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Planning and Scheduling for Project Certainty: What Savvy PMs are Doing Now

 

Originally aired on 4/21/2022

58 Minute Watch Time

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Fiona McTavish:

Well, welcome everyone. My name is Fiona McTavish, and I’m the enterprise PMO manager for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and I’m also a New South Wales Counselor for the Australian Institute of Project Management. We’re here today with a panel of seasoned experts in the project management industry.
This is a virtual event and it is a partnership between InEight and the Australian Institute of Project Management. And we’re excited to see their members and stakeholders involved in the session today. I would also like to extend our respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, including those present today, and value the importance of their ongoing connection to land, sea, sky and community. And we pay our deepest respects to elders, past, present and emerging.
Just a couple of reminders before we get started. You can let us know your questions here by using the chat box, can use this feature to chat with other participants, speakers or leave any comments. You can ask us your questions at any time, and we’ll be sure to address them at the end of the webinar. The chat and the questions are located in the same box on the right hand side of your screen. And you can toggle between them by clicking on the icons at the top. And don’t forget to rate the webinar and give us feedback. You can rate the webinar anytime using the heart scale above in the broadcast screen.
Just a reminder that today’s session is also being recorded.
So the focus of today’s session is around what savvy PMs are doing today when it comes to planning and scheduling to ensure project delivery and success. There are many definitions of planning and scheduling, but the Project Management Institute has defined planning and scheduling as the yin and yang of managing a project. And the panel will explore this today, and many other key themes, which will help PMs keep ahead of the game. So now I’d like to ask the expert panel to introduce themselves. So let me just start off with Ali and then we’ll go to Mark. So Ali, could you introduce yourself?
Ali Ammar: Sure. Thanks Fiona. Hi everyone. I’m Ali Ammar coming to you from Melbourne, Australia. I’m a Senior Solution Engineer with InEight. I’ve been in the project management industry for over 15 years, delivering project controls technology, and services. Today, very excited to be here with Fiona and Mark discussing my favorite topic around planning and scheduling to achieve project certainty. I’ll hand over to Mark.
Mark Yong:

Thank you, Ali. Thank you, Fiona. Before I begin, I’d like to also acknowledge that I’m currently on the land of the Wangal people of the Eora nation, and I’d like to further acknowledge the traditional owners of the country in which you are on. And I’d also like to thank AIPM and InEight for organizing this event.
Ali and I have and Fiona had many wonderful, interesting conversations, and we hope you enjoy the presentation today. Bit of background from me, I’ve been working in the engineering construction space for close to 20 years now, working with consultants, owners, tier one contractors, all the way to startups. What I’m currently doing is, I’m the Co-Founder and Managing Director of [inaudible]. And what we do is we support organizations through their PMO, and project control support, and provide a [inaudible] services. So, really looking forward to this conversation with Ali, under the guidance of Fiona.
Fiona McTavish:

Great, thank you. So let’s get started with some interesting stats to kick us off. A report by McKinsey states that 98% of megaprojects face cost schedule overruns or delays. Some of the reasons behind this are flawed performance management, insufficient risk management, missed connections, lack of planning, ultimately leading to loss of control, missed deadlines, delayed phase completions and penalties, payment delays, erosion of stakeholder trust, and of course with public projects, poor justification for the use of taxpayer money. A PWC report makes a similar comment around this, that capital projects that come in under budget are the exception and not the rules.
So given the definition of the Project Management Institute that says that planning and scheduling are the yin and yang of managing a project, Ali, I’d like to go to you and say, what does that mean? And how would you define the two processes that are distinct, but inseparable, for managing successful projects?
Ali Ammar:

Fiona, so planning in simple terms, it’s all about strategy. So a strategy that project managers devise and formulate to not just plan the scope of the project in its entirety, but also other factors like cost, time and quality. And then comes the balancing act of these constraints. Scheduling on the other hand is more of a tactical approach where, where project managers are determining the right time to align their resources, schedule the timeline to deliver the project efficiently. And we see an interesting connection between these two processes that they’re tightly interlinked and iterative in nature, because as the project goes through a project life cycle, they’re progressively elaborated, and most importantly, communicated to the stakeholders. So, that’s the summary.
Fiona McTavish:

Great. Thanks, Ali. And, Mark, why is scheduling important in project management?
Mark Yong:

Before I cover scheduling, I might just extend that I think is why planning scheduling is important to project management. And the reason I say that is as Ali said, is that they’re interlinked. They’re like the different side of the same coin. And PMI have indicated, they’re the yin and yang. You can’t have one without the other. So really, the importance of scheduling obviously is it really helps to clarify the plan that’s been set up. Clarify the program, sets out all the details, and it [inaudible] communication tool, and the basis by which all projects should be measuring their progress against. Obviously we want understanding where we are, we want the scheduling, we want know what the objectives are, we want know what we need to do by when, and fundamentally that will put projects at risk.
Fiona McTavish:

Great. So I think you’ve touched on some areas about why scheduling is important. Would you just like to elaborate on that? I mean, scheduling can fit into the detail or the bigger picture, but why is it so important in project management?
Mark Yong:

Well, I think it helps you to determine how best to utilize your resources. We want a detailed schedule, we [inaudible] with activities. Like I said before, it will, as a user and as an owner, it’ll be difficult for us to understand what we need to do when and why. And a detailed schedule and a detailed plan will help us communicate to stakeholders. It will help us for the stakeholders to understand why we are doing things in a particular order and why timeframes are the way they are. And a well-built schedule will be able to be articulated, and defended, and really help in the change management journey, and help in the stakeholder management journey for your project.
Fiona McTavish:

So given that the planning is more about the big picture, does it make it slightly more important than scheduling, or would you say, as you mentioned, they’re two sides of the same coin?
Mark Yong: Definitely not. I think if you think about a feudal battle, the strategy extremely important. Without a good strategy, you can’t achieve your objective. At the same time, the tactics are important because if you cannot execute the strategy well, then it doesn’t matter how wonderful strategy you have, or great, or articulate your strategy is, it’s about executing the details well. And the scheduling aspect of planning scheduling is about realizing the goals one step at a time.
Fiona McTavish:

Great. So Ali, maybe you can comment more on something we’ve been hearing about, which is lean scheduling. It might be a concept that many of our audience here are not familiar with.
Ali Ammar:

Great point, Fiona. We often hear lean scheduling. It is actually a practice that is often done out of frustration, or out of planning fatigue that most project managers often face, which is they themselves find struggling at what level of project schedules should they be the detailing. And sometimes that results in an unrealistic project schedule, and certainly the resources executing the work, they feel disconnected with the schedule, since they haven’t committed to that project plan.
So lean scheduling really bridges that gap. It’s used as a planning approach by project managers today to handle the dynamic nature of executing work or to deliver the project. And this basically means that project managers will still develop the project plan, a master schedule within the confines of key deliverables, key milestones, but where lean scheduling comes into play, is that weekly planning is actually done by the frontline delivery team who are actually doing the work and executing the work. And this really brings about our traditional approach of critical path method to be combined with lean scheduling, and presents a really unique for project managers to align with their project teams, and to have a consensus on the schedule that they’re dealing with, resulting in better project certainty.
Mark Yong:

If I can just add to that, Fiona, I would say one of the great benefit of lean scheduling is it’s not just the internal project team that benefit from that, but by involving subcontractors, and consultants into the process, you can really ensure that everyone is on the same page. What we often do is the subcontractors and the [inaudible], and the owners are sitting on their own view of the world, but lean scheduling really gives the opportunity for every to completely agree what we’re going to do this week, and next week, and the following week.
Fiona McTavish:

Great. Sounds like a very tailored approach for everyone involved. So I’d like to get your thoughts now on the benefits of planning and scheduling. And we’ll go first to Ali, and then, Mark, over to you. So if you could just let us know some of the benefits that you’re or thinking about for doing planning and scheduling well.
Ali Ammar:

So first of all, Fiona, I would like to mention that optimizing resources is a key benefit of planning and scheduling. That right now in our industry, what we are seeing is the main concern is increasing cost of labor and materials globally. And so we have to find more efficient ways to reduce our cost and deliver projects on time. And the only way to achieve that is by being efficient at planning and optimizing the resources in the right manner.
And secondly, what we see is having timely visibility, because project managers often need to make decisions really quickly and act swiftly on the project. So having that timely visibility on what’s happening, that’s an important factor, and your project schedule becomes that mechanism of helping and informing all the key stakeholders informed on the project in a timely manner.
Fiona McTavish:

Mark, over to you.
Mark Yong:

Yes, thanks. And I think Ali’s point of timely visibility, I think that’s a really, really important point. And I think perhaps what is often expected, but isn’t stated, and should be considered more, is that clarity of what the objective and the goals at each stage of the project is, and what to understand what is the next step and the step after, and the pathway in which we can achieve the project objective through the WBS, through the plan, through the schedule. And that cannot be understated, and it’s often forgotten when projects start off and they don’t put in the effort to create the initial plan, and the initial schedule, it is often many people say, “We don’t have time to plan.” Well, if you don’t have time to plan, how do you know what your steps are? And how long will you know how long [inaudible] which each activity’s going to take and what you do. And by extension of that is how will you actually communicate with stakeholders on where you are? Are you on track, or are you behind? So, the planning and scheduling is the enabler for this to occur. It allows you to identify where you want to go. It helps you relate that back to potential risks that would compromise your objectives, and it allows you to start developing scenarios to mitigate those risks.
Fiona McTavish:

Great, thanks Mark. And I guess that moves us into the last couple of years we’ve had, which have been managing uncertainty and risk at an unprecedented scale. And we know in the pre COVID world, that the reports from the construction productivity imperative showed that only 2% come in on time of these projects, on time, budget, and to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. And so there’s no secret that it’s challenging to ensure project confidence within the capital construction industry. Just wondering with the continuing evolution of COVID 19 that’s creating uncertainty in our work and private lives, we are all having to adjust to this new normal that’s still changing. So it forces us to adjust all of our schedules to try and keep them on track and keep everyone informed. But I’m just wondering when the schedule goes off track, how do you get it back on track? And are there any processes or tips you can offer the audience with how to manage that process and communicate to your stakeholders that a change is happening or going to happen? I’ll go to Ali first.
Ali Ammar:

And so on that when a schedule goes off track, great point, Fiona, I think what most audience would agree with is that setting clear expectations with the owner is one of the key priorities that everyone should try to achieve, and aligning on a project schedule with the key project stakeholders. But beyond that, it’s also important that we should start to realize and manage our risks and plan unforeseen conditions in the context of our project plans, in the context of our project schedules, and really assess those risks at every a stage of the project life cycle. Because it’s important to recognize these early warning signs that are presented by technology, and technology is the enabler, it should help and support project managers in recognizing those early warning indicators. And then you basically assess this situation and set a plan in motion to mitigate and get it back on track. So it’s a combination of a variety of those factors. Your thoughts, Mark.
Mark Yong:

I agree completely, and myself, I just go back to the fundamentals. There’s obviously, if you have a plan, the first most important thing is to ensure that you have a plan that you can believe in. If you don’t believe in the plan and your team doesn’t believe in the plan, you are never going to be able to realize and meet that plan. And the second point is, ensure that your plan, and your schedule is detailed enough so that you can explain to your stakeholders why the timeframes are, what the timeframes are, and the duration are and why that things take a certain amount of time. Because great activities that Ali’s mentioned, in terms of risk assessments and those sort of things, really relies on the fact that your plan is accurate, and it’s at the right level of detail.
Probably the second other point, which I can’t emphasize enough is to actually update your schedule because how do you know that you’ve gone off, if you don’t update your schedule? And now this might seem self-evident, but even in the last 12 months, I’ve been engaged by multiple clients who have various issues, and I’ve been engaged in the middle of their project, and they asked me to help them recover their schedule, and they haven’t updated their schedule. And so if you don’t update your schedule, you can’t, it’s a real struggle to know whether you’re on track or off track, and if you’re off track, what to do to recover it.
And from then on, then I think after that, it’s really very much what Ali said. It’s really all about looking at the details, looking, assessing the risks, and challenging yourself to work through those risks, and doing scenario models on how to evolve your plan.
Fiona McTavish:

Great. Thank you. I’m going to throw a bit of an ad hoc question in. What do you think of the temptation, or the directive actually, that some project managers have when they provide an accurate schedule, but it just doesn’t meet the expectations of senior stakeholders, and you are asked to cut it back or make it look better, or to shorten the timeframes, when you know that just is not realistic? How would you counsel project managers who are providing what they think is a plan that everyone is bought into, and that’s accurate, only to be told, actually that’s more than we thought or longer than we thought, can you please sharpen your pencil and tighten it up a bit to make it look like a more attractive, attractive option?
Mark Yong:

I might take a straw poll, I think there’s 113 participants on this call. Let’s put our hands up if that’s never been asked of us. I think it’s a fantastic question, Fiona, and I think the temptation is always there, and I think we have to be pragmatic about it, and realize that despite how long things take, they will always be downward pressure to do things faster, sometimes in an unrealistic manner. I would say the starting point is once again, it begins with your plan. If you have a good plan, and you can justify it, you can see what you can do to shrink, and compress, and accelerate your schedule. If you don’t have a good plan, and it’s not in the right details, then that’s going to be very difficult to do. So, I think, rephrasing your question is, I would say is, if that pressure is being placed on you, the starting point really should be, “How well, and how detailed, and how much do I trust my plan? And how much can I model and extrapolate?” And to see is the business requirement, or is the directive actually reasonable? Or if it’s not reasonable, is it actually possible?
And I think then that really becomes a dialogue between the project manager and the stakeholders, you can have that dialogue based on data, based on information, and explain to them why things the way you are, [inaudible] set them. Now, we are all realistic enough that in some circumstances that the business objective and directive means saying you will have to do things at certain time, that’s when you can actually start talking about the time aspect, or the quality aspect, and the cost aspect about bringing schedule. But you need to start with, you need to start with data, the data is your plan.
Ali Ammar: Definitely. And on that, I’d like to add to Mark’s point, working with a realistic project schedule is just a key aspect, not just that, but also to be able to plan for risk contingencies and allowances as well., So that when certain objectives are being given, you can properly communicate with the right stakeholders, and work with your project team to assess those potential changes, and really look into your mitigation scenarios.
Fiona McTavish:

Great. Thank you. Somewhat related question, how do project managers prevent unnecessary costs and allocate the right budget to each project phase? So once we’re getting down to the detail, how do we make sure that we are phasing our budget, and making sure we’re allocating the right amount of funding for each phase and not stacking costs unnecessarily as we go along? Ali, would you like to answer that one first?
Ali Ammar:

Yeah, definitely, Fiona. So, mainly along the same lines, like with regards to our previous conversation, once you’re working with a realistic schedule, you need to be able to back up with evidence that. We see this happen quite often. Our customers today are preparing a risk adjusted plan in parallel to that with different cost options for the owners to consider. So they would go in with a budget, but then they would also show their risk allowances, and contingency allowances for that project plan that they’ve developed. And ensuring that the stakeholders are aligned on it is key, because they will definitely question where those, what are the risk drivers for those costs and where they’re being apportioned to. So it’s a matter of progressively detailing that, and assessing those, and qualifying those risks frequently as the project goes on.
Fiona McTavish:

Great. Well, now moving on to technology, which as we know, is having an impact on the future of project planning and scheduling, could you maybe, Ali, talk to us about what impacts technology is having, and is it for the better or for the worse about the impact of technology now and into the future?
Ali Ammar:

Sure. So how we see technology today helping us with digitalization is that project managers now have a really unique opportunity to advance our industry in using the right technology. But what’s also important is that implementing the right planning processes with the technology. So no matter how great the technology is, what’s important is how good process and the right tool sets can help project managers to be better at communicating with their stakeholders. And that’s to stay on top of some of those trends and technology in the industry, and have a connected environment rather than working with a siloed scheduling application, or doing cost control in Excel spreadsheets. A connected technology really brings that together. And on top of it, with the trend going with building information management and artificial intelligence, these new trends, project managers can employ them as they see to suit their project requirements. So, that’s how technology can assist as an enabler for project managers.
Mark Yong:

I’m going to apologize to everyone, this is going to be an incredibly boring conversation, because Ali and I seem to be agreeing on many points today. But I couldn’t agree more. And I think an important point to realize is technology does not replace people. Technology does not replace process, at least not yet anyway, and it’s not going to do that in the foreseeable future. And from a user’s perspective, one of my observations is that a lot of organization assumes that there is a particularly technology, and that a person can use the technology, knows how to plan, knows how schedule, knows how to project manage. Fortunately or unfortunately for us, technology isn’t advanced yet, intelligence and analysis is still required. The technology that we have are really just enablers to do things better.
And the other important aspect that we really need to consider and think about is, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Many organizations, what are they doing, getting back to your question about [inaudible], Fiona is implementing fantastic systems. But what they’re doing is they are sucking all the information in, and they just going into loops and loops of endless analysis. And the result is they’ve taken away some of the benefit of the technology in that the technology should enable us to make decisions more accurately and more quickly.
So we really need to understand the data that lies behind the technology so that we can actually analyze quickly and respond quickly. There is no value in hundreds of people hours and days to analyze an activity, if the activity only takes half an hour or an hour to do. So, We really need to recognize when we should put our effort in, to what, and when we should mobilize our skills, when we should explore the technology, and when we should just go back to good old fashioned relying on the processes that we’ve developed.
Fiona McTavish:

Yes, I think that’s a really good point is that, as technology improves and different processes are automated, what impact is that having on the skills needed for a project manager? I know myself, I’m having to get a broad understanding of many fields that I would’ve relied on specialist knowledge from subject matter experts to advise me on. So, what sort of skills now are PMs working in the field required to understand, or at least have a working knowledge of in order to do their role in a more technology focused industry?
Ali Ammar:

On that, Fiona, I would recommend that project managers begin with the basics of any new emerging technology, and really understand and assess how can they help them to support their projects, to support their project requirements, because this will only help them in effective adoption across the entire project team by project manage managers and key stakeholders. So implementing the appropriate processes would come before exploring any new technologies. Once you’ve got those right processes, exploring any new technologies and enhancing data and analytics. Because today, by automating these manual processes, like Mark mentioned, we can greatly benefit from technology in terms of efficiently using our resources, and the right technology can help project managers with even managing stakeholders. And that’s the primary concern, right? So that’s where technology, if those skills can be a harnessed by project managers, then definitely they’ll see tremendous value.
Fiona McTavish:

What about you, Mark? What do you think?
Mark Yong:

I would say that’s part of it. I would say expanding on that, rather than focus necessarily on the tools than the systems, because tools will change over time. It’s really a core skillset that project managers need to develop in the modern age, is to have an understanding, an acute and comprehensive understanding of what data means. By this, I don’t mean you need to understand how relational database works, but you need to really understand the nature of data.
So the buzzword and the trend at the moment in the engineer construction space is digital twin, which is basically a digital representation of the physical world. And the role that project managers play in this is to really relate back from the physical to the digital, from what is happening in real life on the plan to what actually happens on your planning platform, or on your [inaudible] platform, and how it all connects together, and what is the consequence of shifting one, and ensuring that the digital is as an accurate reflection of the physical as possible. Because again, there’s no point having a beautiful model and a simulation, if it doesn’t actually have any real relationship to the work you’re doing on a day to day basis. And this requires us, as project manager and project controllers, to actually develop properly a different type of imagination that we haven’t had to do in the past, and to be able to think abstractly and make the abstract practical.
Fiona McTavish:

Great. All right. We’re just going to take a couple of questions from the audience. We’ve got a question about the caliber of the workforce. So how do you think the current caliber of the workforce generally is to make best use of the available technology in place? Or how do we ensure that the resources and staff we have are able to use the technology we have?
Ali Ammar:

Good question, there. So mainly to begin on that would be the technology should be simple enough to be implemented and adopted by the workforce. So it should be intuitive and it should be in a manner where project managers can have things like self-learning capability, where they could just jump on, watch a quick video for the workforce, and be able to self-implement a solution or a technology that they would do otherwise in spreadsheets, or manage their projects in other applications. So the technology should be simple enough, and intuitive, that would be a start for the workforce to start adopting it.
Mark Yong:

The capability of the Australian workforce, that is a conversation that will basically start a [inaudible] box, because I’ve been quite frustrated for a very long time. To be honest, I’m actually less concerned in terms of the project management, project controls role in regard to the caliber to use technology. My greater concern from that point of view is actually the fact that more and more in the construction space, we are hiring based on the skills of someone to use a software, versus their actual core project management skills. So, we’re preferencing someone who knows how to use a particular technology and we would place them in a role without querying whether they know how to use that piece of technology effectively. Can they plan? Do they actually under understand what a good plan looks like? Are they able to actually schedule? Do they actually understand, in a confined space, physical limitation, that you can’t put 10 people in two square meters to work? #.
And those are the sort of problems that technology will help us solve, but can’t actually solve for us. So I think it is that mesh. And I would argue that if you start with the basics and the fundamentals, and you build the capability in that field, anyone can learn a software if they’re willing. My 78 year old father, few years ago, wasn’t interested in using his iPad, sorry, my mother. And now she’s texting me emojis, and things like that, and doing weird things that I can’t understand, and I’m in the space. So, I think if we have the will, when it comes to technology, we can do it. But what we really need to focus on as an industry is to actually build that capability and not just rely on external sources.
Fiona McTavish:

I’ve got a question from Andrew Murphy. Mark, can you please list some of the better examples of connected technologies you’ve used?
Mark Yong:

Some of the best, there’s actually quite a lot, to be honest with you. And I think I would prefer not to talk about a particular technology, and the reason I say that is, and Ali probably better qualified to talk about this than I am, but my view of the world is that when you are assessing a particular product, I think you need to look at what its ability to interface and integrate with other products. You don’t necessarily need to have a solution that can do and integrate to everything. Most of the major enterprise level product, the InEight products, the Oracle product, product from SAP, they all have strong capability of integration and interfaces and connecting data. Even Microsoft have gone a long way to actually develop some really interesting technology. They all have their pros and cons. And my starting point would be that, rather than me saying this a good product for you, I would start with the question is, what is it I’m trying to achieve? And then, do I want to use the process that the system will enforce on me, or do I want to use my own processes? So that’s really the better starting point. Starting with a software solution is one way that you’ll probably get a product that you don’t quite understand, or don’t necessarily want. Hopefully that helps.
Fiona McTavish:

I think so. A question from Paul McDonald is 4D a rapidly growing technology? Either Ali or Mark feel free to answer that one.
Ali Ammar:

So in the industry, we are seeing adoption of 4D very rapidly when it comes to obviously a connected data environment or a digital twin. So the industry is definitely going towards that approach, especially major capita infrastructure projects are definitely taking that approach. And really it comes down to the requirements, the 4D requirements. What are we trying to achieve? And what is the right application of the processes to help achieve greater efficiency and greater visibility? Because at the end of the day, you want to see a digital twin or a model where you can interact with that digital world and really assess how that project is being delivered physically, and really have a common data environment where you can see your clash detections on a 4D model, where you can plan your resources and crews accordingly, and really get some early warning indications with 4D technologies. So yeah, we do see an adoption. It is slow, but it’s definitely growing over time.
Mark Yong:

I agree with that. And you must have been following my LinkedIn posts, Paul, because I’ve been riling at how slow that we are adopting 4D technology.
Fiona McTavish:

Got another question from. How many software solutions should a project manager deploy to ensure effectiveness and productivity? And I guess that leads into, are we heading towards a single solution that meets all the project managers needs, or are we still relying on integration of different pieces of software, which are best of breed, fit for purpose, but they all talk to each other? So, can you just comment on which way we’re heading? Are we getting to a one solution for everything, or are we still looking at integration of different solutions for PMs to be able to do their job well?
Ali Ammar:

So on that point, mainly the number of softwares is less of a concern than actually connected technology or connected platform, I would say, because the next generation technology is purely focused on helping project managers to better communicate. If you think about it, what do project managers spend most of their time is managing stakeholders, communicating and making sure that they stay on top of all what’s happening on a project. So, as long as the technology is collaborative, to invite your project team members based on their roles, to invite other subcontractors and contractors in the one connected platform, then definitely that would be a good starting point, because then a project manager is empowered to make the right decisions when you have that transparency in one platform. And that could be best of breed solutions stitched together under one platform. It could be one technology that you prefer, but it comes down to your project requirements that you’re looking for in the industry.
Mark Yong:

Actually, I agree. And the [inaudible] answer to your question is you should have many as you need another, and not a single one more. And that’s unfortunately a truism, because what we do need to recognize is that not all projects have the same requirements, and therefore not all project have the same technology requirements. So you are not obviously going to manage, as an example, a IT transformation program in the same way that you’re going to manage the construction of the [inaudible].
At the same time, an organization such as [inaudible], or any government organization, runs both transformation programs and construction programs. So what we really need to recognize is there is no one tool that will rule them all. And what that means it really comes to what Ali saying is what is important isn’t necessarily the tools. Because I think what you’re going to find is we’re going to be using more and more tools, but the connected data environment and the common data environment, or the databases that underlays the data foundation so that we can relate the different aspects of projects and programs and portfolios together, so we can actually learn from history, and predict the future a little bit more clearly.
Fiona McTavish:

And speaking of the future, I think that’s where we’re going to go next in the conversation. We’ve had a question from James Renick about the role of AI in supporting the PM of the future. So perhaps you could just elaborate little bit about AI and machine learning. How are they helpful in project planning and scheduling, and how will they impact the PM of the future?
Ali Ammar:

Definitely. And this is an exercise that we’ve been seeing for quite some time now in the modern trends, that AI is simply a capability, and machine learning is just an enabler to basically help you reflect on your past projects, or your current experiences that you have in the industry. So it’s basically capturing your lessons learned, so that the AI engine of any solution, any software, can help you plan smarter, and you can leverage from those best practices, have a standard template or a framework to basically plan smarter, and plan in a better manner.
So every project should be seen as a learning curve or an opportunity that you could leverage upon, and really have those best practice templates, or your IP, you can call it your IP within the company. Because we see very rapidly changing workforce in the industry. People switch companies, they move on to different initiatives, from project to project. You should be carrying those lessons that you’ve learned from one project to the next. And this is where AI and machine learning can greatly help you, once you standardize and learn more about these trends.
Mark Yong:

And I agree to an extent, I think the challenge for us is that many people see AI and technology as a panacea to the current deficiencies. And whilst they can help and enable and improve, the classic adage of data, rubbish in, rubbish out. So AI machine learning is completely dependent on what you’ve historically captured. So if, in your previous project, you haven’t developed a reliable project plan, the AI and the machine learning will give you another plan, which is equally inaccurate. If you haven’t been capturing the progress and the performance of your project, then it will give you an inaccurate performance. So it’s a double edge sword. If you have fantastic data, if you have fantastic information, then AI can be incredibly valuable. If you don’t have the discipline, and you aren’t willing to put in the hard work associated with it, then AI can potentially lead you and your project astray.
So the benefit of this obviously is, at least in Australia, we’re still in infancy, and it’s never too late to start. It’s never too late to start planning well, it’s never too late to start scheduling well, it’s never too late to capture the information on your project well. And once we start doing that, then I think you’ll find that the true value of these technology and improvement in technology, will really realize its value, and that’s when you start seeing your return on investment, on investing in the planning and the scheduling and in the technology,
Fiona McTavish:

And what about big data? Some people are starting now to use big data, or at least understand the concept of what’s available. Maybe you could just give a quick overview of what is big data, and if you’ve seen it used well in any projects you’re aware of, and how it’s being used by project managers.
Ali Ammar:

Along the same lines, Fiona, some of our customers are seeing big data, as large sets of information, project information that has been gathered, but they don’t know how to make sense out of it, or how to extrapolate learnings from previous projects. And big data along with AI and machine learning is helping to analyze things that humans can’t comprehend. Because at any point in time, we could only look at one template, one framework, or maybe two, and extract the best from those. However, with the capabilities of AI, you would be offered smart suggestions based on the big data that you’ve captured, that could require lots of computational analysis. So capturing all that big data is really impacting the future of planning and scheduling, and really assisting project managers to actually benefit from that information. But like Mark mentioned, it’s all about the quality of the data that you’re capturing at the end of the project, or throughout the project life cycle.
Mark Yong:

For me, I think this is a real opportunity. To take a pessimistic view of the world, in the Australian engineering construction space there is a great deal of fragmentation, and the owners hold certain information, the principal contractors hold certain information, subcontractors hold certain information, and we don’t really share with one another. And we don’t share with one another because of contractual reasons. We don’t share with one another because we are afraid of being litigated, or getting into dispute.
And what’s that doing? On the negative, that’s hindering the ability to actually aggregate the data. Because the benefit of big data is in the word big, is effectively relies on statistical modeling. The more information you have, the more reliable big data becomes, and the more value it becomes.
So the opportunity for that is for us as an industry to challenge ourselves, and find ways to better collaborate, and to share that information, to potentially remove the non-commercially sensitive information and share this information so that it benefits the whole industry, and actually helps us to increase productivity. Obviously, the starting point of that is for organizations being willing to share, and to say that the greater benefit outweighs the short term cost of sharing this information, and you’re not necessarily giving away competitive advantage.
Fiona McTavish:

And I think you’ve just answered a question before I’ve asked it. We’ve just had a question about the benefits and drawbacks from using technology to capture data and correspondence. So, I think you’ve highlighted some of the benefits to benefit the industry as a whole, and some of the drawbacks around possible commercial sensitivities. Is there anything you’d like to add to that in light of the specific question we received?
Mark Yong:

So can you rephrase the question again, Fiona? I haven’t seen that one.
Fiona McTavish:

Yeah. It says, what are the benefits and drawbacks from using technology to capture data and correspondence?
Mark Yong:

Yeah, I think for me, this is the one area [inaudible] from the planning decision aspect, but for me, this is essential. We are capturing more information and data than we ever have before. Even a small project that we are running are more complicated, and have more moving parts than it’s ever been in probably the history of construction, or perhaps I’m just naive to the history. So absolutely it’s important to capture it as much as physically possible, and as much as your project can afford, because if it doesn’t add value today, it will add value to the next project. The challenge obviously is to have discipline to do that, especially, I think I’ve done many delay reviews, and in reconstructing project plans, and the customers that keep their data well, we construct very accurate [inaudible], and companies that don’t do it, it’s more of a struggle.
Ali Ammar:

No, definitely, for project managers, to be able to successfully lead their projects and manage their project teams, collaboration is the key here, a very vital component. And so this data captures simply not just capturing data, but ensuring it’s done in a consistent manner, and with the right security and permissions, so that both owners, contractors and subcontractors can use the same solution to collaborate with each other. Transparency is important in any project, and so is satisfying the stakeholders, and that comes with really collaborating together on the same solution, on the same platform.
Fiona McTavish:

Great. And I think we’ve got just a little bit over five minutes to go. So we’ve got one final topic, which is cost. So I would just be interested in hearing your brief thoughts on the cost of planning and scheduling. Are we starting to get very good at this, so we’re seeing efficiencies and hopefully costs are not increasing too much to effectively manage planning and scheduling? And do you have any specific thoughts around the costs, which people are incurring with planning and scheduling, are they going up or down or remaining the same as they have done? I’ll ask Ali first.
Ali Ammar:

So, when it comes to those decisions, project managers often face the struggle of having to make those decisions very quickly, which, if the information is incorrect, there is a heavy cost of rework and replanning. We all know that how many times we have revised project schedules and baselined project schedules throughout the life of the project. And once you measure that, once you assess that, that outweighs the costs of any planning upfront efforts that you would need to incorporate, and really failing to plan is basically planning to fail, like the quote says. If you fail to plan, that’s a no-no in the project management industry. And this is in order to ensure that you’re avoiding costly rework, to ensure projects are kept on time and on schedule.
Mark Yong:

I completely agree. To answer directly question, is the cost going up? Well, the cost I don’t think has really gone up. I think the issue is many projects are seeking to avoid the cost completely. And by avoiding the cost, they’re not investing the time in the planning and the scheduling either through smaller projects, the project manager developing the plan, and for larger project, investing in a suitably qualified planner and scheduler to develop the plan, and they’re not giving them the time to actually develop a concrete, workable, believable plan.
And the outcomes is what we’re saying, is what you stated at the very beginning from McKinsey, Fiona, only 2% of projects are on time. So that’s the cost, the cost of planning isn’t the person who you employ, or the system that you use. We think that’s the cost, and we get overawed by the fact that that particular person is on a particular day. And we forget about the cost of the fact that 2% project finish on time, and the cost associate with that. We forget about the cost that in Australia, every billion we spent, we waste 113 million.
So it’s an interesting conversation when we talk about cost of planning, and scheduling, and good project management, because the question I always ask is, would you rather pay that five, 10% operating cost on the planning and scheduling today, or do you want to pay 200% in six months time when the project is late and the money has run out? And I think that’s really the challenge that we’re all facing. And as a industry, we really need to come to terms with, and develop some maturity on. We’re going to spend the money, do you want to spend the money well, or do we waste it by not doing the proper planning to scheduling?
Fiona McTavish:

Well, now I’m going to ask you to do the impossible and just sum up one takeaway you’d like the audience to take with them today. So I’ll throw to you Ali, first of all, what’s the single thing you’d like the audience to remember from the conversation today?
Ali Ammar:

Well, I’d go with two of them. One would be collaboration, collaboration with the stakeholders. So, use your planning and scheduling efforts as a way to communicate. And be transparent, not just on the project plan and the schedule, but also the risks, the mitigation scenarios, and be transparent on that information. That’ll really help collaborate and keep all stakeholders informed, which in turn could be achieved through technology, through automated reporting to stakeholders.
And the second aspect, other than collaboration, would be capturing your lessons learned at the end of every project, which we often fail to do. Because you’re carrying that experience with you, you need to document the lessons you’ve learned, and that’s basically helping with your data for the future. So those would be the two key takeaways for me.
Fiona McTavish:

Mark, if you can give us a quick 30 second takeaway. Fantastic.
Mark Yong:

I would begin with, invest the time to build a plan that you believe at the right level of detail. It will save you so much heartache afterwards.
Fiona McTavish:

Great. Thank you. I’d really like to thank the panel today, and encourage everyone on the line to visit ineight.com for additional content on new technologies, or visit the AIM community forum, where we can continue the conversation on our forums over there. We’d also love to hear from you on what you thought of our webinar. And a link has gone into chat where you can quickly fill in a survey that’ll really help us with the current webinar and any future topics. So we’d really like you to fill that in, to give us some feedback.
Again, thank you very much to our speakers, Ali Ammar and Mark Yong. It’s been a great conversation and I hope we can have more in the future and always fantastic support from behind the scenes with InEight, with Rose, and Mike from AIPM. Thank you both. We didn’t get to see you on stage today, but we really, really appreciate your help and support in making this happen behind the scenes. So thank you very much.
All right everyone, have a fantastic day and looking forward to seeing you all for the next one of these conversations. Thank you very much.
Mark Yong:

Thank you, Fiona, thank you, everyone.
Ali Ammar:

Thank you, everyone.