Duality of Project Management: Objective vs. Subjective factors

1. Introduction

Objective factors = data and procedures regarding the project management process
Subjective factors = human component in the development of the project

Project management is an important part of any large-scale project that requires the coordinator to oversee all the activities in order to synchronize them efficiently. Several techniques and analyses have been developed in order to aid the managers in optimizing costs and time.

So the main purpose of this is to help managers develop and implement complex plans of execution and to make the most out of the available resources. However, it has been viewed from a logistic point of view, rather than a motivational one. This article plans to uncover another side and maybe a potential advantage of such system that has not yet been widely discussed.

Instead of focusing only on the planning and coordinating the sub-tasks of a large-scale project, managers should also consider the human factor involved in such a project. As a developer of a small part of the project (relative to the whole project), it’s easy to lose track of the main goal and only focus on the specific milestones that you have to achieve. This should be the point, right? Do something and not worry about what others are doing. Well, I say there is another part that few people consider. What if the developer would show more motivation if he knows how the project should develop, what is the final goal and how would his work be reflected in the end?

In the next sections I will describe the standard techniques of dealing with a large-scale project from a management point of view and what benefits can be added to that already optimized process.

2. What is Project Management?

In principle, project management is responsible of dividing the task into small, “atomic”, goals and plan them with respect to the availability of resources. In other words, assign people to tasks in a specific order with some given constraints (one or more tasks must finish before another one can commence).

Over the years, this approach has been proved to be very useful, especially for the managers, who can have a broad view over the project and adjust the variables that compose it in order to reach the optimal solution.
Next, we will discuss only those aspects of a project that can be improved by stimulating its “roots”, the individual developers. The classical model is divided into 5 main categories: Planning, Organising, Communication, Control and Evaluation. We will discuss only three of these: planning, organising and communication.

3. Project Management methods: can objective techniques be translated into subjective ones?

Regarding procedures for tackling the project, two main methods stand out: CPM (Critical Path Method) and PERT (Performance Evaluation and Review Technique). CPM uses deterministic estimates of task duration and focuses more on the trade-off of cost and time. PERT, also using estimates of task duration, adopts a more probabilistic approach, to predict the likelihood of on-time project completeness. Usually the two techniques are used together to output more precise data. Specific software programs, currently on the market implement these methods in order to reduce the complexity of the job.

This combined approach is divided into a series of sub-tasks: defining the project, splitting the project into sub-projects, defining dependencies etc. This gives a clear guideline for the manager, telling him what to do at each step. However, the developer is only concerned with following the instructions, without having the whole “picture” in mind. Therefore he doesn’t always know how he contributes to the whole project.

It is important to note at this point that the participants to the project do not need to know every aspect of the management process, but only those parts that relate directly to them. In order to discuss on these aspects, some technical details of the management process need to be defined.

Every process has a start and end state: these represent the terminal nodes of the process network. Each task is defined by: earliest start time, latest start time, earliest finish time, latest finish time and duration

  • Earliest finish time = earliest start time + duration
  • Latest start time = latest finish time – duration
  • Earliest start time = largest earliest finish time of all immediate predecessors
  • Latest finish time = smallest latest start time of all immediate successors

Thus project duration = largest early finish time of all activities
activity block

flow

  • Total float = time by which activity can be delayed without affecting project duration: Late start time – Early start time OR 0 if activity is critical
  • Free float = time by which activity can be delayed without affecting project duration or the early start times of subsequent activities: smallest early start time of immediate successors – early finish time

4. A basic example: variables capable of pushing optimality even further

In the example below the main project has been divided into separate activities, each with its specific time and resource requirements. These are plotted to follow the restrictions or dependencies on a timeline. However, because some conditions are weaker than others or because some activities are estimated to take less time than others, some discrepancies arise. These discrepancies give some tasks a certain degree of freedom in terms of start time.

The activities (marked by the green bars) have the possibility to pivot across the free and total float lines. This means that even though a task is completed ahead of time, the whole process can continue only when the conditions are satisfied (i.e. all other required activities are completed). This can be compared to the bottleneck effect, present in most lines of production (factories, etc): “The system moves as fast as the slowest of its components”.

time activity resources

5. What can be done to drive the optimization even further

A way of overcoming this bottleneck effect, or maybe diminishing its impact, would be to stimulate the developers by adding the competition factor or by allowing redistribution of forces. This can be done only in the case when all the participants in the project are aware of the key variables in the equation. For example, say two activities have to finish in order for the process to continue. The developers involved in those activities, knowing that they are the key components in that moment of the project, will work as if the project would be a personal target that they must achieve.

Also, consider the overall project, at a macro-level. Developers, having this kind of information would not only assign the sub-tasks as being personal targets, but will also know exactly to what extent their contribution will be useful in the end. This gives them a sense of belonging that further stimulates them to work towards the final goal. It’s only by doing the small tasks flawlessly that the final result would be optimal.

6. Conclusion

In conclusion, although project management should be addressed to managers in order to perform better and make the project optimal in terms of time and costs, it can also be beneficial to the employees that would contribute even more to that optimality, altering and stimulating the human factor in the process. This can be done only by a proper communication channel between coordinators and executors.

4 thoughts on “Duality of Project Management: Objective vs. Subjective factors”

  1. Organizations need to be assured the individuals that manage their projects can integrate methods to achieve sustainability goals and still achieve project specific objectives. Project Managers need credentials that validate their proficiency with these specialized qualities. PMP Certified and scrum certified project managers can learn, apply, and validate mastery of sustainability based project methods to meet these demands.

    1. I agree with you in terms of the expertise the individuals must have in order to properly coordinate and manage a project. However, this post focuses on a complementary approach, in addition to standard management techniques, that would further optimize the processes/tasks that compose the main project.

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