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"Need for Speed" Insights into the Concept of Time in Managing Large-Scale Projects

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Time is a fact, and using the term “managing time in project management” does not make sense, at least to me. No one can manage time, time will keep running – we cannot stop it, buy it, store it, recover it or transfer it. We cannot improve it (improve the practices, so that we get better sequences), extend it (extend the deadline but not the time), rewind it, going back physically to a certain moment in the past (except for memories, or maybe the day we have time travelers). Time (chronos) will always keep running and the clocks ticking as they have always done. Today, in many industries, time is the cutting edge. The time to market (kairos – i.e., the right moment, the timing) in many industrial projects is a key factor in the competition between companies, especially when it comes to innovative projects. The pace and speed of a project – i.e., the scope in delivering the progress to time rate – are manageable and we can talk about managing project speed and pace instead of talking about managing time (chronos – i.e., the clock time) in a project. Time (chronos), being one of the most critical resources and a vital determinant of a project’s success, has huge importance in the modern industrialized world. Being first in the market, gaining a competitive advantage and reducing time-dependent costs can all be driving factors for companies trying to reduce delivery time. The need to reduce project duration is driving firms to continuously search for tools, techniques, methods and philosophies to achieve that. There are many scheduling tools, techniques and methods available, which have been practiced for decades. However, many researches and studies show that a significant number of projects exceed their desired time to delivery. To some extent, it has been concluded that operational implementation of these tools, techniques and methods alone, in isolation, is not satisfactory for gaining the desired benefits; it should be well supported by complementary factors such as, for example, stakeholders’ commitment, improvement of organizational culture and management practices, competent personnel, continuous improvement processes, supportive management, etc. Time management is the act or process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially with a view to increasing effectiveness and efficiency. Time is one of the most critical constraint in projects. It is also one of the vital success criteria for every kind of project. Time management in projects involves processes required to accomplish timely completion of projects. Business economic value creating the potential to speed up projects manifests itself as a reduction in time-related costs and increased income due to reduced waste and less rework. One of the key aims of this Ph.D. dissertation is to develop a better understanding of the concept of time (chronos) and timing (kairos) in managing projects. The aim is to gain and present in-depth knowledge of the subject and contribution to new knowledge, thorough knowledge of different research methods and a good understanding of real-world application. Five research questions have been formulated in order to fulfill the research objectives: • RQ1. What is the current state of affairs and performance vis-à-vis the elapsed time, the time to delivery and other project aspects in a sample(s) of large-scale engineering projects? • RQ2. What are the factors that cause delays in large-scale engineering projects? • RQ3. What are the relationships between project speed and project flexibility, uncertainty and complexity? • RQ4. Is faster project delivery always better? If so, why? • RQ5. How can projects be delivered faster? The fulfillment of the research objectives has been achieved through 20 individual publications. Some of these publications answer the research questions directly, such as publications 1, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 20, which contribute directly to some extent to the research questions. The focus points in the publications listed above are: • Publication 1. Discusses the barriers and challenges of employing concurrent engineering as a philosophy within Norwegian construction projects. • Publication 6. Presents a comparison of the value of time between new product development and construction projects. • Publication 9. Develops a project speedometer for road construction projects. • Publication 11. Discusses the existing definitions of efficiency, efficacy and effectiveness in project management. • Publication 12. Presents a case study that had a schedule compressed dramatically to reach the desired time to delivery, which met the market needs. • Publications 13, 14, 15 and 16. Investigate the delay factors and causes in large-scale engineering projects. • Publication 17. Investigates the relationship between project speed and project flexibility, uncertainty and complexity. • Publication 20. Reflects the dualism of Yin and Yang in terms of project efficiency and effectiveness. The paradigm followed in answering the research questions is pragmatism. Pragmatism allows multiple positions, but one position may be more appropriate than another for answering a particular research question, which confirms the pragmatist’s view that it is perfectly possible to work with different philosophical positions. The author used methods that enable credible, well-founded, reliable and relevant data to be collected that advance the research. Two strategies were used: a case study strategy and a survey strategy. In addition, interviews as a sole technique are conducted to answer some of the research questions. Most of the methods used are qualitative, and both approaches were used (i.e., inductive and deductive). This resulted in developing some conceptual models based on the findings in the conducted studies during this Ph.D. research work. The findings of this dissertation are oriented toward developing a better understanding of time as a constraint on the one hand (chronos), and as a competitive advantage on the other (kairos). Moreover, this dissertation will look at the notion of “timing” and its relation to time with respect to project efficiency and effectiveness. Two other concepts will be introduced to this dissertation, “Yin” and “Yang”, where they reflect project efficiency and effectiveness, respectively. These two concepts are a paradox and contradictory, and yet interrelated (dualities), as they exist simultaneously and persist over time. These elements seem logical when considered in isolation, but irrational and inconsistent when juxtaposed; they are competing, but each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The reflection of efficiency and effectiveness will be based on the concepts of Yin versus Yang, and time versus timing. This dissertation also looks at time (chronos – i.e., clock time) from many angles, by describing a generic project life cycle and providing explicit definitions for many concepts (e.g., project duration, project speed, etc.). It also investigates the existing tools, techniques, methods and philosophies for shortening/reducing project life cycle/duration. It identifies major delay factors from an intensive literature review and from empirical data based on surveys and a case study. Other explicit terms introduced and discussed with regard to other concepts are “flexibility,” “uncertainty” and “complexity.” This multiple investigation of the topic gave the dissertation rich overall insights into the concept of time in managing projects. Another developed model is the PESTOL model; this model is used for post-project evaluation and can help in accumulating lessons learned for future similar projects. The evaluation is linked to learning to give an overall model on how to integrate both for better project management, which will also lead to better use and improve project speed and pace. Another model related to measuring performance is a project speedometer for measuring project pace and productivity. The findings of the dissertation give multiple insights into the concept of time and timing in managing large-scale engineering projects. The issues are analyzed from different angles and from philosophical and practical approaches. The results of these studies, which led to the writing of this dissertation, contribute to new knowledge with respect to both theory and practice. The theoretical contribution to new knowledge is the development of the above-mentioned conceptual models mentioned above, which are expected to be improved by other researchers in the future. The first contribution has resulted from checking the correlation between time and cost, and time and scope within the different phases of the project (pre-project, project and post-project). I found that the total project cost at the end of the project did not always reflect the time window needed to complete it, and the same was found for the complete scope at the end of the project with respect to the time window. A second finding was that more that 90% of the total project cost was spent in the implementation phase. My third finding related to the gaps and delays in the pre-project phase, which in turn led me to consider the identification of such delays, which was addressed in the second research question (RQ2). Thus, the contribution to the theory is the identification of new delay factors not found in similar previous studies. I used both quantitative and qualitative methods, but the qualitative method had not been used in previous studies at the time I conducted my research. An fourth contribution to theory is the recognition of project speed (scope delivered per unit of time) as new way of managing the productivity in projects, as well as identification of the relationship between project speed and project flexibility, complexity, and uncertainty. While answering the why delivering project faster, a fifth contribution to theory is that TTM in NPD differs from TTD in engineering projects. The main differences are market demands and the needs: in the case of NPD, time is the main key success factors, whereas this is not always the case for the LSEP. By contrast, the most important practical contributions of my research are in facilitating the potential understanding of the concepts and defining them explicitly to enable practitioners to make better use of them (e.g., chronos, kairos, how efficiency is related to effectiveness, and the use of evaluation and linking it to learning). Explicit practical contributions are the clear analyses of the correlation between time versus cost, and time versus scope. This will help project managers to consider changing their perceptions regarding the iron triangle. Additionally, by showing that there are gaps in the pre-project phase, my research will help project managers to increase the efficiency of their teams in the study and planning phases, either by increasing resources or through resource allocation. A further practical contribution is the identification of the major delay factors in LSEPs in the Norwegian configuration, as this will help organizations to update their risk factors lists. I have given some suggestions for to how to deal with such delay factors. Yet another practical contribution is my recommendations for how to deal with flexibility to increase project speed, such as using modularity during execution phase. Complexity and uncertainty play negative roles and they hinder project speed, and therefore I recommend that project managers should be aware of these complexities and uncertainties. In conclusion, the findings from the research on which my doctoral dissertation is based contribute to a better understanding of the concept of time in its two dimensions (i.e., chronos and kairos). Further research on testing and how to apply pragmatically the developed models (e.g., PESTOL, Speedometer and Yin-Yang) should enrich the topic and deepen the understanding of the relation between project speed and flexibility, uncertainty, and complexity. There is potential for improving the models and concepts, depending on the context of use.
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