How to Make Sure a Home Improvement Project Finishes on Time
Professional project managers are fond of saying that “failing to plan is like planning to fail”. Or, as the UK government’s Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform put it in their Guidelines for Managing Projects published, “Without careful planning it is likely that your project will fail”.
Careful planning means finding the answers to a series of questions:
- What are all the things that need to be done in order to achieve the project objectives?
- In what order do they need to be undertaken?
- Can some things be done simultaneously?
- Will there be periods when nothing can happen and how long will such periods last?
- How long is each step likely to take?
In order to answer these questions it may be necessary to consult one or more experts. It will certainly require time to be spent thinking through each step and listing them in a logical sequence.
Simple Project Management Software Can Help
A good idea when constructing such a list is to use a separate piece of paper or card, such as an index card, for each item. This has two advantages. Firstly it makes it possible to shuffle the cards in order to establish the most appropriate sequence of events. Secondly, answers to some of the later questions can be added to these task or event cards.
For larger projects it might be worth obtaining some simple project management software such as Microsoft Project. Such project management tools are tailored to do all the indexing and calculations that are needed.
Once all the tasks that have to be done have been listed, their likely durations estimated and the sequence established, it is possible to work out the overall length of time that the longest sequence will take. It is important to allow for those periods when nothing happens, for example when waiting for concrete to set and develop its full strength or for paint to dry between coats.
Some might be small projects with well-established guidelines. Others might be large projects with numerous uncertainties, requiring agile project management approaches.
Don’t be put off by Project Management Jargon
The longest sequence is known in project management jargon as the “critical path” and it dictates the minimum overall time that the total project will take. If a deadline is being worked to and the critical path shows that the deadline will be exceeded it will be necessary to re-examine this sequence to establish which, if any, of the elements of which it is composed can be made to happen faster.
Perhaps the overall time taken for one or more tasks can be reduced by recruiting extra labour just for those tasks. Or, if no additional help is available the hours allocated to these critical tasks each day can be increased. Once these adjustments have been made it is possible that a different sequence will become the longest. Planning a project often requires a series of iterations before an acceptable solution is reached.
The Project Management Process Helps Target Resources
The significance of tasks on the critical path is that saving time on other tasks has no effect on the overall project duration. Knowing which tasks make up the critical sequence enables the project manager to target resources where they will be most effective. It can also help calculate project costs.
As the project progresses the actual duration of each task can be noted and compared with the planned/expected duration. Tasks on the critical path that take longer than expected will cause the project to over-run. Such an over-run can be prevented by re-examining the remaining tasks on the critical sequence to see if any can be reduced in duration by allocating extra resources. An assessment can be made of the extra cost this entails and judgement exercised as to whether avoiding the over-run justifies the extra cost.
Many of these things may seem like common sense. Others may seem a bit OTT for a small project. There can be no doubt that thinking through the requirements for any project in detail will make it less likely that the unexpected happens.