3 Tips for Optimizing Your Project Plan

Posted by Tom Polen on August 31, 2016

3 Tips for Optimizing Your Project Plan Blog Image

What’s the topic du jour? Optimizing, optimizing and optimizing some more. That’s right – today we’re discussing how to optimize your project plan. What does “optimizing” your project plan mean? It means making it better, and more often than not, accelerating it.

I’ve worked on A LOT of projects where the baseline didn’t meet the commitments. Or, within that first 20% of project execution (where we were still planning for the rest of the job) we were already late. We needed to optimize… and quickly. So what did we do?

We typically employed one of the three most popular methods for optimization:

Method #1: Cut all activity durations by a certain percentage across the board.

I’ll be honest right off the bat, I dislike this method. But it was one I’ve been asked to do many, many times in my career. This “haircut” method involves doing just what it says – cutting all activity durations by a certain percentage across the board to have the project finish quicker. The end result is a project plan that shows on-time delivery – and it’s really easy to employ. However, in reality, you do more harm than good. The first couple times you do this, it’ll most likely work as expected. But before too long, your project team will catch on. And do you know what they’ll start doing? They’ll pad their estimates by the amount of cuts they think you’re going to make – and you’re back to square one.

Method #2: Resource leveling.

Another method for optimizing your project plan is resource leveling. This is a capability found in most planning packages or scheduling software tools that helps you ensure you’re not overcommitting resources or trying to plan resources you don’t actually have access to. The problem with this method is that you usually just end up spreading work out over a longer period of time when you think your resources will be available. But a longer period of time equates to more expenses… and an unhappy project manager. So your resource-leveled schedule might end up getting rejected anyway.

Method #3: The path of least resistance.

Ah, so now we get to the good stuff – the path of least resistance. This method involves accelerating your plan with the fewest number of proposed changes to get the most benefit. Have you ever seen the stories on the news about the computer program that solved a rubix cube in only three or four moves? Computers and software help us do things faster and better because they have the power to try thousands of things in only a short period of time. So method #3 involves using Deltek Acumen (or another similar software tool) to run acceleration scenarios that can pinpoint the handful of sweet spots in your project plan where optimization is possible. Now, it’s not as easy as just loading your project plan and clicking a button. First, we must make the software smart by telling it the places we know we can’t optimize – either because we don’t (and won’t) have the resources or technology to do it better, faster or stronger. In other words, if the software told us to make a change in Process #7, but we know it can’t be done there, that feedback wouldn’t be valuable. So by telling the software where we can’t optimize, it can then look at all of the other places we can – and provide us with a finite area to focus our changes. That’s a whole lot better than making standardized cuts that may or may not work, or getting stuck spinning our wheels in the planning stage with resource leveling.

Software or not, I encourage you to find optimal optimization strategies that work for your business. In my latest Project Planning Uncensored podcast, Optimize. Optimize. Optimize, I dig deeper on each of these theories, and offer tips for making the greatest impact with optimization.

Tune in at http://bit.ly/2be76Ln.