Friday, December 29, 2017

Project risk case study: Scarce resource management

Technology projects are heavily dependent on expert resources from the IT team and the business. Managing people whose work is critical to the success of the project is essential and managing their time can be challenging.

This case study is a situation where a business expert was proving to be unable to deliver to the timeline.

Case study
The project was development of custom reports. When engaging resources for the work, the project manager did the usual things to ensure availability of the resource: for example, arranged for dedicated team members, and obtained commitments from their managers that they would be free to concentrate on the project. For those who were not vendors, the project manager arranged for the individuals’ jobs to be filled by other workers so the project team could concentrate on the project work.

The situation
The development work proceeded but there were challenges and issues along the way (perhaps a case study for another time).  Due to the development issues, there were quite a large number of problems found in the testing phase. 

However, just as problematic, it was taking a very long time for the business expert doing the testing to identify the issues on the reports, and to re-test as defects were corrected.  As time went on, it became clear that the tester was a significant bottleneck in the process.

The project manager discussed the pace with the tester, who confirmed that he was concentrating on the testing tasks, and had not been pulled away to work on other non-project work. The tester claimed that it was just a temporary delay due to learning curve on what needed to be done, and that he would have no problem catching up.

Unfortunately, the tester’s prediction of increasing speed did not come true. The testing continued to take much longer than planned.  In addition, the tester claimed, and his manager agreed, that no one but himself was qualified to examine the reports and determine whether they were right or wrong.

Evaluation of the problem
The project manager decided to see for herself what was causing the delay, so she arranged to sit in the tester’s office while he worked. She did some other work, but by sitting close by was able to observe the tester’s process.

What she observed was that there were many time-consuming steps to complete the tester’s work.  He printed the legacy report; then printed the new report. Then, he went through every line and checked every heading, description, and number for accuracy.  Then, when he found a difference between the legacy and new report, he had to determine whether the difference was acceptable. If it was not acceptable, he had to log the defect in the tracking software.

The project manager realized that much of the work could actually be done by others. The only part of the work that the business expert tester really had to do for himself was to evaluate whether a difference was acceptable or not.

New approach
The project manager arranged to add two junior staff to the project. They were assigned to print the legacy and new reports, compare every heading, description, and number, and mark differences with highlighters and tape flags for review. 

The business expert was now able to focus on the one thing that no one but himself could do. He focused on evaluation of the differences between the legacy and new reports, and decided whether the difference was acceptable or a defect.

The project manager also arranged for someone else to log the defects for the tester, so he could concentrate on just the evaluation.

The project manager’s observation was essential to resolving the work bottleneck. Each report was taking two to four hours to test, but the portion that only the business expert could do was really only fifteen to thirty minutes.

By re-allocating much of the work to other resources, the business expert was freed up to complete the evaluation for many more reports.

Although their participation is critical to a project’s success, business experts can become a bottleneck on a project. In order to ensure the proper participation of the expert while also eliminating the bottleneck, it was necessary for the project manager to evaluate the work and break it down into its component parts. Then many of the steps could be completed by others, freeing up the expert to focus on the task for which he had the expertise.