An Encounter with Project Management Practices

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It is no secret that any individual who is practicing project management as a profession tends to visualize ongoing operations that they cross in day-to-day life in terms of a project to identify presence/lack of project management practices.

On a recent business trip to India we were required to revalidate our passports with the American embassy prior to our return to United States. The appointment with the embassy was for 20 October 2005 at 3:15 p.m-3:30 p.m. The web appointment had clear instructions to the effect "Please arrive at the Consulate during your scheduled appointment time. Applicants who arrive more than 15 minutes early or more than 15 minutes late may not be admitted."

In order to keep up with the consulate instructions we arrived at the consulate gates around 3:00 p.m. As we reached the consulate gate a security guard asked us to join the line of 100-120 people standing in the scorching sun outside the embassy. We got in the line and inquiring the people in the line were amazed to hear that people who had appointments at 2:00 p.m were still waiting in the line.

The famous English proverb "An idle mind is the devil's workshop" started playing its role and we started to think in terms of project management practices. The duration estimation part of project management came to the mind "if the appointment time for every individual was 15 minutes and there were 10 counters to interview people a maximum of 40 people could be interviewed per hour". If the interviewing was delayed by an hour we should still have had only 40 people standing there? How come there were 100-120 people? Obviously when the appointment was booked there must have been a formal resource allocation process to assure a fair and equitable assignment to each individual.

The question on mind was whether the resource allocation was not planned properly or was the duration estimation messed up?. Is their a need for the embassy to consider early start, early finish, late start, and late finish time for each individual’s interview OR was I was trying to go a level below in my estimation by not following the standards prescribed by PMBOK. Did the plan consist of a buffer time built into the schedule and was the buffer time distributed to the activities according to some scheme? Did the project manager consider productivity and utilization when estimating the project?

While we were toying with the idea of what was wrong our turn to enter the embassy finally came at around 4:30 p.m. We went through a security check and were asked to join another line to hand over our demand draft for Rupees 441. The process took an additional 30 minutes and we were then asked to join next line where we had to present another demand draft for Rupees 4400. The new line moved faster and we were done within 15 minutes by then we were exhausted but, still wondering where the planning had gone wrong? Why could the embassy not collect both the demand drafts at one counter and save an average 15-30 minutes per person?. Was their a need for Operations management to improve productivity and create a competitive advantage for the embassy? On other thoughts we decided there was no need to create competitive edge as most people’s life time dream is to enter United states. While we were thinking about possible answers we were asked to join the third line to present our documents you guessed right additional 45 minutes by the time we got done.

We were then asked to go to the interview with the consular officer but, the thought process continued questions like whether the leads and lags were taken into account when the Activity Sequencing was planned kept popping in our minds?. Unfortunately we as humans do not have the luxury of using a pop-up blocker so the thoughts continued with questions like were the tasks in logical order and were the dependencies that existed among the activities determined?. Was a Network Diagram developed so on and so forth. Having been in the scorching sun and going through all the lines from 3:00 p.m we were thirsty and were trying to find a vending machine for coke or coffee, no surprises there were no vending machine in the embassy. We tried to remember the Chinese proverb "One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life". We then walked into the next building for the interview and when we entered the building we were shocked to find at least 80-100 people waiting to be interviewed.

The fourth line was ready for us to join and we had to wait an additional hour and 30 minutes before we had our interview at that point of time we wondered if the constraints of the project team, the organizational structure, preferences of the project management team, and expected staff assignments were considered before the project moved to execution phase. Before we could come up with an answer we were called for the interview, the interview lasted for about 10 minutes and after the visa approval we were asked to join the last line to pay the last and final demand draft of Rupees 2200 to complete the process.

As we walked out of the embassy we were wondering was this a project a temporary endeavor undertaken to achieve a particular aim of interviewing and issuing visa or was this an ongoing operation repetitive in nature, either way it needed to be planned, executed and controlled properly. We were wondering who the stakeholders and the customers were if this were to be treated like a project. We took the liberty of assuming the embassy to be the stakeholder and the candidates who spent their time and money as customers. Over years we had learnt from our experience, PMBOK and other project management materials the need to define, organize, and plan the work in detail to achieve the end goal of any project which is customer satisfaction. The reality is never so tidy most of the negative or positive aspects of a project can never be anticipated in advance to be controlled efficiently. We then remembered the famous quote of James Baldwin "Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced".

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