It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Lady Sings

In the management of work, there is a strong desire to know when initiatives will result in the attainment of goals/objectives. A good question becomes “How do we know when a set of goals/objectives has been met under different work scenarios?”

I use a mix of three mainline work management approaches with my clients (CPM, BPM and ACM). Reading these backwards, you get A, B, C which looks auspicious.

Goal attainment on projects planned and monitored using Critical Path Method (CPM) requires little attention because of the inherent focus on predicting arrival times at project milestones. Analysts start tracking “float” from day one and management has no problem relating to summary level reports that show plan, actual and projected-to-completion dates for project activities.  Management knows that if float starts to erode during the 1st 20 percent of the timeline it becomes increasingly more difficult to avoid being late at project milestones.

In discrete manufacturing where Business Process Management (BPM) process maps are characterized by multiple decision points and where branching can only be determined at the time these steps become current along a process instance, it becomes next to impossible to predict arrival times at process end points.  But, goals usually are clear (e.g. build a prototype, test it, ship it).

In the world of office/services where a high percentage of the work is unstructured, Adaptive Case Management (ACM) is the preferred “methodology” but, in the absence of pre-defined logic connections between pre-defined steps, tasks or interventions, the only methodology, really, involves intuitive interventions such as opening a case, adding material to the case, performing whatever work is required to reach objectives and then closing the case.

The big question with ACM becomes “When do we close the Case”?

In healthcare, deciding what interventions a particular patient needs is difficult, but when to close is easy – we close (i.e. discharge) when the problem(s) have been sorted.

The appropriate time to close a case for a new product release initiative that involves research and development could be when the product team run out of funding, when a particular level of functionality has been reached, when it becomes evident that the product “will not fly”, or when the product team has been leapfrogged.

One way to “predict” case closure in an ACM environment is to assign relative values to objectives/sub-objectives and track ‘Earned Value”.   The EV model does not have to be complex.  If there are five interlinked ‘deliverables’, a simple matrix with five weighted rows and five state columns (not started/started/in progress/essentially complete/complete) with calculated summary data points 0,10,25,50,75,90, 100  may be sufficient. If the case involves final assembly of five otherwise unrelated deliverables, you can use the same model, set the weighting to 1.0, and report 0,20,40,60,80,100.

Bottom line, whatever non-subjective/subjective approach to predicting project/case closure you use, the information should post each time anyone opens the project/case.


Management consultant and process control engineer (MSc EE) with a focus on bridging the gap between operations and strategy in the areas of critical infrastructure protection, major crimes case management, healthcare services delivery, and b2b/b2c/b2d transactions. (C) 2010-2019 Karl Walter Keirstead, P. Eng. All rights reserved. The opinions expressed here are those of the author, and are not connected with Jay-Kell Technologies Inc, Civerex Systems Inc. (Canada), Civerex Systems Inc. (USA) or CvX Productions.
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4 Responses to It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Lady Sings

  1. Karl Walter, great post! When to close a case is an important question and in principle even closing a case does not mean its over because it can be ‘reopened’, which is another substantial distinction to BPM. So ‘case closed’ is no more than a state definition that says that currently there is no action intended in this case. It can be set by goal achievement, authorized users, business rules, and even conditions outside the case that might close the case without goals being achieved, yet again another important distinction to BPM.

    Earned value is a great way to judge case state which can be a mix of values, what we call a ‘complex state’. Some of them can be strategic objectives, customer outcome ratings, and operational targets.


  2. PM Hut says:

    Hi Karl,

    I think the fat lady sings when the project sponsor says that the project is done, which rarely, if ever, happens without getting him to formally sign on the contract closure document…

    Earned value is good for tracking performance, but not so good for tracking deliverables…


  3. I like the distinction made between tracking performance versus tracking deliverables.

    In manufacturing settings where there is a strong focus on not having inventory, the focus often needs to shift from trying to manage tasks to managing gaps between tasks.


  4. The EV approach I prefer is called FOMM (Figure of Merit Matrices). So far as I can tell, it was invented by the Rand Corporation and used on a project exploring tradeoffs relating to range, accuracy and payload of ballistic missiles.


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