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Standing in front of an incredulous audience of business executives is not an easy task to do. But, I have lived this experience by presenting a singular tool to understand the dynamic of project performance. Soon, I discovered when you challenge not the knowledge, but the mindset of respected executive managers, you would finish in troubles. This is exactly what a good system dynamic model is trying to do.

Popular project planning tools like activities networks, curves S and earn value analysis are good to indicate if there is a problem or issue (delays and overruns) during project execution. In complex projects (projects with many interdependencies or applying high technology), it’s not easy to identify what to do. Usually, you need an experienced project manager whose can process (in his or her mind) key performance indicators and define a group of actions to fix the problem.

In 2006 as a part of my Master Degree thesis, I designed a system dynamic model to simulate the behaviour of complex projects in different situations. Then, you could try different solutions to particular performance problems, obtaining a result (that can be good or bad) that allows you to learn.  This project model includes the impact of quality checking, level of experience of project members and task productivity on rework and performance indicators. Then, users like you or I can experiment with different actions and decisions to see what happen with rework and performance. By using this approach iteratively, we can learn to make better project decisions and design innovative solutions for traditional poor project performance.  

basic model

Basic performing-activities system dynamic model (the humble beginning of a complex project model)

Before starting to play, you have to conduct a series of tests to validate not only the model’s outcomes but also the model’s assumptions. In this sense, I invested a significant effort in validating this project model against 15 real projects with different performance.  The objective was to provide confidence in the model’s results (forecasts and expected outcomes).  

But: what happen if you find an expert whose think our model is wrong after reviewing successful validation tests? Usually, experts have their own mental model in their heads which is the basis to make decisions. A mental model is how we think the world around us is working (including projects) and it’s feeding by our experiences and perspectives. Sometimes there are difficult situations in which mental models and simulation models disagree. Instead of calling a simulation model “a piece of crap”, experts can use the structure behind those models to make explicit their own mental model. You have to be ready to challenge your mental model, if you are committed to learn something new every day. 

Please ,think about it.