Fundamentals of a Good Analysis and the Villain Called Perception

082615-Variance Analysis

Some five to ten years ago, a Project Controls colleague asked an interesting question. It is about the analysis/reports that our PC Group completes periodically. Some of the reports are “as required” but most times on a fixed cycle; e.g. bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually.

He asked us, “What are the attributes of a good variance analysis?”

Reflecting on the questions, all which matter most, came pouring forth. While writing the bulleted central piece of what a good analysis/report is like, I felt strongly that most, if not all of what I’ve scribbled are also applicable to all types of analysis or report-type documentations. It is a pleasure to share these ideas, especially to all the management professionals out there.

Attributes of a good analysis/report

• Based from high quality data: aligned, categorized/grouped, layered, integrated, has levels, and properly scaled (analyst must be aware of Simpsons Paradox and the effect of central limit)
• Based on more complete information, the better (no information is much better than wrong information)
• Accurate data ‎correlations
• Concise and to the point (succinct)
• Objective and true
• Meets purpose (goal); has good value
• Unbiased
• Observes accepted rules on priorities
• Helps one make better decisions
• Based on less assumptions-more facts
• Based on mature data
• Logical (passes the good sense test)
• Has solid backup (references)
• Timely (This is very important because I believe that all useful analysis are time-bound)
• Tailored to the audience requirements (tied to objectives)
• Uses accepted/acceptable methodology
• Good quality data source-know how they were generated
• Right FORMAT

The Villain Called Perception

To test a theory that I was playing around earlier, I grabbed one analysis report from a very old file of yesteryears and looked at it. It is a schedule variance analysis/report, handwritten and legible, but lacks modern day esthetics. It is not the perfect engineering blocked lettering that many old-timers love. The report is excellent. The message is clear and to the point. Schedule delays presented through date’s variances against the baseline dates are credible and make sense. They are physically real and not a by-product of some scheduling magic trick. In brief, the analysis passed the common sense test. A veteran, old school, risk-based management practitioners would love it.

082615-Perception2Curious as to how others in the Construction team see the report, I brought the analysis to five managers (three Project Controls Managers and two Project Managers) and asked what they thought of the report. Three out of five managers (60%) said that the report is not valuable because it does not help them make the decision quickly. They explained what they are looking for in details. In response, I began to point to the information they are looking for on the various sections of the report. To their amazement, the analysis actually addressed their individual objectives almost point for point. Flabbergasted with the realization that they missed the information they were so intently looking for, they tried to explain themselves.

“I thought the information isn’t there,” said the first.
“My perception is that the report is just a draft,” said the second.
“Who does handwritten report these days? It is not presentable so I figured, it has nothing in there,” the third man said. “I did not even bother reading the second page.”

The two others said that it is confusing and added that the report would look better if it was computer/printer generated.

“The report is too long and it is handwritten,” Joe said.
“I do not accept any handwritten report. They are not professionally done so they usually do not have anything of value in them,” concludes the fifth.

The effect, presence, and influence of this relationship villain called perception became so glaring that even right information turned out unacceptable. To sum up the five manager’s comments, they are all saying that their perception of the schedule variance analysis is poor.

The problem with the word perception is that it lacks the base premise of properly identifying what a poor variance analysis or what a good variance analysis is. Whatever comes from within the influence of perception will not provide a useful indication of what any analysis should be. Perception is something one believes in as true regardless of what it really is. The report might be correct. It might be a sound analysis but someone perceived it to be erroneous! The perception is that it is wrong. If perception is poor, it does not really mean it is poor or lacks the quality of a good analysis. The perception might just be the result of the reader’s limited understanding. Perhaps, it is because of his personal biases and preferences.

“Perception is one of the reasons why analyst must exercise care in accepting and presenting values from various stakeholders without understanding their frame of mind (personal objectives). It is important to bring everyone to think within one frame of thoughts so that all perspectives are from the same footing. It prevents selective perception (Frago, R., 2015).

Selective perception refers to instances where you see what you want to see (Intaver, 2006). This occurs when one’s intention is to fit or influence the estimate to fit the mandated cost limitation when preparing the project’s budget (Frago, R., 2015.Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities: A Project Controls Perspective).”
Important and relevant questions are answerable by an analytical report that has the above qualities. If someone asks, “What is the root cause of a particular schedule variance?” the answer should be in the report. All valid questions must be answerable by the analyst’s backup information.

There are questions that are just not properly phrased. The report’s inability to answer the question lies on the quality of the question and not the result of the analyses. Take this for example: “Should the schedule variance be corrected?”

I therefore conclude that the report format will help analyst get through the perception barrier a lot better. Using the right format brings the reader attention to the right spot very quickly. All companies have forms and templates covered by their individual standards and procedures. Employees have to follow these templates or risk the same situation described above.

Maybe not a good question because a variance is a variance. It is what it is. Only errors should be corrected and this is not an error. The context of the question lacks clarity and will likewise elicit a muddy answer. The question is probably asking if one should correct something given a variance (deviation to plan). One thing to note is this, a variance does not mean it is wrong or bad or something needs correction. A variance, even a big variance might be something we want. It might be something the project wants. Think about your goal. If a person wants to exceed expectations, he will end up with a variance; i.e. a positive variance. If he actually exceeds expectations several points over, it is an acceptable variance.

Is the analysis time-bound? All project management/risk-based management type analyses are time-bound. Can anyone think of a risk-based analysis that has no time component to it? There was a lot of discussion related to this topic in the past somewhere. Let us see if someone will bring the concluding thoughts of their discussions here.

Rufran C. Frago – Author (081915)

Note: Article was first published in Linkedin Pulse on August 27, 2015.

Other articles authored by Rufran Frago:

1. Risks Surrounding Canada’s TFW Part 1
2. Risks as a Function of Time
3. Project Schedule: P50, Anyone?
4. Changing the Culture of Your Organization
5. A Person Perceives Others Based on His Own Interest
6. How Can Management Motivate and Empower?
7. How Can Managers Increase Leadership Effectiveness
8. Risks Surrounding Canada’s TFW Part 2
9. Scaffolding Hours: What are they? Directs or Indirects? Part 2
10. Oil Price, Recession: Causes, Issues and Risks

ANNOUNCEMENT! The paperback and Kindle edition of the book “Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities: A Project Controls Perspective” are now available. Please follow the hyperlinks for more information.

The book provides new/additional knowledge to project management practitioners (beginners to experts), risk management specialists, project controls people, estimators, cost managers, planners and schedulers, and for students of undergraduate courses in Risk Management. The sectional contents offer practical and common sense approach to identifying/managing risks. It is a must have for company managers, directors, supervisors, aspiring industry professionals, and even those students fresh from high school. The material is especially design to start with the foundational principles of risk gradually bringing the reader to deeper topics using a conversational style with simple terminologies. Check it out!

062215-Book Cover (Hero) Small 1

Source: Frago, R., 2015.Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities: A Project Controls Perspective

About rcfrago

Rufran C. Frago, P. Eng., PMP, CCP, PMI-RMP, is the Founder/CEO of PM solution Pro, a tradename/trademark of Risk-based Management and Services Inc., a Canadian company focusing on project/business risk-based management consulting, business development, creative products, and training services. Senior project consultant, planner, scheduler, engineer, business developer, published author, with deep, diversified experience in management and controls. Hands-on work experience in engineering, maintenance, reliability program, operation, EH&S, training, and administration. Recognized subject matter expert by peers in project and Turn-around maintenance planning and scheduling, schedule quality assessment, and risk analysis. Proficient in project management framework, processes, tools, systems, and applications. Risk-based practitioner who value safety, integrity, ethics, and professionalism. Mr. Frago's personal work philosophy: "My client's success is also my own!" He has many years of international industry-related work ‎experience in Oil & Gas, Petrochemicals, Oleo-chemicals, Sugar Refining, Power/Utilities/Nuclear, Manufacturing, Consulting, and Education. He has worked in various parts of the world (Location: Asia, Middle East, Canada, and North Africa). Rufran has worked with Caltex, Uniman, Unichem (now Cocochem), ARAMCO-KSA, Central Azucarera de Tarlac, Arabian Gulf Oil Company-Libya, Batangas State University, Saint Bridget's College, JG Summit Petrochemicals, Halliburton-Kellogg, Brown and Root, OPTI Canada, and Suncor Energy Inc. His expertise includes risk-based project management, risk analysis, planning & scheduling, cost management, auditing, maintenance, operation, EH&S and reliability engineering. He is interested in providing solutions and innovations to all clients and stakeholders. Mr. Frago is a risk management professional. He studied at BSU graduating with a Diploma in Petroleum Refinery Maintenance Technician, and BS Mechanical Engineering. He also has a Bachelors degree in Management Engineering from UB. He took up MBA courses under UP-PBMIT Consortium. Rufran completed Computer Technician Program at ICS-Pennsylvania, USA, APM Certificate program at SAIT-Calgary, and PM Certificate program-Construction Management. He is presently taking up PM Certificate program-Risk Management at University of Calgary. He was a recipient of the Gerry Roxas Leadership Award, the American Field Service (AFS) Scholarship grant, and the CALTEX scholarship grant where he specialized in Petroleum Refinery Maintenance. The author wants to share his knowledge and leave behind some legacy to all readers, most especially to his wife, children and lovely grandchildren, Eva and Mia.
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2 Responses to Fundamentals of a Good Analysis and the Villain Called Perception

  1. Pingback: Fundamentals of a Good Analysis and the Villain Called Perception | Your World, Our Risk Universe

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