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Myths in Project Management
2. Myths

2.1 Time planning

Almost every project at the end of its term is running out of time. It does not matter if it is a First-timer or a project that already has been realized many times. This is true even for projects with identical tasks, but different time periods for the fulfilment of these tasks: Whether five weeks or five months, at the end time is short. The reasons for this phenomenon are complex and varied but often not really clear. Sometimes the project was incorrectly planned, for instance with too little or too short time. In other cases there was too much time wasted at the beginning of the project because of the horror vacui effect. This raises the question of whether it is considerable bad in a project to have time even before the deadline is finished. In the last few days of the planning phase there is lot more stress than in the rest of the project. But why is it so?

Time pressure in a project is a condition which has to be involved in the planning process. Time constraints have to be claimed by all groups involved. Otherwise the client could assert that the service provider has wasted money in his calculation and, the other way round, the service provider could assume that the client is a thoughtless entrepreneur who does not know how to negotiate well and is not able to control his employees. Even if there is enough time there are employees who try to work slower in order to not give the impression that they could achieve more for the company if they wanted to (Heers and Voigt, 2004).

There is only one way to refute this myth. It is vital that a project manager presents a realistic time scale. This also contains the possible risks of delay. Depending on the impact of the possible failures, buffers are needed. The agency has to explain the steps he makes to the client, so that the above-named misunderstandings are avoided. At the beginning of a project there has to be an estimation process which shows in the project structure plan three time units for every task: One for the best case, another one for the normal procedure and the third one for the worst case. So it is guaranteed that a delay of one task within the work breakdown structure does not endanger the whole project. It is also a good method to see where a project already has saved time to invest it in another task (Gilbert, 2001, p.142-146).

2.2 Planning and Feasibility

The word planning implies that there is someone who has an idea of what he is doing. Therefore a common myth starts during the call for tenders. A client is more likely to choose the service provider which has a very detailed project plan with hundreds of work tasks which are perfectly balanced with each other than a service provider who only has twenty tasks which are very flexible and changeable. The reason for this is that the first example looks very competent and a client who has never started a project like this before could be very impressed from the effort the provider has put into his proposal. But although the second example looks very thoughtless, it could be the better choice. The more flexible a project is designed, the more flexible you can react if a problem comes up with one of the calculated risks (Heers and Voigt, 2004).

It is not scientifically proved whether one method or the other method is better. Both have its advantages and disadvantages. The first solution needs a lot of experience, because there is no possibility of failure given. If one task is delayed, this will affect all the other tasks. It is important that at the starting point all objectives and risks are well formulated, in order to get a satisfied result. The key objectives must not change during a project and you need to be able to trust the staff, because they need to fulfil all their tasks within the given time span. From the word go it has to be clear that the plan is feasible and realistic (Hirsch, 2003).

The second method is for a project with a relatively high possibility that during the planning one of the main objectives changes, for example because of the change of a PESTLE fact. Especially projects which are long term, one year or more, do not have good foreseeability. The longer a project term is, the worse the possibility is to predict risks or problems. For instance the global finance crisis had a huge responsibility for the failure of many projects. Those projects which included a greater flexibility in budget and time did not fail. But it is often the case that because of entrepreneurial pressure a project planner needs to tell the client of very tight budget which is only deliverable if the project plan works perfectly (Johnson et al., 2008, p.55, Welt Online, 2009).

2.3 The human factor

Many projects do not fail because of bad planning or technological problems, but they fail because of social factors. Employees often feel like a tiny cogwheel within a powerful machine. They often have the impression that they are freely changeable, that they have to be available on every time at every place and that nobody is interested in their needs and wants. These factors are not normally implemented in a project plan, since a project plan has to be perfect in the eyes of the planners. This means that there is no space for human failures because of lack of motivation, petty jealousies between employees or vanities. The modern idea of teamwork assumes that employees do work together, no matter what happens in their private environment or the relations between the team members.

A good working project team needs many different personalities. This heterogeneous group contains people which would never spend leisure time together because of their different characters. The advantage of this idea is that the creativity of this group is much higher than in a homogeneous group, where members almost have the same life experience because of the same profession. But a great problem within these groups is that so many different characters also cause conflicts. Therefore it is important to put in the project plan a time budget to resolve conflicts. The human factor is more important than many managers want to know. If the amount of conflicts increases, the quality of the work decreases and it is likely that the whole project fails. But with a good conflict management integrated in the project structure, this could be recognized and eliminated before it becomes dangerous (Warner, 2007).

A human being is not a machine. There are various needs of a human that distinguishes him from a machine and a manager has to pay attention to these needs. He can choose the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model or another classical model in order to identify the needs of his employees. Whatever he chooses, the result has to be that creative tasks last more time than repetitive tasks which could be done by a machine (Maylor, 2003, p.255).

2.4 Repetition always works

Another common mistake in project management is that managers often assume a project which once worked can be used for every other customer as well. Many projects fail because they were not adjusted for the new situation and the customer. Of course, an experienced project manager already has finished project structures to use them many times. But he always has to consider that every new project is unique and needs appropriate adjustments. A manager should not repeat the same project without a critical analysis.

Event planners for example often think that the summer festival from the previous year could work with the same concept the following year. They organize the event in the same way and at the end they are surprised that the event did not have the same success as the year before. Many things could have been changed during one year. Not only are the PESTLE-factors important to consider, but also the customer preferences probably are no any longer the same. It is also possible that the preferences of the client have not changed but those of the end customer have changed. The opinion of the end customer is the most important part of the decision-making process, but regularly the project manager only considered the opinion of the client who is paying for the event. The event will be a flop if the marketing objectives are not defined clearly in consideration of all participating groups (Schäfer-Mehdi, 2006, p.180-181).

Of course, it is an advantage over inexperienced project planners to have some finished concepts which have already been successful. But the project planning process has to start with each project again. Every step of the planning process is always needed again. The advantage with experienced concepts is that one can save time during each step, but experience does not replace a whole task. For example one can use the final budget of a former project to provide clues, which saves time and minimizes financial risks, but this calculation needs adjustments for the current project as well (Mest, 2002).

 

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