Reengineering? Who me?...
Concerns of Project Managers
Paul Lustig, PMP City of Austin, Austin, Texas
Reprinted from PMI Scope, Austin Chapter Newsletter August 1993.
I know what you are probably thinking … “I know that I've seen the word before, but I think that it is for engineer-types, not project management-types.” …or “I know that it has something to do with Total Quality Management (TQM), you know, how companies should work better in order to do better, and that's all I need to know.” … or, “I've heard that it is important for companies to re-engineer their processes—I know mine's a real mess—but until my company gets serious, there's nothing that I can do.”
But… before you skip the rest of this article, I'd like to share something with you that happened to me a couple of weeks ago that has to do with reengineering. A quick definition of reengineering: making an objective evaluation of an existing process or system with the goal of changing it to make it more streamlined, efficient, and productive.
Now, back to the story. You see, I have had this recurring weekly project from early spring to late fall for the past 30 or so years. On this project, in addition to being the project manager, I am the contractor, an expert in performing this job.
Like any expert, I have had years of training and experience in performing this job, which has allowed me to develop a system that is virtually beyond reproach.
By now, you might have guessed that my project is mowing the yard.
As the project manager, I am responsible for making sure that the job is done on time, within the budget, while maintaining the specified quality. To accomplish this, I continually identify the scope of the project, and communicate the status to my client (wife). Occasionally, I had to either manage human resources (my daughter) to pick up miscellaneous items in the yard, or to negotiate with other contractors (boys in the neighborhood) to mow in my absence. In determining the schedule, I had to evaluate the risk of postponing or delaying the job.
As the contractor, I have always had the enviable position of being almost a sole source for this type of work as no one else in my household seemed to be bidding against me. This sole-source position gave me ample opportunity to perfect the system by mowing the yards at several different residences in different climates throughout the last 30 years.
One day a couple of weeks ago, I started to work on this particular project when my wife offered to help me out by edging the walk and driveway and trimming around the fences, trees and planters. In order to not hurt her feelings, I reluctantly accepted her offer. Being 100 degrees outside helped this decision.
I say “reluctantly accepted” because she was proposing a change to my system of mowing the yard. It didn't need changing because it was already a good system: I cut the grass first, and then edged and trimmed afterwards. Now, to be fully honest, I had noticed a year or so ago that my system wasn't working quite as good as it previously had. But I was sure that it wasn't due to my system.
My wife, on the other hand, was proposing that she edge and trim first, and then I would do the mowing. She was going to really mess up my system, but, after all, it was 100 degrees, and I was anxious to get back into the air conditioning.
About ten minutes or so after she started edging and trimming, I started mowing. I was surprised to find out that it really did work pretty good! But, I told myself that the real test would come in the back yard where most of the freeform planters, trees, and fences are. Surprisingly, it worked even better there!
Basically, what I had experienced was the reengineering of a system.
But, realistically, it was probably just due to the heat, or something. Although my system wasn't bad after all, I experimented with the new system on my new project the next week— just to make sure. It worked even better than I had thought it would. It was then, as I was mowing, that I realized the difficulty that our American companies are having in today's environment. It's tough to change!
The project manager in me proceeded to evaluate the results of this experiment against the sections of the PMBOK; The analysis revealed the following improvements to the original system:
Scope: The scope actually stayed the same: mowing the front and back yard and edging the drivewayand sidewalk.
Contracts: This section really didn't change on this project.
Time: The new system finished 15 minutes earlier than the previous system would have.
Cost: All other factors being equal, less time would mean less fuel consumed, which would result in a lower cost.
Risk: Less risk was experienced in the mower wheels catching and messing up the redwood or plastic edging.
Quality: The mower picked up the excess grass and weeds that had been edged and trimmed. Normally, this material is left on the yard.
Communication: listening to, and taking the suggestion of another family member improved communications.
Human Resource: Since I was receptive to listening to another method, the relationship was strengthened.
It became apparent that my lawn-mowing environment had changed during the last few years. Before, due to company moves, we didn't stay m a house long enough to install planters, etc.
But, we have been in our present house long enough to have installed several free-form planters during the last year or so, all of which are more difficult to mow around.
Even though the environment had changed, my system really hadn't. I was doing a different job the same way.
Does that sound familiar? We have all heard quotes like, “We've never done it like that before!”, or “That's not the way we do it around here!” No matter how we phrase it, we can never get better if we don't change!
A system as seemingly simple as mowing the yard showed me very clearly that no matter how much of an expert you think you are on a subject—no matter who suggests a different approach to your system—you may very well benefit from reengineering!
In my case, it was difficult-but I got back into the air conditioning 15 minutes sooner! If you ask me whether or not reengineering is worth it— You bet it is!! ❏
Paul D. Lustig, PMP, is the supervisor of the Cost and Scheduling Group in the City of Austin Texas' Electric Utility Department. He has a BS. in industrial technology from Pittsburg State University Pittsburg, Kansas. He has 20 years of supervisory experience on project management teams in the petrochemical, oil production, nuclear and electric utility industries. He is currently involved with the IMPACTproject (Integrated Methodology for Planning and Control Techniques), the reengineering of project management for the Utility.
Paul was a charter officer of the Austin PMI Chapter and is its 1994 chapter President. He is a certified PMP and has been inducted into Who's Who Worldwide. He was a presenter at the PM ’93 Seminar/Symposium and the 1993 Primavera User's Conference. Paul is also a long-time member of the American Association of Cost Engineers.
PMNETwork • February 1994