform management of problems by asking for help if they needed it. Management expected the team to encounter problems such as inadequate supplies and lack of community cooperation. Surprisingly, very few calls for help ensued. On analyzing the situation, management discovered the reason: its responses to the few calls for help that had been made were slow and ineffective.