Back to Volume 1 | Winter 2016

From Factory Physics® to Project Physics

Executive Summary

Project managers want projects delivered on time and under budget. Unfortunately, most project managers are handicapped by flawed, or plain wrong, decision-making models for controlling the complexity and variability inherent in project management. The history of project management has been a progression of focus on cost and schedule using ever-newer concepts and computer software. Projects are undeniably a special case of production systems and all production systems are governed by operations science. Project managers should apply the concepts of operations science to get predictable and profitable results, rather than ignoring the science because “projects are special.”

An astronaut is able to travel to space because of the thorough application of many branches of science. Science, in simple terms, is the process of making a hypothesis about the behavior of nature and then relentlessly testing that hypothesis against experimental observation to see if it holds up as a predictive law. Science is also the knowledge gained through that process.

There appear to be few applications of the scientific approach in project management. Do a web search on “project management science” and the results are pretty sparse. The reason is straightforward: Project managers tend to focus on the coordination and tracking aspects of projects rather than the underlying relationships that drive project performance. This is akin to only tracking speed and route when on a vacation trip without paying attention to the fact that you’re in a VW beetle towing a 38’ camper trailer and heading into the Rocky Mountains—trip progress data gathered from travel through the plains of Kansas will not provide much predictability for the trip through Colorado.

Our industry is in crisis. How did we get to this current state of affairs? Failing to understand how project management tools work with, or fail to work with, the underlying science driving project performance is a major reason why so many companies fail at project execution. Embracing operations science to manage and control projects will lead directly to better project performance for managers and owners.

There is a Factory Physics law called “Pay me now or pay me later.” It says that variability will be buffered. More variability requires more buffers. A project manager can choose to buffer project variability proactively or the project buffers will arise on their own, typically as cost overruns, schedule delays, or both.

A better path forward is to use the common sense of practical operations science to guide your efforts, accelerate your Project Production Management progress and quickly, predictively implement improvements that fit the unique requirements and challenges that you face.

Figure 2: Fundamental behavior of capacity utilization, cycle time and variability.


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