The “L” in LEAPfrog stands for “Lean.”
“Lean” is a popular business buzzword. Everything is either “agile” or “lean” nowadays. And while I’m a little reticent about using Lean the buzzword, I’m not at all reticent about Lean the concept: eliminate waste.
So in LEAPfrog, the approach is to eliminate waste by using critical chain project management concepts, that is, to introduce buffers into the project schedule. What we want to do is eliminate or reduce the waste that arises from Parkinson’s Law and Student Syndrome (among other issues).
To do that, it starts by estimating high-level activities using a probabilistic approach. Since I created Statistical PERT (SPERT), I’m of course going to use SPERT to model the uncertain nature of each project activity.
The uncertainty I’m accounting for is both the normal variation that occurs in any activity, like driving to work each day, and the non-normal variation that occurs from risks that arise and adversely affect a project. Every activity has multiple risks that could cause the activity to take longer–sometimes much longer– than what would be normally observed. It’s like a car accident on the interstate when you’re driving to work, and the interstate is bumper-to-bumper as a result.
Now, we could use a normal risk management approach, but that takes time and expertise, neither of which may be available. If they are, fine, use good risk management practices to identify, analyze, and plan for when risks affect your project.
But failing that, at least we can account for the wider variation of activity performance that can occur because of unforeseen events that arise that cause an activity to take much longer than expected. In a high-level activity to procure vendor services, there might be a snag during contract negotiations that cause the process to go from a normal 4 weeks to an non-normal 8 or even 12 weeks. Include this variation when you estimate this high-level activity.
So in LEAPfrog, every activity is assessed as an independent, random variable with many possibilities and probabilities of occurrence. This is easily done using SPERT Beta Edition and the new SPERT Scheduler feature. Model each activity with a 3-point estimate (minimum, most likely, maximum) and a subjective judgment about how likely the most likely outcome really is. The SPERT spreadsheet offers an infinite number of probabilistic estimates. You’ll probably choose estimates that are between 50% and 95% probable, depending on your context, project, and activity.
But rather than unthinkingly choosing a high probability estimate, instead, choose a lower reliability estimate and then build a schedule contingency–a schedule buffer–to account for those times when your low-reliability estimate is exceeded. Later, I’ll explain how to create that schedule buffer.
Why choose a low-reliability estimate, you ask?
To fight against Parkinson’s Law and Student Syndrome. Instead of giving a too-generous amount of time to complete an activity, shrink the estimate so people working on that activity don’t sense that they have any buffer to waste. They have to immediately start working on the activity! And since work expands to fill the time allotted to it, give less time to do the activity and you’ll save time on the project because the activity will be finished in less time.
But since you’ll anticipate some activities will exceed their low-reliability estimates, you’ll also create a right-sized schedule contingency to guard against schedule failure.
The “E” in LEAPfrog is Emergent. We’ll look at that next in my next blog post.