Can Technology Reduce the Stress of Managing Projects?

Project executives know more than others the amount of stress associated with making decisions, recommending decisions or being influenced by decisions. Chief Projects Officer, Projects Portfolio Manager, Program Managers, Projects Managers, Design Managers, Construction Managers, Cost and Commercial Managers, Stakeholder Manager among the many other managers involved in projects delivery spend more than 75% of their project time making and/or recommending decisions to resolve project problems and issues as well as to provide their experienced opinion to approve or reject the different project change requests. In doing this, they are always faced with at least two major concerns that makes this decision making a stressful process. The first is the quality of information they are provided with to render the decision or actions while the second is to ensure that the recommended actions to implement this decision has been executed by the right team members at the right time.

For many, stress level to a certain extent can be viewed as a motivator that contributes to an increase in their performance. This is known as eustress or constructive stress. On the other hand, if stress exceeds certain level, then it becomes distress or destructive stress. Distress is a demotivate that reduces the ability to perform. Distress can result in aggression behavior, fatigue, irritability, moodiness, emotional outbursts, indecision, forgetfulness, sensitivity to criticism, indigestion, blood pressure, heart problems, breathing difficulties among others.

Understanding The Decision Making Pyramid

For project executives to be able to make better and faster informed decisions they need to have the knowledge on the true project status by having a single version of the truth of the overall project’s performance. This will be based on the information extracted, aggregated and analyzed from the different project management processes needed to manage the project life cycle stages. For each project management process, document templates will be used to capture real-time data in an accountable and transparent format.

On the other hand, decisions that are made but not implemented correctly or in a timely manner could not only fail to resolve the problem or issue that necessitated taking that decision, but it could result in more harm should the decision was not made. Therefore, the decision maker should have the mechanism to ensure that all needed actions are taken by the intended party responsible for when they are planned to be done. In addition, the decision maker needs to have real-time report the status of all those actions.

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Real Time Project Information

Having real-time, correct and complete project information is crucial for managing any project management process. It is the basis for measuring the performance of a process to determine if there is any deviation from the target performance as well as analyzing the performance trend and how this could affect the project’s future results. For example, the performance information of the “Request for Information (RFI)” process will help in determining if the volume of RFIs issued on the project is excessive as this could be an indication that the Contractor might be using RFIs to create the ground to claim for change orders later on. Or it could be an indication that the quality of the contract documents developed by the Consultant are not of the desired quality and have ambiguities. Another important measure is the average time to respond to an RFI as delays in responding to RFI could result in delay claims by the Contractor. The sample RFI Performance Dashboard shown below could be designed, grouped and ordered in any desired format to enable making the right analysis and eventually decisions. It can include tabular and graphical charts depending on the type of information needed for the analysis.

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Having real-time, correct and complete project information cannot be achieved if the project team are using a manual process for capturing the needed data and then using MS XLS at the tool presenting and analyzing this a data. A Project Management Information System (PMIS) like PMWeb will be needed where not only it has most of the engineering and construction data forms ready out of the box but also have a form builder to design any form in any desired format to capture any needed project’s data. The PMWeb PMIS will ensure that the project team has the solid data to share the needed project information.

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In addition, PMWeb document management repository allows uploading all supportive documents such as drawings, specifications, pictures, videos among others. Those documents can be attached to the data form to provide the complete story behind that record. In addition, other relevant project management records, emails among others.

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Of course, in a project environment almost every document template has a workflow to map the steps that need to be followed in submitting, reviewing, sharing and approving the data captured in this template. The same document template could have multiple workflow scenarios depending on the authorities and approval levels set in the project.

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Accordingly, the desired project information in the desired layout format will be automatically updated to reflect the latest data captured for each project management process along with its latest workflow review status. Since all of this information is on a single platform, the recipient of this information can drill down to the specific document template that has the reported data as well as access all supportive documents attached to this document template and if anyone is delaying taking the needed actions.

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Eliminate Data Silos

It has been always said that silos are to store wheat but not to store data. The issue that most engineering and construction projects have today is that different applications are used to capture different type of project’s data in different form and format. For example, the RFI process explained above could be managed by application “A”, meeting minutes by application “B”, cost management by application “C” and so on.

If the above scenario is what the project has, project executives will then depend on their team members to manually consolidate all of this data usually using MS XLS to provide the needed knowledge on a specific aspect of the project for example cost status, or the status of a specific bid package, or a project, a program or even a portfolio of projects. Not only this is a time consuming process but a process that carries high chances of data entry mistakes, unintended or intended.

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Reinventing the wheel by investing time and effort in building integration those different applications that were designed not to talk to each other while having readily available commercial of the shelve applications that can do this is for sure not one of the good decisions that a project executive my end taking. Of course, there is the additional cost of getting to learn how to use and support those different applications to capture the needed information.

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It is estimated that on average, organizations involved in managing engineering and construction projects spend at least 20 FTEs per month to collect, verify, compile, reconcile, analyze, present and share vital project performance data with stakeholders which will be only be ready to share at least 6 working days after data cut-off date. A process that not only will result in late information, high risks associated with manual data upload and possible attempts to manipulate the shared data but the high cost of the project team effort needed to complete this process.

Engaging the Project Team

Although meeting minutes, issue forms, memos, letters among other project management processes are usually used to capture and document the decisions made by the project executives, nevertheless this is not enough to ensure that those decisions are implemented as it was intended. To address this concern, each decision needs to be decomposed into the different actions that need to performed by the appropriate project team member to ensure that this decision will be implemented as intended successfully. All relevant project records and documents should be attached to provide a single repository of all what relates for the decision to be implemented.

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Having the data of the different project management processes including those associated with the decision making processes and follow on actions enables the project executives to create dashboards that can provide them with real-time status of actions associated with project’s decisions. Measures can be created to assess the performance of actions fulfillment and delayed actions. The dashboard layout, content and measures will depend on matters most for the organization and its decision makers.

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In summary, projects and in particular engineering and construction projects are known to have stressful environment. The many constraints, assumptions, multiple stakeholders with conflicting interests among many others will result in changes, conflicts, issues and problems. Project executives will spend considerable part of their time in making decisions and taking actions to address and resolving those changes, conflicts, issues and problems. The lack of having the right and complete information in a timely manner will prevent those executives from having the insight to make better and faster decisions. If technology available today can help those executives in addressing those constraints to eliminate the stress that could result of wrong decisions and unattended follow on actions, then the common sense says this should be done without any delay.

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