While giving a presentation entitled “What is PPM?” to a group of 20 CIOs, I made the observation that “most project managers in IT think CPM (the Critical Path Method) is an operating system that runs on Apple II computers.” One of the CIOs raised his hand and asked, “Well, isn’t that what CPM is?” I guess he proved my point!
Serious users of Microsoft Project understand the concept of “negative float/slack.” If the end date of a project is set before the critical path duration, some tasks will have negative slack. In practice, the hope is that somehow time will be made up on the remainder of the project work, so the set end date will actually be achieved. Once a scheduling engineer working on a seven year, $4 billion dollar construction project, advised the VP responsible for the project that the monthly progress schedule started to show some negative slack. Each month when field progress was reported, the scheduling engineer dutifully reported the situation, but the VP continued to insist the project would catch up. Finally after 15 months, the scheduling engineer decided to portray the situation in a way he thought his VP could understand. He went back to the first month when negative slack appeared and found that of all the remaining tasks in that schedule, some 6 % had negative slack. The next month, 9% of the tasks had negative slack. And so on, until the current month’s schedule had 22 % of tasks that were negative. The scheduling engineer drew a simple graph showing the 15 months history against the % of negative tasks. He sent a note to the VP with the statement “Hey boss, were going the wrong way!” Two weeks later the VP set a new project completion date consistent with the CPM schedule. Sometimes you have to be creative!
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