Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hasty Plans...

Projects are often not well planned.

I am familiar with this process of planning without regards to time, cost or quality management. All three are challenging aspects of a good plan and my earliest examples of these would relate to carnival or festival committee planning events at school, church or university. Usually these were the best planned events I can early recall because they cumulatively carried over from one year to the next so group activities on such a scale required little if any great variations as they had been tried and tested over several years if not decades of trial and error. But here are two anecdotes exhibiting elements of haste from my working history.
My early work experiences afforded my first insights into actual if not tacit or on the job learned project management. Of course humour tempers my memory of working as a full-time summer dishwasher/kitchen helper at Ottawa’s Britannia Yacht Club in 1989. The largest weekly planned event was a Saturday buffet and the ranging but mostly retiring or aging members of the club dictated several interesting caveats. First, stakeholders, mostly octogenarians brandishing knives and forks felt it was within their scope of responsibility to randomly bumble in and out of the small central kitchen’s swinging doors like the adherents to Julia Child that they were whenever they had even the mildest complaints about the quality of the food. Lately there was an agreed assumption that the Chef routinely attempted to poison or sicken these clients by way of ingredients such as garlic salt which all agreed was an abominable concoction and stated reason for the firing of the previous Chef. It was also the purview of a retired head Chef of the Royal Yacht Britannia to be found wandering around the kitchen to recount his own horror stories on kitchen affairs aboard that boat such as routine dish pit flooding which would often nearly creep under the doors and out upon the Queen’s own royal dining room.

The salt and pepper haired manager of the Club at the time was attempting to increase revenues through more frequent and more lavish wedding receptions on the grounds abutting the Ottawa River near Deschenes Rapids. The Black Jack, a square rigged brigantine converted from an abandoned logging boat in the 1950s served as precarious entertainment due to the tons of concrete which filled its keel to keep it upright even during frequent journeys to the river bottom. The wait staff was another group of stakeholders who felt they were not getting their cut of increased profits and suddenly resigned en masse immediately prior to the ever popular weekly Jamaican nights complete with oil drum band which left a few tired kitchen helpers to pick up as waiters and bartenders. During one, at the time pricey, $10,000 wedding the manager brought in a thousand dollars of designer dessert pastries and precariously placed them in the main floor walk-in beer fridge behind the door. One bar tender’s run for a keg resulted in a thousand dollars of pastry catastrophe. The manager and the Chef were both replaced following that summer’s run of misfortunes by a full consulting outfit.

My second anecdote recalls three years of daily marine transport commuting to and from Abu Dhabi Naval College courtesy of the Abu Dhabi Navy where I was a civilian military instructor of officer cadets in training from 2000 to 2003. As I would drive my own car to the Naval Forces gate frequent trunk inspections led me to believe that pilferage, theft or smuggling of either weapons or materiel might have been a regular event there. Delays in entry either due to prolonged search or non-functioning security card key passes could often affect time constraints which would result in my arriving at the jetty just in time to see the small white service boat which accommodated about twenty seated passengers cruising out of the harbour with a five metre rooster tail rising behind it. The converted covered whaler which had its internal engines removed and replaced with two four hundred horse power outboard motors was finally forbidden to dock at main base at speed after a few weeks as the wash would often cause the pocket battle ships nearby to test their moorings. Lateness would cause me to catch the slow boat to the island of Sadiyat which was a tired and smoke belching small landing craft with a persistent leak in its poorly sealed bow doors. The only clear solution to avoid sinking on that craft was full ahead which was about a turtle’s pace. For some reason, a regular or routine fuel tank filling schedule or even the checking of fuel gauges prior to daily departure was never carried out by the vulgar boatman, Raith or his numerous querulous underlings. Often one or more of the three boats would sputter to empty half way to the island. On one occasion the landing craft and one of the two covered whalers were floating on empty bobbing about on considerable swell in the middle of the harbour channel without recourse. The solution was seen to be all hands on the officers’ boat so that what accommodated twenty now lurched with seventy-five. Foreign civilian instructors who refused to abandon the sinking landing craft for the overloaded officers boat were chastised for arriving to the somnolent office a half hour late, an office where it was routine to attend for even weeks or months at a time without assigned lessons.

The island bus journey was often equally ill planned. In 45 to 50 degrees heat with 100% humidity and no AC bus schedules and travel timing could often be delayed as much as an hour to two hours in midday depending upon the daily rota or logistics management approval of (un)timely departures. For example, if the officer on duty was suddenly unavailable or absent without leave to give the command for departure the bus driver might practice “cutting” or departure without approval which would often be reprimanded the next day with further or future delays in departure. Other instances the bus would be ordered back to be refueled without notice or held hostage during gate exits due to unruly naval forces unwilling to off load the bus and remain on their assigned duties. Sometimes the bus would need to return to the college half way across the barren desert island to the jetty to pick up a late prepared chicken tikka lunch for the jetty guards or the bus would need to return to pick up an officer who was delayed in arriving on assigned timing of departure, etc. It was a daily charade called waiting for the bus.

When is a detailed project description necessary?

As the previous two detailed descriptions may reveal the necessity of a detailed description will be required in circumstances where the complexity of time, quality and cost factors are most significant and stakeholders need to be confidently affirmed that the project in question is suitably addressing their purposes, outcomes and management objectives. Poor management objectives and poor control over time, quality and cost factors will result in inefficiencies and the appearance of incompetence.

For example a project brief by its own description is shorter in its coverage of content or progress as time, quality and cost factors would ideally have been suitably addressed. Conversely in a request for tender significant description, explanation and expansion of time, quality and cost must be expounded to provision measures to evaluate the ability of the suppliers of products or services to respond with a bid to fulfill strictly measured and defined needs. If these needs are nor well defined or justified, poor quality, time and cost overruns will probably result.

How can well planned project descriptions help an organisation and its stakeholders?

A detailed description will assure stakeholders have information necessary to make a commitment to sponsor or approve a proposal or bid on a project tender. An effective organisation will assure that its needs and purposes are being met. If it is a government or NGO for example it may lumber along indefinitely in disregard to effective planning measures (or perhaps tacitly encourage the absence of them). If the organisation is a business sooner or later regardless of profits it will meet its doom if its projects are not well managed. As the process of proposal bid acceptance may be competitive the needs of the stakeholders should be strictly met and the quality of the project proposal itself depends upon the planning which is put into it and will assist the possibility of bid acceptance. While this might imply lowest costs and shortest time frames possible to win the race one is reminded of several examples here in provoking such “risk society” tactics which implicate quality and entreat disaster. Notable events such as Sampoong Department Store, Seongsu Bridge, Taegu Subway Fire have revealed shortcuts to quality in Korea are often perilous and may reveal challenges in project planning and management on a cultural scale. Other examples such as the last decade of Hyundai Motors sales growth have revealed a greater focus on quality. Even perceptions of managerial accountability and responsibility to stakeholders may be culturally based as described in The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why (Nisbett, 2003). While quality is often more costly in terms of expenditure and time the process of planning is meant to maximize quality and minimize time and cost restraints.

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