Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Features Opinion Thought Leaders
IT project management in manufacturing: Biggest obstacles are time and scope

June 9, 2008
By Jennifer Colasanti

Info-Tech recently completed in-depth research on IT Project Management. Data was collected from 51 manufacturing organizations representing a variety of company sizes. This gave us insight into challenges that many manufacturers face regarding delivering projects in scope and on time.
There is no shortage of challenges when it comes to project management. Over half of manufacturers cite meeting project timelines and managing scope creep as either “significantly challenging” or “challenging.” Managing scope creep was at the top of the list of challenges for organizations that Info-Tech surveyed as part of its Impact Research. This challenge came second to meeting project timelines for manufacturers. Third on the list for manufacturers was resource planning. The area that manufacturers find least challenging is quality assurance.
Not a single manufacturer surveyed indicated that they were “very successful” at executing projects on time. Only 16 per cent of manufacturers said that they were “successful” and a further 39 per cent indicated that they were “somewhat successful” at this performance metric. Delivering projects that are within scope was only slightly better, with 19 per cent of manufacturing organizations indicating that they were either “very successful” or “successful” at this performance metric. This is significantly worse than the other industries surveyed. On average, other industries were 75 per cent more successful at being on time than manufacturers and 47 per cent more successful at being in scope.
Manufacturing organizations struggle more than other industries when it comes to completing projects on time and in scope. Info-Tech’s research has shown that managing both is crucial to improving overall project performance.
• Manage timelines. Executing projects on time results in advantages such as earlier time-to-market and earlier onset of benefits. Further, failing to meet project timelines creates a ripple effect and can make resource planning difficult. To improve performance in this area, consider the following recommendations reported by peers successful in managing timelines:
• Communicate with key stakeholders. Keep the big picture out in front of staff and communicate when resources will be needed and what the critical dates are. This will enable meeting high demand times and anticipating support needed.
• Manage risks. Actively mitigate risks throughout the project to minimize project disruptions.
• Track staff time. One of the biggest reasons why projects are not on time is due to an underestimation of time required to complete the associated tasks. Time/task reporting should be required of staff to use the historical data to forecast work effort requirements.
• Build in a buffer. Review past project performance to determine the buffer. If projects usually end up being bigger in scope than originally planned, then a time buffer is crucial.
• Manage scope. Delivering a project in scope means that the project meets the needs for which it was undertaken. Improperly managing scope could result in time and money being spent unnecessarily. To improve performance in this area, consider the following recommendations reported by peers successful in managing scope:
• Invest time in planning up front. One of the biggest mistakes made in project management is not spending enough time in the planning and requirements gathering process. Investing more time up front makes requirements creep less likely and provides the necessary scope boundaries for creating iterations.
• Make scope changes a documented process. Any requested scope changes should be formally documented. A form with the relevant information should then be presented to the executive sponsors and steering committee for approval. This enables the team to understand why the change is being requested. If more money and time is going to be spent, the person making the request should be able to justify it to the executive sponsors and steering committee. Often, people will realize that their request was a nice-to-have and will not go through the process. Creating this type of process will ensure that only the changes delivering value will be put through.
• Know when to say no. Do not be afraid to push back on requested changes. Incorporate a process for saying no that identifies who makes the ultimate decision (typically the sponsor). Explain that changes are not necessarily bad, but they need to be controlled. Recommend major scope changes as a phase two or phase three of the project instead.
The bottom line is that manufacturing organizations struggle to complete projects on time and in scope. Understand the impact this can have on the organization and consider taking action to improve these two areas.
Jennifer Colasanti is a Senior Research Consultant at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont. You can reach her at