by Jim Vaughan

Watching the Project Management Curves

Jan 04, 2010
IT Leadership

Project managers need to monitor their project patterns.

My observation is that all well planned out projects will follow a performance or effort curve that demonstrates an “S” shape. The early part of the project starts out in a horizontal direction, then ramps up to be more vertical and finally flattens out horizontally toward the end of the project. Contrary to a well planned project I see that those with little or poor planning demonstrate more of a straight line from start to finish. In other cases you will even see the slope of the effort increase toward the end of the project as these projects are typically completed through heroics.

As project management practice in an organization matures you can watch the transformation in these project patterns. This transformation is a good measure of the organization project management maturity. It is, therefore, important for project managers to monitor these curves in order to understand and improve the maturity of an organization.

But why is this curve important to the success of our projects? The classic “S” curve of a project typically indicates three key attributes of the project. The first is the planning process at the start of the project which is not rushed but rather well thought out with a few key experienced people preparing those plans. The second is a smooth transition into the effort of actually performing the work required to create the project deliverables. And the third is a smooth transition to complete the project and perhaps move into operations.

On the other hand, the straight line or heroics model indicates work starting almost immediately with little planning. Or the planning can be happening along with the development work which often leads to re-work and duplicated efforts. These projects will have a rushed ending, required to meet delivery dates, and therefore quality suffers. While these projects originally show an earlier delivery date the reality is that they are delivered later due to this poor quality which must be corrected before the product is accepted by the customer.

The well planned “S” curve model also has a second benefit. This benefit allows resources to gradually transition out of one project an on to the next. The benefit here is that those assigned to new projects have an opportunity to complete their last project while they learn about the requirements of the new project. Not only does this help people as they transition into the new project but it also prevents the need to pull these people back into their old projects to be fixing problems.

The classic “S” curve of a project is a good measure of a projects success and assists the transitioning between projects. It is important therefore that PMOs and project managers monitor these curves and work toward improving these project patterns. Sound project management techniques are the tools that can be used to improve these patterns and your success over time.