CPM Mechanics: Must Reading for Design Professionals

CPM Mechanics is must reading for Architects and Engineers for three good reasons: Owners are to be found at the center of the Problem, the Impact, and the Solution. And they look to YOU for advice on how to make things better.

As an Owner’s agent, you have a unique opportunity and responsibility to enlighten your clients (Project Owners) as to what is actually causing construction deadlines to be missed. Let’s face it: The Construction Owners are to be found at the center of the Problem, the Impact, and the Solution. And they look to YOU, as their project consultant, for advice on how to make things better.

The Problem: How Owners Cause Project Delays

Not knowing it, various actions and choices that Owners routinely and habitually make qualify Owners as the #1 cause of their projects slipping their schedules!

How is this possible? Because they rely on the advice of consultants and experts who, in large part, are also unaware that the Project Management practices advocated for “most projects most of the time,” are not especially well suited for the Construction Industry. As a result, by following “recommended practices” to a large extent Owners are only making things worse — going along, “fat, dumb, and happy” as the expression goes.

And adding insult to injury, a number of “standard practices” within the Construction Industry have only further weakened the General Contractor’s ability (or willingness) to responsibly manage the project,  and guide it to a successful and timely completion. When does this happen? How about … during design, during procurement,  in the contract, in Owner attitudes and posture, in Owner expectations and demands, in an overall missing sense of fairness all around. All of this is discussed on the other pages of this website.

The Impact: Owners Bear the Maximum Cost

While all parties to the project suffer when schedules slip, it is the Owner that bears the maximum cost.

  • Financially, the Owner has the most skin in the game. They have the most to lose. And no amount of clever contract language, performance incentives (including Liquidated Damages), or micromanagement seems to have had any really positive effect. In fact, these tactics may be making things worse. Failure rates average between 60-70% on Construction projects.

  • In terms of Risk, Owners are the most exposed. And what we have learned through decades of failed attempts otherwise, is that Risk Shifting doesn’t really work. No matter what the tactics, at the end of the day Owners still bears the brunt of major known and unknown risks.

  • Then there is Disruption (inconvenience) caused when schedules slip. The ripple effect is profound.  When intermediate dates are missed, internal operations are disrupted. When final dates are missed, external commitments are affected, like dominoes in a row —  staffing plans, cash flow projections, move out/move in plans, business growth, competition, time/rush to market, and so forth.

The Solution: Owners Hold the Most (Solution) Cards

If the previous comments are discouraging, then find solace in knowing that the Owner is in the best position to make things better. Specifically, the Owner has the power, authority, influence to change the way projects are managed. As the Owner’s key agent, you are in the best position to influence the kind of change required to change the outcome of projects on which you serve as a Design Professional. The Owner looks to you for sound advice on Best Practices, and for what they should expect from the other key players on project: the design and construction professionals.

Knowledge is Power

You have to ask yourself, how did things get so bad? With the proliferation of Project Management standards, training, certifications, conferences, literature and discussions …. why are projects not doing better? Why do they actually seem to be getting worse?

Follow the money! Ask yourself, “who knew?” To be sure, several cottage industries have grown up around the failure of projects: lawyers and claims consultants to name just two. But there are also those who profit from promoting the Conventional Wisdom: trainers, management consultants, certifying agencies, and so forth. Do these entities know that the generic Project Management model is not especially well suited for Construction? Most don’t. And those who do know, keep that fact to themselves.

Design Professional are not the run-of-the-mill “project management consultants” mentioned in the previous paragraph. You are a special breed of experts who possess a well-developed understanding of the Owner’s unique bundle of needs, wants, desires, and expectations. That is what qualifies you to function as a value-adding Design Professional.

But this powerful position of influence does not relieve you of continuing education, of learning how to do things better than they have been done.

You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Know To Be Broken

All  solutions begin with understanding. Here is just a sampling of what  ICS-Research would like Design Professionals to know about the cause of Schedule Slippage:

  • The strategy of shifting risk doesn’t work all that well.
  • Liquidated Damages don’t guarantee timely completion.
  • Stating an expected project length in the bid documents may not be the best approach.
  • Requiring enterprise-level scheduling software is often counter-productive.
  • Resolving time-related disputes using Critical Path methods quite often works against the Owner’s best interests.
  • Conflict Mitigation is not the same thing as true Conflict Avoidance. Resolving disputes earlier in the game may reduce the effects of conflict, but when you get rid of the Zero Sum Game that is killing your projects you will really be achieving Conflict Avoidance.
  • Managing to the Critical Path can often lengthen the project duration.
  • Total Float is the Contractor’s alone … to do with as it wishes. The Owner has no legitimate or rightful claim to it. Quit being greedy.
  • One solitary schedule cannot do everything you are asking it to.
  • Command-and-Control is a failed project management style. Prohibit it; don’t encourage it.
  • Demanding Predictions versus Supporting Commitments … is a mistake.

How Well are You Managing the Design Effort?

We may have left the best for nearly the last but .. just how well are you, as a Design Professional, managing your own work? The design community has a pretty unimpressive track record when it comes to completing the design phase on time. Of course Design Professionals are quick to point the finger at an indecisive and vacillating Owner. And that is surely part of the reason why procurement windows continually slip. But it is not the entire explanation, is it? There is still the painful truth  that Design Professionals are notoriously bad at managing their time.

Well, by learning about how the Critical Path Method really works, not only will you be able to better advice your Owner-clients, you will also be able to improve your in-house ability to plan, schedule, and perform your work in a timely manner. And the next time the Owner drags you into a time-consuming detour into some esoteric exploration of this or that, you will be able to quantify the impact on downstream deadlines.

CPM Mechanics is Essential Reading!

Not only is CPM Mechanics the first book in the Dominant Project Management Series, it is also the first book in the entire ICS-Compendium, which means that the Cognitive Project Management Series is predicated on it as well.

The Project Schedule is at the Epicenter of Project Management

That should make perfect sense to you since, at the end of the day:

  • As your Projects go, your Company goes. If your projects fail to meet their goals, won’t that negatively impact your organization?
  • As Project Management goes, the Project goes. That is why you retain professionals to manage your projects in the first place.
  • As Project Execution goes, Project Management goes. As the Cognitive F.A.C.E. Diamond confirms, of the four domains of Project Management, Project Execution is the ultimate determinant as to whether the project achieves its goals or not. It is where the rubber meets the road.

  • As Project Time Management goes, Project Execution goes. The four essential elements of Project Execution are: Collaboration, Coordination, Cooperation, and Communication. All four of these require a comprehensive Project Time Management schema.

  • Project Time Management is only as good as its Project Execution Strategy. The Project Schedule is the central tool of Project Time Management. It must be competently developed and maintained to remain useful.
  • The Critical Path Method is the Technology of choice for effectively conveying the Project Execution Strategy.

Start Your Learning Journey with CPM Mechanics

It all comes down to this: do you want to improve the outcome of projects on which you serve as a Design Professional? If you do, then you must help your Owners to better understand how they are in the best position to make that happen. You must guide them as they change their expectations, contracts, attitudes, and actions to afford a better tomorrow.

You cannot bring about improvements by doing the same things that have proven ineffective to date. You need to learn what is good in the current Project Management model, and what could stand changing. Begin by educating yourself. Wipe away the confusion about the technical stuff that has alluded you all along. In so doing, expose the flaws in the current model. Learn what works … and what does not.

CPM Mechanics is required reading — if you really want to change your Project Management track record.