Archive for March, 2019

Law of Diminishing Returns

Posted on: March 20th, 2019 by admin No Comments

Law of Diminishing Returns

Jon M Quigley

Let’s say we have a field full of wheat, and we have no automated equipment so the field will need to be harvested manually. We gather up our friends and commence harvesting and we are, on average, able to harvest 10 bushels per person per day (this is a fictitious example so it may not in fact be possible to harvest that much wheat per day).  We need to get the harvest completed by a certain date, so we add a few more people to our work entourage. We go out into the field and once again, we average 10 bushels per person per day.  We add one more person to this harvesting crew, and we have a new rate of accomplishment, 8 bushels of wheat per person per day.  This is a demonstration of the law of diminishing returns. In present day, in my experience, happens vary frequently in project management.  We are late, so we add more and more people to the work. This is often referred to as crashing the project, or all hands on deck moments.

If you have ever worked on a project that all of a sudden find the project to be way behind the planned or anticipated schedule, and rather than adjust the schedule or ascertain the reason for the schedule variance.  What parts of the project have been delivered later than expected and why for example?  First of all, a large schedule variance should be seen long before it becomes a large schedule variance.  This comes with follow up on the project work, and identifying key metrics of project performance., but that is beside the point.

The idea that it is possible to through large amounts of talent or as some call it human resources, can solve our schedule woes, flies in the face of this law, yet this happens.  In every training event and speaking event that have had anything to do with project management, suggest this to be a common approach to solving the scheduling problems.  There are no studies of which I am aware, that suggest this approach ever works, a project behind schedule typically remains behind schedule.  There are cost implications in addition to this law of diminishing return.

Some of the reasons this law of diminishing returns does what it does:

  • our existing team members must mentor / coach the new team members on how this project works
  • not all team members have the same level of domain experience or skill in the area
  • more than just the talent (human) dimension must often grow to maintain the same rate (other fixed factors)
  • variation in project delivery factors and the ability to substitute via other project delivery means (outsourcing)


By and large throwing talent (human resources) at a project that is late will not ensure the project to be delivered on time, to the contrary actually.  By throwing everything a the project late, the cost for the project gets out of control. It is far better to monitor variance early, and take proactive measures when schedule variance or schedule performance index show variation to which we are uncomfortable and work to solve this earlier rather than a stressful throwing everybody at the problem which will result in a late and over budget project.

Project Success & the Metaphorical Triangle

Posted on: March 5th, 2019 by admin No Comments

Project Success & the Metaphorical Triangle

By Steven G. Lauck & Jon M. Quigley, MS PMP CTFL

Project Success – Project Success – Project Success! That is the hope of any organization when hiring and assigning the correct project manager to each project. For me, Project Success has always come down to fulfillment of Scope, Time, Cost, and Quality.

Project Managers must understand that there is a give & take or push/pull on the constraints in the shape of a triangle. Once the project is in motion any force pressed on the metaphorical triangle influences the sides and internal shape of the triangle.

For example, an accelerated schedule. The acceleration will require additional resources – costs, time, and resources. Or consider when a stakeholder or sponsor submits a change request. The resources to analyze the change request are resources that are likely taken away from executing the already agreed upon project work. Initiating the change management process adds cost, scope, & time to the project. This is just for analysis of the impact by the change on the project objective and project constraints. If the change request is approved the triangle is re-balanced. If the change request is not approved, the constraints are already altered due to this exploratory work and the project manager needs to resolve to re-balance. One way to reduce the impact of change request analysis is to charge for analyzing the change request.

The chance for achieving project success is increased if the project manager takes an approach of basing decisions on keeping or re-balancing the triangle during execution of the project.

Risk is the other area to watch while focusing on project success. Risk is an area that needs deep and thorough investigation at the beginning of a project, especially when it comes to exploring the project strategic approach. ‘What can happen to impact this project?’ An impact can be negative or positive. BUT, during execution Risk will impact the constraints. From the project kickoff the constraints should be front and center.  Besides this deep exploration at the beginning of the project, a constant monitoring is required to see if some of those risks are coming to fruition as well as if there are things that can go awry that were previously not identified.

When developing the Risk Log and mitigation strategies the constraints need to be in focus. For example, high level Risk – one with a high probability and high severity of impact will impact the constraints. But assigning a contingency budget and schedule adjustment to it will result in re-balancing the constraints.

Project teams don’t always include Positive Risks or Opportunities and that is a miss. And yes, positive risks occurring will require re-balancing. Taking advantage of opportunities can also add to the project success. For example, an opportunity to split production between two lines or shops will potentially accelerate completion given the approved scope, that the costs are within budgeted amounts and quality is matched – reviewing the constraints. The overall result is the project is delivered early, on budget, matches scope, and meets quality.

Project success is a combination of planning and promptly adjusting to what is found during the execution of the project.  Project success is typically defined as the meeting the objectives (scope) of the project within the cost and schedule expectations.  As a project manager, it is important to manage the expectations of the sponsors and stakeholders, as well as ensuring any changes to the project are managed. That does not mean arbitrary saying “no” to a customer change.  Neither should we quickly say “yes” to changes in the misguided belief that we are responding to the clients needs.  These changes may have impacts on cost and timing, and in fact, the effort to explore the consequences of the change will cost some time and effort that should be accounted.  There is much more to project success than you may think.  It requires a combination of adapting and control.  Pay attention to how the project as a system works, and you will do fine.

Check out our books on project management and our project management discussion board for more information and to ask questions and post thoughts on project management.



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