PROJECT MANAGEMENT 2016
Case study guides and online resources (2016)
Project Management: Achieving Competitive Advantage, 4th Edition, 2016, Jeffrey K. Pinto
Discussion and Case Study Guides
5.1 What are the principal benefits of developing a comprehensive project scope analysis?
A comprehensive project scope analysis serves several benefits that permit a company to guide the dream of a project to successful completion. One benefit is transforming the idea of the project into a working concept. Once the concept is developed, project details can be mapped out. Scope analysis outlines each step of the project in a detailed manner. The primary benefit is that it aligns the project so the final product will be consisted with the original goals/objectives. By outlining each step, scope analysis increases the likelihood that the project will stay within budget and time constraints, and meet predetermined specifications and quality parameters.
5.2 What are the key characteristics of a work package?
A work package is a specific step of the project. Work packages are smaller pieces of the whole project, which are more manageable and definable than the whole. They create a chronological map from one step to the next, detailing what needs to be completed at each stage. Each work package includes its own deadline, resource requirements, and supervisor/s. Work packages can be further broken down into subtasks that can be assigned to an individual worker or group. Collectively, all the work packages of a project combine to lead the project team from start to completion of the project.
5.3 Create a Work Breakdown Structure for a term paper project or another school-related project you are working on. What are the steps in the WBS? Can you identify any substeps for each step?
This assignment is designed to get students comfortable with deconstructing the project into various levels, including Deliverables and Work Packages. The goal is identifying the relevant elements in the project, not the sequential nature of those steps. If instructors wish, they can ask students to create some idea of the sequentiality of these WBS elements as a second step.
5.4 What are the benefits of developing a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM) for a project?
The RAM outlines the team members directly responsible for each task. It also includes a list of supporting organizational members. It is beneficial for following chain of command, solving interdepartmental issues, and receiving proper approval. Additionally, the RAM increases the flow of communication throughout the team. By knowing who is in charge of what, members can notify the necessary people of progress or completion of tasks. This keeps the group informed of potential problems and up-to-date on the project’s current status.
The process of creating the RAM is also beneficial to the project manager. It requires the identification of team members’ abilities, qualifications, strengths, and weaknesses. Tasks and assignments can then be better coordinated to create the highest level of efficiency.
5.5 Develop an argument for scope reporting mechanisms. At a minimum, what types of reports do you consider necessary for document control of a project? Why?
Two main concerns of project scope are seeing that the project meets time and budget constraints. Without some sort of limits (i.e., project scope), projects can quickly become expensive and long-term investments of a company’s time and resources. Scope reporting can help reduce the risk of such runaway projects. Reports that update on costs incurred using S-curves and variance updates are important for keeping the project within budget constraints. These reports may also serve as control mechanisms. If team members know they will have to publish spending reports frequently to other members in the organization, they may be less likely to approve unscheduled expenditures. Reports related to adherence to the planned time schedule work in a similar fashion. If the project begins to lag behind, team members may have more incentive to look for the cause of the delays if they are required to report variances from the planned timetable.
5.6 What is the chief purpose of configuration management? In your opinion, why has it become increasingly popular in recent years as part of the project management process?
The main purpose of configuration management is to manage and control change within projects. Those involved in the project agree upon a plan for execution of activities and tasks. Configuration management then monitors variations from this pre-established plan. Change is an anticipated factor of project management. Configuration management provides a way to deal with changes as they arise, so they do not cause more disruption than necessary. Changes are documented so that all involved in the project may be notified and modifications can be made universally. By identifying necessary changes as early as possible and handling the problem early on, configuration management decreases time delays related to unforeseen conditions, and helps reduce obstacles that may result from change later on in the project process.
5.7 What is the logic behind developing a plan for project closeout prior to even beginning the project?
Upon completion of the project, certain documentation will be required by management and/or the client involved. The documentation may be used for legal purposes, as training material, or in auditing procedures; therefore, it is important that the closeout information be thorough and accurate. Creating a plan early on is important because proper documentation may need to be performed as the project progresses. By knowing what information will be required at the end of the project, the team can keep proper records at various stages as the project advances. Trying to create this documentation after the fact may be difficult or inaccurate.
Case Study 5.1: Boeing’s Virtual Fence
The Virtual Fence project, cancelled in early 2011 by the Federal government, is a true story of a project that sounded better than it could ever be due to technical problems, unreasonable or overly-optimistic projections, and a general lack of understanding of the sheer size of the required effort. Boeing was given carte blanche to run the project, with governmental oversight notably absent from the decisions regarding vendor selection, technical requirements, and first phase development. In short, the Federal government signed a blank check to Boeing for initial development and then discovered that real costs were projected to be much higher. The project was cancelled when Boeing began failing technical capability tests on initial sections of the virtual fence.
- What problems do you see emerging from a project such as SBInet where the government allows the contractor to determine scope, manage all contractor relations, and decide how to share project status information with oversight bodies?
Oversight, particularly early in the project’s development, is critical. It is during the early phases of the project that most technical decisions are made, that overall project scope is frozen, and that project capabilities and standards for evaluation are determined. Thus, when the government gave this power to the contractor without sufficient checks and balances, they opened the way for overruns, poor technical quality, and loss of accountability. In retrospect, it is actually surprising that the project was cancelled as early as it was. Under similar circumstances, federally funded projects have been much bigger black holes for budget and schedule overruns.
- Consider the following two arguments: “The failure of SBInet was due to poor scope management,” versus “SBInet failed because of poor oversight and project controls.” Take one side or the other in this argument, and justify your response.
A case can be made for either position in this example. The project was poorly scoped, mainly due to an inadequate understanding of the technical requirements for developing and maintaining a virtual fence across a long border. Even the pilot project on the 28-mile test section of the border was not technically sound and demonstrated a number of flaws within the system. On the other hand, there was a continued lack of oversight of the project through much of the early qualification phases, when Boeing was vetting suppliers, trying to determine the project’s scope, and creating a management structure that seemed designed to promote overruns and poor quality.
Case Study 5.2: California’s High-Speed Rail Project
A goal of the Obama administration has been to promote high-speed rail across the most populous and geographically-dispersed states in the U.S. The idea is to adopt more energy-saving initiatives while also helping to improve state’s infrastructure. It is with this in mind that the Federal government made billions available to various states in the 2008-2010 budget cycles. After the Fall 2010 elections, several states that had elected Republican governors refused the grants, suspicious that this seed money would not be sufficient to pay for what they viewed as unnecessary construction based on over-optimistic expectations of the need for and use of high-speed rail. One of the states that accepted the money and has moved forward strongly into high-speed rail has been California, which has already begun work on a 65-mile section in the middle of the state, earning the derisive nickname, the “train to nowhere.” This case details the state’s projections regarding the need for high-speed rail, against the views of infrastructure experts and critics who charge that for a state that is already in a severe budget crisis, this is just the sort of project that makes no sense economically or demographically.
- Assess the benefits and drawbacks of the high-speed rail project. In your opinion, do benefits outweigh drawbacks, or vice versa? Why? Justify your answer.
This question asks the students to take either a pro or con position on the decision to promote high-speed rail service in California. It requires them to consider issues such as the current state of the budget, projected passenger usage rates, actual necessity of linking the state’s major cities in this way, and so forth. Advocates can point to the short-term economic benefits of construction work on the system and the potential for creating more energy-efficient ways to travel from city to city. Opponents can argue that seed money still leaves the already-strapped state on the hook for large future costs as the project continues to be developed. Also, they can point to the obvious responses from airlines covering these routes, which will be to reduce their fares to be competitive with the high-speed rail system.
- What are the implications of starting a project based on tenuous projections that may or may not come true 10 years from now?
The obvious implications are to commit to the project and then develop an “escalation of commitment” mentality, which argues that since we have already gotten deep into this project, we must now continue work on it regardless of future costs or considerations. Economic circumstances, demographics, and energy issues are all relatively ephemeral, and the decision to initiate this project may or may not pay off down the road. That is a major gamble to make for a state that is currently running over a $35 billion deficit.
- Could you justify the California high-speed rail project from the perspective of a massive public works initiative? In other words, what other factors enter into the decision of whether to pursue a high-speed rail project? Why are they important?
Certainly, with the 2011 economy still showing signs of heavy slumping and large unemployment rates, some can make the argument that the California High-Speed Rail Initiative was simply a modern version of the CCC programs that created projects such as the Hoover Dam. The problem is that modern economics suggests the multiplier effect of spending on public works does not necessarily have long-term positive effects on the economy, and if this is really a public-works initiative, why not spend the money on refurbishing the thousands of bridges and roads that are decaying at alarming rates around the country?
Case Study 5.3: Project Management at Dotcom.com
This case is based on a true story and illustrates some of the key challenges that IT organizations face when they attempt to develop solutions for clients. Many of these clients understand their problems but don’t see how to create an appropriate solution. Others, however, think they understand their needs but find the solutions generated for them to be inadequate or simply addressing the wrong issues. It is a classic story of scope definition that many IT organizations routinely deal with when trying to satisfy the needs of clients.
- How would you begin redesigning Dotcom.com’s project management processes to minimize the problems it is experiencing with poor scope management?
One suggestion might be the inclusion on the project team of a representative of the client. It appears that one key problem is the fact that project teams talk to the customer and then go away to develop the solution in a vacuum. Then, at the back end of the development cycle, the customer is presented with a project solution that many times does not satisfy them. This lack of communication is a key factor in the problems the company is experiencing with their projects.
- How do the company’s consulting clients contribute to the problems with expanding or changing scope? If you were to hold a meeting with a potential customer, what message would you want the customer to clearly understand?
Customers often do not recognize the link between project changes and cost. They may assume that the project contract gives them unlimited rights to suggest or demand any changes after the project was developed, or that the IT solution presented to them is only a working model and subject to modifications. Without good communication between the project organization and their clients, these misunderstandings will escalate as the consulting firm demands more money for the changes and the clients argue that they will not pay for modifications because the project firm did not do it right the first time. “Why should we pay for your mistakes?” is a comment commonly expressed by customers. The key message that the customers must understand is the need to maintain strong lines of communication and develop some milestones that allow for “reality checks” throughout the development cycle. There should be no surprises at the time of delivery.
- How do you balance the need to involve clients with the equally important need to freeze project scope in order to complete the project in a timely fashion?
This may be the key conundrum in managing IT projects and is a great point of departure for in-class discussion. Students are usually quick to point the finger of blame, either at the IT firm for not getting clear information or at the customer for not providing it. Instructors can set up a point/counter-point discussion on the causes of IT project failure and how many are linked precisely to this problem and the failure to resolve it as early in the project contract as possible.
- Why are configuration management and project change control so difficult to perform in the midst of a complex software development project such as those undertaken by Dotcom.com?
One of the keys to configuration management is communication between customer and client, as both parties observe early versions of the system and identify the needed modifications. The problem for IT organizations is that they are loath to grant too much power to modify the system in mid-development for fear that the initially contracted terms will become meaningless through multiple changes orders. They desire “spec freeze” precisely for the reason that customers hate it. Hence, configuration management is difficult because it is hard for customers who are not sophisticated with IT technologies to identify relevant points when configuration management should occur. Their lack of understanding of the development process often makes it hard to create good a priori change controls processes. Instead, they usually react (often negatively) to perceived inadequacies of the solution after installation.
Case Study 5.4: The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle
This case is an interesting example of how Pentagon procurement policies, misguided strategies, and poor project execution can combine to spend enormous money on a weapon system that is not only not needed, but does not work reliably. The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) was originally designed for storming beaches, despite the fact that modern warfare calls into serious question the need for such a vehicle since the last time the U.S. Marines were called upon to invade a hostile shoreline was 1951. Further, the system, filled with the most sophisticated technology, was hampered by “gold plating” to the point where it couldn’t perform any of its functions and was notoriously unreliable. When the project was finally cancelled in 2011, it had cost nearly $3 billion in sunk (i.e., non-recoverable) costs. The case is great for students because there is a wealth of information on the Internet about the EFV, including some impressive (but staged) field tests and live fire examples.
- What does the story of the EFV suggest about the importance of considering what a project’s key mission is supposed to be prior to authorizing it?
The EFV demonstrates a variety of mistakes in conception, identification of the project’s key mission, and ultimately, a mistake in scope management. Without a clear sense of what the EFV was expected to do, it quickly became loaded up with extra features that were not well integrated, leading to numerous failures during testing. The EFV bears out the old idea that “simpler is better.”
- The EFV has been labeled, “The wrong weapon for the wrong war at the wrong time.” Do you agree or disagree with this characterization? Why?
This question allows students to consider what mission(s) the EFV was developed to accomplish. Is a fully amphibious armored vehicle needed for the modern Marine Corps? Some would argue that it is, while others are not so sure. The question to be asked here is did the proposed uses for the EFV justify the expense for it? Is a mission of the modern Marine Corps to storm enemy beaches? Some would argue that it is impossible to know, so wouldn’t it be better to have the system in case it is needed? Others would suggest that this idea ignores the nature of modern warfare. Regardless of the position of the students, it is a debatable point.
- Why does the EFV failure illustrate the dangers of long lead-times for weapon systems? In other words, when a project’s development cycle takes 20 years from start to finish, what dangers do the project developers face when the project is finally operational?
One of the complaints about the EFV development and Pentagon procurement cycles is that they ignore the “now” for the “then;” in other words, Generals are always planning for the last war. In some ways, this is unfair; but it illustrates the challenges when it may take over a decade (or longer) to identify, procure, and finance a new weapon system. The B-52, which is still in operation after decades of use, and the A-10 attack aircraft, a veteran of Vietnam, are examples of this. There is no question that long development cycles critically affect the viability of projects like the EFV, leading to soaring costs and long schedule delays.
Using the information provided below, construct a simple WBS table for the project example.
Project Outline – Remodeling an Appliance
I Research Phase
II Design and Engineering Phase
III Testing Phase
IV Manufacturing Phase
V Sales Phase
I Research Phase
- Prepare product development proposal
1) Conduct competitive analysis
2) Review field sales reports
3) Conduct technological capabilities assessment
- Develop focus group data
- Conduct telephone surveys
- Identify relevant specification improvements
II Design and Engineering Phase
- Interface with Marketing staff
- And so on
III Testing Phase
IV Manufacturing Phase
V Sales Phase
Entering Tasks Using Custom WBS Codes
- To view WBS codes, display the sheet view.
- Enter each activity on the MS Project task sheet.
- On the Project menu, point to WBS, and then click Define Code. (See Figure 5.13.)
Figure 5.13 – WBS Screen Shot
Microsoft product screen shot(s) reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.
- As you begin to enter each task and identify it as either a first-level, second-level, or third-level heading, the WBS will demonstrate the organization of the project (See Figure 5.14). Your final output should resemble the following:
Figure 5.14 – WBS Codes
Microsoft product screen shot(s) reprinted with permission from Microsoft Corporation.