The effects of external events on projects

Project Coordinator, Stratus International Contracting

Introduction

The main goal of a good schedule is to be as realistic as possible and to incorporate every possible detail to maintain its integrity at all times. All schedules are dependent on time and “Time” stops for nothing, yet Events taking place within that Time create bumps and twists in the progress of the project, seemingly insignificant but with a devastating accumulated Effect. To maintain a realistic schedule we need to consider everything that may somehow take place in “Time” and make progress less than planned, conveying the image that “Time” was “not enough,” but in fact less “Effort” was put to the job.

After a project schedule is finally developed from the available data, the planning team goes through the process of integrating other knowledge areas such as human resources, procurement, and risk to refine the schedule to a detailed map of what is to expire in the future of the project. Using resource levelling, risk responses, crashing, and fast tracking, the team uses every possible scenario to reach an accurate representation of what will happen in the future. The final product, a project schedule, will lead the project to its final objectives. Then out of nowhere disaster strikes. A soccer match, Christmas celebration, elections, all happening within the duration of the project, but no one took notice.

These Enterprise Environmental Factors, which consistently elude our attention, come to pass on every project in different forms and shapes known to us as “Events,” local or global, which fall within the project life cycle. Of course, Events such as the rain season, cold weather, and holidays are incorporated into the project schedule depending on their relevance on the tasks and type of project (e.g., the rain season for construction projects), but short Events are neglected. Hence, the following must be considered in the schedule:

  • The decrease or complete stop of work progress of the project scope during the occurrence of the Event, however short lived;
  • Deterioration of the project team competency, performance, and/or progress;
  • The Effects before (pre) Events resulting in a deterioration of the project team’s planned competency, performance, and/or progress;
  • The Effects after (post) Events resulting in a need to increase the project team competency, performance, and/or progress to reach the planned ones;
  • Imbedded extra cost and/or time increase due to participation in Events.

That is why with an optimised schedule, properly evaluated project team, and available resources we still don't show the required progress on certain days coinciding with these Events.

Events therefore have a significant effect on the work progress and must be approached properly to ensure a realistic and optimized schedule. I have not found any relevant or extensive material on this subject; therefore, I rely entirely on observation and experience to try and reach out and grasp the full potential of this subject.

Events and their Effect

“A project is accomplished one step at a time” and so does drags in the schedule. One small drag at a time leads to a very large delay and we either require extra resources to get back on track or finish late.

The aim of this paper is to give an idea of how these small insignificant delays and progress drags will eventually hurt the project and should they not be approached properly, how to identify, isolate, analyze and if possible prepare a proper response to them, to counteract their destructive effect on the project team competency, performance, and/or progress.

The reason these Events are commonly missed in a project or neglected as the case might be, is that their effect is considered negligible or they are taken for granted at planning time but accumulatively and on rare occasions their significance create a more than expected drag in the project work progress. Such was the case in the 2008 World Cup Series in Argentina when Spain became the champion and the entire country shutdown against the government declaration that there will be no holiday.

Events Definition

An Event therefore is any occurrence in time that is certain to happen, but may have different outcomes that will affect the project team competency, performance, and/or progress. Events have the following qualities:

  • Events have a definite calendar date in which they will occur;
  • Events have a definite location;
  • Events affect certain groups affiliated to them;
  • Events have different outcomes related to the project;
  • Events affect only the project team that participates in them;
  • Events will result in a decrease or complete stop in work progress of team members.

The most significant characteristic of an Event is its uncertain effect on the project team, which separates it from a regular occurrence and having a definite date distinguishes it from being a Risk. Events may even affect part of the project team related to that Event (e.g., significance of Christmas for Christians only). Therefore, the effect of the Event on part of a project team in different locations and/or ethnic groups may be used as an opportunity or result in a threat depending on how it is approached. Hence, Events may have group relevance in the sense that they will affect only those related to that particular Event and in some cases even one person of significant importance. The birth of a child of one of the stakeholders is an Event, whereas death in the family is a complete Risk.

Events Criteria

Events will have different effects depending but not limited to:

  • Duration of the Event;
  • Location in which the Event will take place;
  • Ethnic groups in the projec affiliated to the Event;
  • Outcome of the Event;
  • Type of Event;
  • Type of Participation of project team members in the Event;
  • Distance of Event Location to Project Site;
  • Importance of Event to affiliated group.

An Event therefore is any certain occurrence in Time that its outcome is unknown yet anticipated, and will have its effect on the project team or part of it resulting in a decrease of competency, performance, and/or progress depending on the location, type, outcome and participation of the related team.

Types of Events

Events have different types producing different Effects on projects. Some of these distinctions are as follows:

  • Local/Global—Local Events are those that invariably only be addressed in the locality of the project and the significant is lost the farther it gets from the project site. Global, however, will affect differently in different locations but affects all projects everywhere by its global significance.
  • Recurring Events—One of the most common Events that the planning team must take into consideration and may easily be missed is recurring Events that we take for granted. These Events are not very effective on the schedule and are usually not taken seriously, or so it seems until the effects are analysed and accumulated. Events such as weekends, holidays, and even annual tax audits have their hidden effect on project work progress but are usually neglected and although the project team may not actively participate in these Events, the effects nevertheless will affect them.
  • Religious—Affecting only those of a selected religion within the project team.
  • Sports—Affecting those affiliated to sports and fans that follow sports events incessantly. These Events usually are short lived but have unknown outcomes.
  • Personal Events—Some Events can even be named personal in the sense that they are related to one person of importance in the project team such as the project manager. Newborn babies, anniversaries, and birthdays are small occasions that require attention and if neglected by the team member, their personal life will eventually affect their work. In this case the planning team must take into consideration the project team's personal information, and any relevance to project progress taken seriously.
  • Environmental—Events signifying the change in environmental elements such as climatic situations, rain, heat, cold or anything that may change the environment of the project, affecting the project team workable conditions.
  • Organizational—Organizational annual conditions such as fiscal year bookkeeping and tax will have an effect on part of the operation or projects of the organization resulting in a change in human resources or resources available to project teams, thereof changing their working conditions. Some of these are compensated by the organization but many small ones are not.

In some cases Events might be combinations of more than one type.

Effect of Events

Any Event that takes place within the project life cycle that has some relation to the project team, or part of it will have an Effect on their work competency, performance, and/or progress. These Effects are different pre-Event, at the Event, and post-Event. Pre-Event is usually whatever effort the team member(s) will put in preparation to stop work and participate in the Event, whether it is closing work or preparing for the Event itself, in the Time set for the actual work. At the Event duration the team member(s) will stop work completely, therefore showing no progress whatsoever until the Event comes to an end or a definite conclusion. Post-Event and getting back to work the team member(s) will begin the process of reinitiating the work progress that will not for some time come to full competency or performance previously evaluated for the team member(s).

The Effect therefore is a decrease of competency, performance, and/or progress from the team member(s) up until the start of the Event or participation of the team member(s) in the Event, where it stops completely, and an increase of competency, performance, and/or progress, after the Event is concluded and returning to full performance.

Size or Duration of an Event vs. the Effect of an Event

The size of an Event can only be measured by its duration in which the project team or part of the team will stop working to participate in the Event. The effect though extends beyond this time depending on the significance of the Event relative to the criteria mentioned before and will last longer than the Event itself following a progressive curve starting before and finishing after the actual Event duration.

Events will result in different outcomes depending on their relevance to the project rather than their size. For example, a two-hour soccer match between Germany and Italy did not affect any project in the United States but the outcome crippled Rome for 24 hours in 1982 World Cup series in Spain. But a three-day New Year's Eve holiday has a much less devastating and unpredictable outcome.

Location-related Events such as sports and elections will have a bigger effect the closer they are to the project site. The members related to these Events not only find themselves physically able to participate in the Event but also prepare for it, therefore giving the entire effect a wider range than its actual duration.

Social groups or members of the project team that relate to an Event are not the only ones affected but also they might be more susceptible to degradation of their competency than those not related. Therefore, although non-Christians might participate in a Christmas celebration, they might be easily convinced not to. Also not everyone is a soccer fan therefore those who are must be identified.

The outcome of the Event is not always predictable. In case of sports it is a fifty-fifty chance and in case of celebrations it might always take more than planned. Nevertheless although an outcome can always be assessed, the effect on the Event participants may differ in their physical readiness to work after the Event (e.g., heart attacks have been observed after sports Events).

The type of response to an Event may change its effects on the project. A sports Event can easily be banned from participation, but religious Events may border on the sacrilegious, which may not have a very desirable effect on the project if the team decides to leave the project or worse start a rally against it.

Type of participation of the members related to the Event may help in how to assess the Event, its Effect, and the responses prepared for the situation. A local Event with physical participation may not only be quite impossible to avoid but may have external effects not related to the project team per se, but non-local Events, which participation will be non-physical such as broadcasted or internally done on site may be controlled and have a smaller effect on the project.

A local Event, with a large participating group, and a not-too-good outcome, with the team members participating physically, will have a shattering effect even if the Event itself takes two hours, and the same Event on a project site far from the location of the Event, with favourable outcome, and team members not altogether related to the Event, will have a small effect or none at all. The degree of importance given such Events is completely within the expertise of the planning team.

Pre and Post Effects of Events

Also the Events have a pr-e and post-effect on the Time segment they happen in, and although during the duration of the Event the progress related to the team members is 0%, the progress before and after the Event is not necessarily 100%, and will decrease and increase according to the importance of the Event and the criteria mentioned.

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 1

In some cases the Event and progress deficiency is not significant in itself but the accumulative amount of these degradations result in a very significant delay. Weekends, for instance, are a one-and-half-days stop in the work progress, but happen every week. On Saturdays, the team will stop project-related work to prepare for the weekend, such as closing files, filling documents, and next week's agenda. On Monday, the team starts with reviewing a to-do list, open communication lines, and coordinating with other team members before starting the actual work set in the schedule. If all this is only one hour per week then in a six-month project with no other Events the project is 26 hours delayed, which is more than three days. (See Exhibit 1.)

For more extended holidays or Events with larger member participation, this could accumulate to a very large amount, and shows that a simple dismissal of an obvious Event taken for granted could have drastic effects on a project.

Effects on Time

“Time is a dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future, and also the measure of durations of events and the intervals between them. Time has long been a major subject of study in religion, philosophy, and science, but defining it in a manner applicable to all fields without circularity has consistently eluded scholars.” (Wikipedia)

No one can define Time, even Einstein was at a loss of words, but we use it to build our schedule “building blocks” on. Time, a straight, continuous line leading into the future of our project, is always horizontal, maybe because we consider the horizon unlimited and ever not-ending. Therefore the first thing we do, is to draw that straight, horizontal line with the arrow at the end signifying unlimited extension into the future, and put the word “Time” under it.

But this does not give us unlimited time for projects. We have to work on a limited length of Time and therefore any unseen problem will cause the Efforts set for that Time less than expected.

The Effect of Events on Time

Although essentially Time does not shorten or lengthen, as the case might be, the progress associated in that Time makes it seem shorter or longer. Therefore, when a project hits major delays, the main reason is attributed to “Not enough Time” which is actually “Not enough Effort” (see Exhibit 2). Nevertheless, the amount of Time set for a project was originally calculated for all eventualities, even Risks.

Exhibit 2

Exhibit 2

Time is straight and continuous; therefore, what changes in this straight road of our schedule are the bumps and twists created by Events taking place within that Time. If we imagine a road without bumps and a car riding on that road with constant speed, it is predictable that the car will travel at equal amounts of distance at equal segments of Time. On the other hand, if there are bumps in the road that slows down the car, then we do not have equal distances to equal segments of Time.

Bumps in the Road of Time

Now let's take a Timeline and put our progress percentage attributed to equal segments of time such as days, and then consider all of them 100% of that particular day. If an Event should take place in a particular day stopping work of even part of the project team for a short time in that day, the percentage will be less than 100% resulting in a less than predicted progress. As if every Event creates a bump in the previously smooth road of Time, thus we have a bumpy road made of Events for our taskforce to ride on. Of course we could put more overtime, resources, and/or team members, but if it is predicted it will be planed and expected, but otherwise a failure to accomplish the project objectives.

Overall the straight line into the future of the project holds numerous bumps and twists that should be considered by the planning team, and the smooth road of Time we always took for granted is not as smooth as we always wanted to be. (See Exhibit 3.)

Exhibit 3

Exhibit 3

Responses to the Effects of Events

Risks vs. Events

Risk is an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has an effect on at least one project objective. Objectives can include scope, schedule, cost, and quality (PMI, 2008).

Events, on the other hand, are not uncertain and will take place in the future. They will only affect project team related objectives that include scope, schedule, or quality, but not those already available. For instance, material already stored will not be affected, but those in delivery will be. Risks, on the other hand, may affect both (e.g., an earthquake may strike both delivery truck and/or storage).

Therefore an Event is basically a Risk waiting to happen at a definite time. That is why responses to an Event situation can follow Risk strategic responses.

Approaching Events

Like every problem it's necessary to first isolate the cause, analyze, and propose a solution. In this case, the problem is the effect of an Event in the project life cycle. Unlike Risks, Events have a certain date that can be set as a milestone in the schedule, but an uncertain outcome depending on the type of Event, location, and participation of the relevant members of the project team.

The project team must:

  • Isolate the Events occurring in a project life cycle;
  • Identify the group affiliated/participating in the Event;
  • Predict the probable outcomes of the Event;
  • Calculate the Effect of different outcomes on the project team and work progress;
  • Propose responses;
  • Analyse response outcomes;
  • Calculate required resources, manpower, and/or overtime to compensate for the lost progress.

Preparing for Events

An extensive Events Calendar must be prepared by the planning team for integration into the schedule. This can be done by:

  • Gathering dates and duration of different Events;
  • Preparing a complete description of the Events;
  • Identifying ethnic groups the Event will address;
  • Finding the location of the Events and their proximity to the project site;
  • Proposing ways to participate in the Events;
  • Predicting possible outcomes of the Events;
  • Preparing description of possible effect and outcomes of the Events from previous projects;
  • Analysing possible pre- and post-effects of the Events.

The Event Calendar needs to be updated before and during planning a project and after closure. This can be done by updating:

  • Duration of the Events taken place;
  • Analytic assessment and notes of those Events;
  • Different outcome predictions relative to the Event;
  • Pre- and post-effects observed in the Event;
  • Groups related to the Event even when not affiliated to the Event;
  • Ways to participate in an Event;
  • Proposed responses and their effect in the outcome;
  • Other information giving more insight to the Events to come.

Updating an Events Calendar can be done by using:

  • Lessons Learned from Previous projects;
  • Available local calendars;
  • Expert Judgment;
  • Conducting meetings with local and knowledgeable personnel;
  • Extensive personal information.

Of course, the amount of detail used from the Events Calendar depends on the required schedule.

Risk Responses for Events

Like every scope of work there is always more than one way to do the job. Any Event is like a scope of work that the planning team has to deal with, but like quality, Events have no deliverable, do not create progress, is inevitable, and will cost the project if neglected. Events like tasks have duration, and a probable and desirable outcome. The time and care the planning team puts into planning them will bring it to a more effective outcome.

Commonly, Risk strategic responses can be used in case of Events:

  • Avoid assigning work to Event-affiliated groups by beginning their work after the Event or finishing their work before the Event.
  • Transfer some of the Effects to contractors and outsource part of the works.
  • Mitigate by planning some kind of participation that will cause less damage.
  • Accept the consequences of the Event by adding it to the non-working portion of the schedule.

Other Responses to Events

The overall responses to the Events in a project can be as diverse as the Events itself and no single response could be associated with an Event even when the same Event takes place. But apart from the above-mentioned strategies the following could also be considered:

  • Do not confront participation but try to control the situation to the best outcome.
  • Inform and be informed of the consequences of an Event.
  • Do not neglect as insignificant or take for granted any Event, or its Effects before and after the Event.
  • Anticipate the outcome of an Event and prepare for any eventuality.

Conclusion

Time is the basis of all schedules and it stops for nothing, and what we accomplish in Time brings us closer to our objectives; therefore, the effort we put to achieve those objectives is what counts. When Effort spent in Time is degraded by the Effects of Events residing in that Time then it is best to set our minds on responding to these Events as a negative impact on our Efforts, which are a result of the our competency and performance and thus our progress that brings us closer to our objectives. To do this we have to assume that although “time is short,” it is not Time that has different lengths, but forces involved that make our Efforts spent in that time decrease, resulting in a less than planned work progress, in respect to the time set to do it.

The Effects of these Local or Global Events as Enterprise Environmental Factors within the project lifecycle are the forces creating these impressions, and although the Effects of these Events seem negligible, the accumulated amount, can result in a major delay. In some cases though the Event itself is short-lived but the after-effects will linger for a long time.

To compensate for the Effects of these Events, strategic responses should be taken. Since these Events take different shapes and sizes in different locations and have varying importance to different ethnic groups, no common or prepared response can be formulated for them, but left to the experience of the planning team for that specific project. Since these Events are very much like Risks with a known date, risk response strategies could be used to respond to these Events as well.

The pre- and post-Effects, much like tremors before and after an earthquake, also result in a deterioration of competency that extend beyond the duration of the actual Event, and in a slowdown-speedup Effect much like bumps in the road will slow down the progress of the project vehicle.

Responding to Events like many other knowledge processes like Quality and Risk do not add or produce project deliverables but help the management team prevent waste of time and resources. Thus, with foresight, the planning team can develop an accurate schedule by which the project manager can predict the team work competency, performance, and progress variance and compensate for it.

No references were used in this paper directly yet the amount of information gathered through the years by the author is unavailable publicly. The information gathered through the Internet cannot be referenced, but the books and projects used therein are as follows:

Books

Project Management Institute. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® guide – 4th edition). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Projects

Ramshir, C.T. Co. (1998-2000). South Pars Gas Field Development Phases 2&3. Asaluyeh, Iran.

Emco Iran Consultants. (2005-2006). Ekbatan Entertainment Complex. Tehran, Iran.

Emco Iran Consultants. (2010). Health and Wellness City Design. Tehran, Iran.

Wikipedia

Time. (2013). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved March 9, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2013 Mohammad Ali Niroomand Rad
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Istanbul, Turkey

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