Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mathmatical Decision Making

It may or may not be clear in my "blogger identity" that I am / can be a compulsive planner. This could / can be a negative - but can also be a positive, considering that planning part of my responsibility. i am also very interested in problem solving, and the techniques/process involved in solving problems.

Thus, it was interesting when an article called
Weighted Averages Method of Problem Solving came up in my project management class. I have used alot of techniques, but not this one. When planning vacations / expenses / budgets / shows, I often use hard numbers. Some problems warrant using the first, best option, then a re-evaluation as the problem evolves. Obviously problem solving is different in the planning stage than the doing stage.

But when planning, and using hard numbers - I have often been faced with a scenario where the numbers don't really tell the whole story. For instance, when going to USITT how important is it to stay at the conference hotel, versus another hotel in walking distance. A hotel in driving difference? That means weighing driving versus flying (I've looked at buses and trains, but they never seem to be good options for me). If you fly - and want to drive- then there is a rental car involved. How does that weigh in? All of these variables have costs which I can determine fairly accurately (I know the price difference in hotels, an estimate of gas & mileage, airfare, etc). What can't be calculated is the gut feeling or importance of where you stay. Staying further away adds a commute. perhaps having no transportation in a city w/o a good public transportation system will suck. Perhaps you have friends to visit, or want to see other things. Perhaps you want to entertain in your room or hotel. Perhaps there are evening events. There are situational issues to be considered above and beyond the mere cost.

In a production, a price point might point you in one direction of fabrication, but perhaps another alternative has better benefits that aren't financially apparent - perhaps it is more "green" or recyclable, or able to be reused in future productions.

While using weighted averages seems an obvious way of sorting this all out, I had never thought about it before. The article above gives a good introduction and explains how to use the process.

The second article,kepner tregoe Decision making offers a fuller approach to problem solving and also used weighted averages, and is worth the read also.

Finally, at the other end of the spectrum is the 70% Rule:

This Rule states that if you have 70% of the data and have completed 70% of the analysis and if 70% of your gut feeling or instinct is in agreement with the first two, then go ahead and make your decision. In other words, you have a greater likelihood of making the best decision by using the 70% Rule than you would have had, if you had not used the 70% Rule.

While this is used in a military context, when lives can be at stake, and what we do is rarely life critical, we will often operate in situations where we don't have all of the necessary information, and must make a decision and move forward before it is possible to completely analyze every scenario.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Budget Conversations

In my PM class, one of my classmates shared a link about How to Finesse Budget Discussions. While as a TD in a theatrical situation, some of these options don't fit, the situation is still ripe for a scope to creep beyond the budget (time or materials) allotted for the show. It happens with the best of intentions - we all want the show to be a success. The range of options and the sampling I think could be effect techniques for theatre.

By giving options you can show how increasing the level of detail increases costs. However, we still have to be careful - a current production I am working on includes a caboose (a whole train really) - the caboose has vertical stripes. (the bigger story is that I interpreted the striped as engraved groove & my coworker thought they were dimensional (proud) trim - two different scenarios). It was offered that these could be painted instead of dimensional. If they were proud dimensional trim strips, you would save material costs by eliminating the trim. If they were grooved you would save time making the grooves. My vote is for grooves though - the cnc router can cut the panels to size and groove the plywood in 15 minutes. If they were painted only the painter would have to measure everything out and mask off the surrounding areas & ultimately spend more time than simply following the groove with the brush. Even the difference in proud trim versus paint is a marginal trade-off to me. If the lines weren't regular, or weren't prefect allowing the use of a paint stick. This leads into sampling - item A perhaps is a straight edge with brush stroke, item B is a groove and paint, and item C is an applied piece of painted trim. Each one of these would have different cost implication, especially once extrapolated into a square foot cost over a large area.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pert Time Calculations

Pert Charts are one of the tools PM's or TD's can use to track projects. While usually used for large and complex projects (For instance Disney could use this system while designing a new ride through implementation and final opening). Pert charts (as does critical path charts) focus on time, not cost as a project driver. Once all activities are entered, with time durations, and predecessors or successors, you can easily see the length of the project by seeing the critical path through the activities.
The critical path will be the path through the path that is the longest duration. There may be a variety of projects that need to be complete prior to project close, but sometimes they do not directly affect project length. There is a lot of information amount PERT charts, CRM, Gantt charts and network diagramming on the web, all of it much more thoroughly written then this so I would encourage you to do additional research.
When doing a PERT, Optimistic time (the minimum time needed) Pessimistic time (Worst case scenario) and Most likely time (best guess) is estimated for each task. What I just learned was how that gets translated into the Expected time duration:
Expected time=(Optimistic Time +4 X Most Likely Time + Pessimistic Time) / 6
Thus, the weighted average of the times creates a realistic duration. Since I usually do all of my estimating in excel workbooks, setting up these PERT calculations would be fairly simple (though perhaps tedious) to implement. It would be an interesting exercise to see if this ultimately leads to an increase in accuracy large enough to account for the additional estimating time.
One can argue that historical data and experience alone lead to better estimates, and to a certain extent that is true, but there are many variables that can affect the actual duration of any task.
Where I currently work we base our hours estimate on skilled labor doing the work. In many cases it is skilled labor that does the work, and the estimates can be fairly accurate. If the shop is full of work, and additional crew is hired, unskilled work (or lower skilled workers) may be put on the job, but their labor rate is also lower – so while the hours calculation will be wrong, the assumption is that the total amount being billed for the hours would work out due to the differences in labor rates. Sometimes this is true, and sometimes it is not. Historically we used to estimate based on who was slated to be assigned to the work. This lead to specific estimates based on the jobs leads capabilities. These estimates could be a little more specific, but were not generalizable, and were more time consuming. And despite being more specific were not any more accurate in the long run. Since we track the hours estimated vs. used, as well as the cost of labor estimated vs. used, it is interesting to see how these numbers can play out.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Unmanila Rope

UnManila Rope is a product I am using on a current project. While it will degrade under sunlight, it was important to look like authentic nautical rope, without splintering like hemp or manilla. While I wouldn't consider this for rigging, and it great for decoration, and it comes in a variety of sizes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Project Management Skills

In many ways, the lists are similar from being a TD to being a PM. Since I am a management focused TD (as opposed to a master carpenter style TD), my views are skewed accordingly…

The largest differences I see is that dealing with clients is different (in some ways) than dealing with designers (or internal clients, as a PM text would say), and the need to write a proposal or scope of work that clearly defines what you are providing to your client and for what price.

In terms of technical skill there are some differences. I have always believed that the TD, by nature of their responsibilities and skills, is a management position, and therefore should understand all of the technical areas, needs, safety requirements, and so forth (and have the appropriate certifications), but they aren’t & shouldn’t be the best welder in the shop. You can’t spend 40 hours a week on a diversified set of job tasks and be better than someone who spends 40 hours a week welding. In project management, I feel like this is the same, but even more so – the department heads, have been doing their jobs longer than I have, and have very specific skills. I have a generalists knowledge – I have to rely on, trust, negotiate and motivate them to seek out the most efficient processes, and to innovate as needed.

Otherwise, there are the typical skills: drafting, drawing, communication (verbal, written, illustrative), problem solving, time management, stress management, budgetary, computer literacy, adaptability, flexibility and versatility.

Also, there are management skills: conflict resolution, negotiation, planning, human resources, legal issues (fair employment, sexual harassment, osha requirements, life safety codes), organization, and so forth.

Finally, there are leadership skills: being able to see details, yet see the large picture. Being able to forecast what’s coming and prepare. Manage change. Motivation of those around you. Create a culture of trust, respect, innovation, planned risk, and celebrate success. Provide an organizational structure that works, a humane place to work, meaning in the work place, and navigate office politics.

Of course the above is my opinions, and abbreviated at that. Many books are written about much of what I have stated above. What are your thoughts?