This is a response article to “Conservatism has no place in project management” by s0952140.
In the above mentioned article the author describes some of the drawbacks that can arise from project managers being sceptical in terms of implementing/integrating new technologies in their projects. The focus is mainly on the benefits of updating the tools and support systems of the project at any point such upgrades are available.
However, there are more factors that have to be taken into consideration when arguing about changes in a project structure. This response aims to identify some of the reasons change is not that easy to make and what are the circumstances when such updates are recommended.
Implications and analysis of change
First we will look at the planning and design part of a project in order to illustrate the factors involved in the process and how would change affect these factors. Because the focus of the discussion is around large-scale projects we will make the assumption that the time needed to finish such a project is also quite vast and changes would have to be performed during the development process.
The key elements of a project are without argument the developers and the methods and technologies they use. Their expertise and abilities are the main drivers of the development process. This is why, when considering change within a project, we have to extrapolate this change to include the consequences that it produces. When comparing technologies, the manager should not only look at the final results, but all the ramifications that upgrade/update would imply.
“Project managers (or in worst case: their bosses) often over estimate the cost of learning new technologies and underestimate the benefit of that.”
When looking at possible updates there are two situations that are possible: either such upgrade is pitched by a developer that has extra knowledge in his field or the manager himself considers the alternative. In both cases, if the people involved in this process have necessary expertise. Such notions of underestimating benefits or overestimating costs should not arise except from the situations where precise information cannot be obtained.
Considering the change, the project manager would perform sensitivity analysis on the variables that are to be modified and thus would have a clear idea about the implications of such change. Some further qualitative analysis would be made regarding the adaptability of the developers.
The quantitative and qualitative analysis of the results would enable the managers to illustrate and compare the possible scenarios in order to choose the best option. At this stage it is also important to note that the project coordinator has to have good knowledge about the capabilities of the developers regarding the new approaches and their adaptability to change.
New Technologies: benefits and challenges
The world is in a constant evolution, especially in the software development field where the pace is slightly higher than the average. This is why it’s important to be aware of all the technological advances that are on the market and have a broad view of the alternatives.
However, when considering new platforms or procedures the common mistake that is made is to compare the final results of the existing system and its alternative.
“What you should never do, is stick with the old, because it works. Don’t be conservative that way.”
Sometimes the “old that works” is a better choice in terms of costs for an ongoing project. The idea is not to stick with old technologies indefinitely but rather consider them for the future. Upgrading technologies in the middle of the development process would produce change throughout the project, starting from redesigning the initial structure and ending with integration of those new technologies with the old components.
“When you decide to be conservative, you are losing an immeasurable amount of time, your developers might not be working on the most important aspects of the task, and your users might not have the best user experience they could have.”
Of course that if such upgrade would produce better results the managers would notice that based on their evaluation and would proceed in implementing the new design. The assumption made in this paper is that the “conservative” manager would reject any new proposals based on personal experience and not on a thorough analysis of the outcomes.
Possible outcomes and approaches
Given the situation where new technologies that are applicable to a project are available, there are three main decisions that a manager would have:
1. Consider the upgrades, but postpone the transfer for the next project. In this situation the sensitivity analysis would show that even though new and better technologies are available, the functionality of the project would not present justifiable improvement when considering the costs of implementation.
2. Consider the upgrades, implement part of them and postpone the rest for future projects. This decision would be applied for the cases where only some improvements would justify their integration in the project when considering the cost per earnings (either monetary or in terms of functionality) ratio.
3. Redesign the project in order to implement all the proposed upgrades. In this situation, integrating all the new solutions would significantly increase the final project’s value and would justify all the extra costs that such a change would imply.
In the original article, the author stated that: “Should I keep to what I am doing or should I try something new. Always try something new.”
However, the idea of blindly integrating new technologies into ongoing projects can prove to be detrimental to the final result. This is why analyses have to be performed before making any big decisions with respect to the project structure.
Considering the arguments presented above, we conclude that “Conservatism” has its role in the management of a project, given that it’s backed up with enough empirical evidence.