Cycle Times and the Monitor and Control Loop

In my last blog: Project Multi-tasking: the Multi-Tasking Fallacy” I discussed the need to allocate chunks of time to each task you are working on – and to each project you are managing.

Good Project Control

The post was primarily about managing more than one project in parallel.  At the end of that post, I commented that you still need to switch from one project to another fast enough to maintain good project control over each.  This is a real challenge – dwelling long enough to stay efficient and make a contribution; yet switching fast enough to keep control of each.

No wonder, as I said in that post, that the question of managing multiple projects is one of the commonest questions I get asked.

Losing Control

In that earlier blog, I promised to show why rapid-enough switching is necessary and how to gauge how frequently you need to switch to maintain good control.  First the “why?

When we are delivering a project, we need to monitor what is going on, assess deviations from our plan, and then intervene to nudge our project back on plan.  We do this when we shift priorities, re-allocate resources, re-schedule tasks or a hundred other things that control our project’s progress.  Then we take note of the impact of our intervention.  This is the “Monitor and Control Loop.”

The longer we leave between cycles, the greater the deviation from plan.  The greater the deviation from plan, the bigger, and riskier, the intervention that is needed.  At some point, the chance of your intervention restoring your delivery to schedule will fall too low.  If you switch to another project while this one is still off-plan, then, by the time you return to it again, the deviation will grow even more.

Your Project will Skid out of Control

Like a car skidding out of control, it will get worse at every turn and you will eventually lose the ability to control your project.

Boyd’s OODA Loop

One of the most valuable concepts I know of was introduced to me six years ago by a recently ex-British Army officer on one of my courses.  He told me about a model officers are taught in Britain, the US and, doubtless, many other countries.  Colonel John Boyd of the US Army Air Force originated the OODA loop to describe how to win the upper hand in combat situations.  You will find many discussions on the web – mostly in a military context.

To my knowledge, only one published book describes the OODA Loop in a management context: “The Management Models Pocketbook”.  I will declare an interest here; I wrote it!  However, I have also made a short article I wrote for Training Journal available to download from my website, here.

Applying the OODA Loop idea to our Monitor and Control Loop, Boyd would say that if you can go around the loop faster than your enemy does, you will feel as if your enemy is moving in slow motion and you will have control.  In our context, the enemy is the Shift that Happens in your project.

Project Cycle Times

Your task is therefore to assess the characteristic cycle time of your project.  If things happen slowly, then you can monitor and control at a sedate pace, revisiting your project less frequently.  But if things change quickly on your project, and it produces several deliverables or change requests a day, then you will be caught out if you monitor once a day.  Some projects are create constant change and, for those, monitoring and control must be continuous – a full time job.

The “so what?”

There is no such thing as an absentee project manager:

Absence = not managing your project

Assess how fast things happen and monitor progress frequently enough to spot problems while they are small.  If not; you will not have control of your project.

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