Thursday, December 10, 2009
WHO SHOULD BE THE DESIGNATED DRIVER?
Once engineering and related specifications have been finalized, there still remains the task of materials acquisition. Unfortunately, materials procurement involves an inherent time lag due to the need to locate, bid out, and finally purchase for a major project what is often a list of hundreds, if not thousands of items. Some of these may be available off the shelf, but just as many, if not more, have first to be assembled and/or manufactured to order before being shipped. This results in substantial, sometimes unanticipated lead times from order to delivery. And this does not yet take into account the fact that some specified items will often be found to be out of production and unavailable, or carrying too high a price tag, or involving too long a lead time for production to stay on schedule. In such cases, re-entry into the project’s design/engineering spiral is necessary, with all of its attendant additional delays.
The reality in a great number of major build and refit projects is that you have the tail wagging the dog. Too many major projects end up being driven (controlled) by “engineering” and/or the “BOM” (bill of materials). That situation is, I have to tell you, very far from being a happy one. Allowing engineering (i.e., when specifications and/or drawings happen to be available), or the BOM (i.e., which and when materials happen to be available) to control production inevitably leads to a project duration well beyond any initially envisioned. That often leads in turn, at best, to bad feelings and, at worst, to claims for liquidated damages due to late completion.
My experience is that the only acceptable driver for a properly planned and managed project is the production schedule. The production schedule should be dictating when engineering and attendant specifications and drawings are finalized, not the other way around. Similarly, the production schedule should be dictating materials target order and delivery dates, not the other way around.
Of course, achieving the ideal situation, in which the production plan/schedule drives engineering, materials acquisition, and production, requires having not only a highly detailed project plan in the first place, but also one which is grounded in reality. Further, it requires a plan that is practical in the circumstances as to allocation of labor and other resources, and as to the projected durations of component operations. The creation and implementation of such a project plan requires significant hands-on, industry-specific build and refit management experience. There is no way around it. In this, as in most things relating to boat building and refit… experience always matters.