The nature of the organizational structures for project management and the one time nature of the projects create a difficult situation for the project manager. The project manager has less than full authority over the project, being in the position of bargaining for resources and their timing with functional managers. At the same time, the uniqueness of each project creates problems that often cannot be foreseen. These problems commonly result in schedule slippage, re-planning and the possible reallocation of resources in order to maintain the project completion schedule.
If the project manager focuses his or her attention on one critical area to the neglect of other important areas, the secondary areas may become critical problems. In short, the project manager must cope with short deadlines, changing situations, rapid fire decision making, incomplete information, and skimpy authority. The position has all the potential for being one of simply “putting out fire”. The issues then are to devise means for remaining in control.
Thanhain and Wilemon (1975) report on interviews with 100 project managers concerning the primary sources of conflict during a project. The results indicate the following sources of conflict in three broad phases of a project.
1. Planning Stage: Priorities, the required activities, and their sequencing
2. Buildup Stage: Priorities, with the scheduling of activities becoming very important.
3. Execution: Scheduling of activities is the primary source of conflict, with the issues concerning the trade off of the use of resources versus time performance also being very important.
The foregoing typical issues focus on problems of planning, scheduling and controlling activities. For project managers to remain in control, they need mechanisms that provide a clear logic for planning, a detailed schedule that can be easily updated for all activities, and mechanisms for resource trade-offs. The network planning and scheduling methods discussed in this article meet these special needs.
Implications for the Manager:
Large scale projects present managers with unique problems. The managerial issues are rather different from those of the typical manufacturing system. The project manager’s problems center on the detailed schedule of activities and a preoccupation with the completion dates of activities, resource budgets, and the project completion date.
The position of project manager requires a particular “breed of cat” A project manager must be someone who can deal with changing deadlines, immediate decisions, and skimpy information, all in a general environment of divided authority. The managerial situation requires special concepts and techniques and network planning and control systems are the best available today.
Survey of top 400 construction firms revealed over 80 percent of the 235 respondents were using network planning methods. Thus, it seems clear that many managers have recognized the practical value of network methods; they are not simply theoretical concepts.
Mangers need to be involved in formulating the initial network. Perhaps a majority of the benefits of network methods comes at the planning stage. Given the network and time estimates, managers can have a number of computer runs made to assess alternate plans that involve cost/time trade-offs and resource smoothing. This interaction between the manager and the network model can have enormous benefits.
The control phases of network methods are the most costly. Smaller projects may not justify the cost of obtaining updated information and the periodic rescheduling needed for control. Davis also reported that the primary use of network methods in the construction industry was for project planning rather than for control.