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Using technology to optimise project plans

Cameron Johnson
May 26, 2016

It comes as no surprise that companies and their staff are increasingly being driven to do things better, faster, more safely and often at a reduced cost. In order to support these areas of focus, many organisations with already mature planning processes and capabilities are renewing their focus on both their planning processes and disciplines in an attempt to ensure that the plans being produced are optimal.

In this context, the term ‘planning’ encompasses both the concepts of planning (simplistically what needs to be done) and scheduling (when it can be done).

As one would expect, planners in all kinds of businesses typically expend an enormous amount of energy and focus in an effort to generate ‘optimal’ plans. The iron triangle of cost, time and quality is repeatedly poked and prodded as the planner strives to produce the best plan possible. However the reality is that the sheer volume of activities and plans can easily overwhelm our ability to effectively process the information, leading to sub-optimal or semi-optimal plans. In some industries it is not unusual for a planner to have to open multiple plans (10, 20, 30, 40 or more) at a time to support their need to understand the broader business context.

Another key point is that, for many organisations, truly optimised plans at the functional or business unit level may well not be the optimal plan for the enterprise as a whole. In other words, it may be necessary to execute activities in a manner that is suboptimal for one function, in order to contribute to a better plan for the organisation as a whole. These challenges combined create an opportunity for technology to assist beyond the boundaries of traditional planning tools such as Microsoft Project, Oracle Primavera P6 and good old Microsoft Excel.

Enter optimisation technology

At its simplest level, optimisation technology reads project schedules and activities and uses mathematical models to ‘flex’ the activities to achieve an optimal plan. It does this by moving or ‘flexing’ the activities within the context of the iron triangle and the boundaries of activity constraints and relationships.

Other than the fact that this technology automates what is a massively data intensive task, the key benefit is that it can optimise across multiple plans, and in so doing can therefore generate a truly optimised plan—the ‘big picture’ plan for the broader organisation.

This technology doesn’t replace the planner, it complements the abilities of the planner. The human dynamic is still very much required as the engine just does what computers do best: process large volumes of information to deliver a specific outcome.

It is worth calling out that all of these efforts need to be supported by clearly defined planning principles, roles and responsibilities. Without these foundations any technology solution will struggle to deliver the sufficient value.

Finally, as businesses grapple with the need to optimise their planning, whether the focus is on reduced cost, the maximisation of safety or any other objective, optimisation technology has an increasing role to play.

Cameron Johnson
Cameron Johnson is a lead consultant with Ajilon Australia working with the company’s larger resource organisations.
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