Project Management Institute

Automatic statusing

January 1991

PROJECT MANAGERS

The purpose of ”Concerns of Project Managers” is to share expert knowledge and opinions on topics of general and continuing interest to PM NETwork readers. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the respective author. They are, in no way, to be construed as official positions of PMI on an issue or endorsements, either positive or negative, of any product or service mentioned herein.

Feature Editor: Harvey A. Levine

Condensed and reprinted by permission of the publisher,
from P3 NETWORK, a Newsletter for PRIMAVERA Users, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 1990

Several project management software packages provide the ability to automatically progress your project. It generally works like this: You specify a data date for the current update, and the system assumes that any planned progress, to that date, is actual progress. It may also assume that any planned resource usage or cost has also occurred as planned.

There may be several options, depending on the particular software package. Some will allow you to overwrite any automatic progress entry. But how do you keep track of what the computer entered and what the user entered? Some will provide an option “switch,” for the user to turn automatic statusing on or off. That's not too bad, in the hands of responsible users like yourselves. But used irresponsibly or with other pressures pushing one to minimize the statusing effort, automatic statusing can defeat the very purpose for having the tracking system in the first place.

Put six planners in a room to discuss this and you are likely to get seven opinions. I came across one opinion in a recent Primavera newsletter. I feel that it offers a clear and realistic commentary on project statusing. We asked Joel Koppelman, Primavera's president, for permission to reprint that portion of the P3 NETWORK, below. As is our custom, we are not endorsing any software product, but rather providing a forum for the expression of a view on a subject of interest to project management software users. We welcome further discussion on this topic.

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AUTOMATIC STATUSING IS NOT PROJECT MANAGEMENT

In the last seven years, we have seen the introduction of new terms and concepts in project management circles. Some of this terminology is incorrect and misleading. For example, PERT chart has been used to describe a CPM network. PERT is an entirely different technique for calculating schedules that has nothing to do with charts or network diagrams. But, PERT has become popular in the press.

In a similar way, our industry has seen the advent of automatic statusing. In short, this means that every day or week, all the activities in a network are updated as though progress occurred exactly as planned. While this may be the dream of many planners and managers, it hardly represents reality. In fact, over any prolonged period of time, automatic statusing would certainly lead to increased unemployment among project planners.

What is it that people want? They want the hard work of statusing to go away. Statusing means sifting through lists of activities that should have been accomplished. It means talking to lots of people about what they have or haven't done. It means figuring out who speaks accurately and who speaks with “forked tongue.” It means evaluating how much progress has occurred. It means estimating how long it will take to finish. It means evaluating the results.

Statusing is the process by which the team determines its progress. It finds solutions, workarounds, or additional resources to stay on target. It centers on the communication among all the team members. In fact, one might argue that the statusing process is essential to the successful performance of the project because it forces the team to confront the facts and to react appropriately.

So why has automatic statusing become interesting? Mostly, automatic statusing is a software feature presented as a benefit. In simple planning packages, the concept of a data date does not exist. That's right—the data date is treated as though it is the same as the system date on your computer. Following this logic, when you turn on the computer the network should show you the status of the project as though “elves” were not only busy but were right on target since you last looked at the project plan. The project plan has just been magically advanced on its own.

Of course, not all aspects of automatic statusing are bad. The part of automatic statusing that lets US perform data entry quickly and easily should be adopted. It's the part that hides important information from scrutiny that should be avoided.

Automatic statusing, like artificial intelligence, may be a contradiction in terms. It cuts too wide a swath and may leave havoc in its path. Most of us want technology to simplify our routine, to eliminate repetitive tasks, and to make non-life-threatening decisions. But most of us wouldn't trust artificial intelligence to order dinner for us. nor would we allow automatic statusing to tell us who made progress last week.

Harvey A. Levine, President, Project Knowledge Group, (35 Barney Road, Clifton Park, NY 12065) has been a practitioner of project management for over twenty four years with General Electric Company and is a past Chairman of PMI. Mr. Levine has been Adjunct Professor of Project Management of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N. Y., and is the author of the book Project Management Using Microcomputers as well as several articles.

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