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Scheduling Ethics: Recognizing Gaming, Data Manipulation and Abuse in Project Schedules

SECOND EDITION

Walter Majerowicz, MBA, PMP

USA
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ABSTRACT

Project teams face numerous schedule challenges and risks including:  late part deliveries, unrealistic baselines, insufficient reserves/margins, inadequate resources, technical complexity, vague requirements, poor performance, and unanticipated changes. Unethical project scheduling practices can also pose a challenge to project success. Often, the pressure from customers, senior management and other stakeholders to stay on track and finish on time can foster an atmosphere in which gaming, manipulating or abusing the project schedule occurs to distort the schedule plan or hide performance problems.  Sometimes the gaming is the result of over optimism and a desire to delay reporting bad news to allow time to “fix the problem.” In other situations the abuse is intended to mislead or deflect blame for delays. This paper examines how to recognize schedule gaming, data manipulation, and abuse techniques, raises questions about ethics in schedule management when they are used, opens a dialogue on this often overlooked phenomena in planning and control, and offers ideas to mitigate unethical practices.

ETHICS IN PROJECT MANAGEMENT

“Okay, we’re lying about the cost and schedule,” a project manager stated in a leadership forum several years ago, “but otherwise some great things would not be built.” This provocative statement might at first suggest that, as far as this project manager was concerned, it was acceptable to misrepresent or withhold factual programmatic information if it meant keeping his organization’s projects funded. The statement also implies that in some organizations it is necessary to game, abuse and manipulate cost and schedule information to win the proposal, sell the project to the sponsor, keep senior executives “off our backs,” or buy time to resolve problems and issues. Moreover, in an organizational culture that does not like bad news, ignores risk, punishes poor performance, or is unrealistically overoptimistic about plans and forecasts, unethical behavior in terms of cost and schedule management might be viewed as necessary for the survival of the project or contract.

According to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, project practitioners “do not engage in or condone behavior that is designed to deceive others, including but not limited to, making misleading or false statements, stating half-truths, providing information out of context or withholding information that, if known, would render our statements misleading or incomplete.”

In other words, honesty is part of the profession, and unethical behaviour, such as gaming the project schedule, is wrong. Yet, in some organizations the focus on schedule success is so paramount it can contribute to a climate of unethical practices.  Being late can have extreme consequences:  lost incentive or award fees, liquidated damage penalties, loss of revenue due to late product launch, potential non-selection for new business due to poor past performance, and cost overruns as resources are added or diverted to the problem areas in the project schedule. Moreover, many project managers are optimistic by nature and overoptimistic in practice, a behaviour that promotes unrealistic project schedules and forecasts. And when risks become problems, managers may resort to questionable schedule gaming tactics to buy time for fixing problems, or to shift the blame for delays to other stakeholders. Therefore, project managers must be aware of potential schedule gaming and discuss the consequences of unethical schedule practices with their teams and suppliers.

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Editor’s note:  Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 1st Annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium in College Park, Maryland, USA and included in the conference Proceedings in June 2014.  It is republished here with permission of the author and the Project Management Center for Excellence at the University of Maryland.

About the Author

pmwj25-aug2014-Majerowicz-AUTHOR IMAGEWalter Majerowiczflag-usa

Maryland, USA

Walter Majerowicz has over 25 years’ experience in project planning and control, including schedule management, earned value management and risk analysis. He is currently Chief Operating Officer at Integrated Project Analytics, LLC and owner of Walter Majerowicz Consulting in Maryland, USA. Previously he held positions with ASRC Aerospace Corporation, Computer Sciences Corporation, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

At Integrated Project Analytics, LLC and Walter Majerowicz Consulting, he provides project management consulting and training services to government and industry clients.  As Planning & Schedule Manager, he has supported numerous programs and projects for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and currently serves as a technical advisor for the planning & scheduling discipline on the Program Analysis And Control (PAAC) contract at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Additionally, he provides independent schedule risk analysis and integrated cost/schedule risk analysis support to NASA’s Independent Program Assessment Office (IPAO).  Previously he provided earned value management policy support to the Agency’s Office of Chief Engineer, co-chaired the annual NASA Project Management Challenge (PM Challenge) conference, and was an instructor with the NASA Academy of Program, Project & Engineering Leadership (APPEL).

Mr. Majerowicz holds an MBA from the University of Baltimore and a Certificate in Technology Management from the California Institute of Technology. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with the Project Management Institute (PMI) and has been a frequent speaker at project management conferences. He is currently an Adjunct Lecturer with Georgetown University’s Project Management Certificate Program. Major award and honors include the NASA Goddard Outstanding Mentor Award, the NASA Public Service Medal, the PMI Distinguished Contribution Award, and the NASA Exceptional Public Achievement Medal.  Walter can be contacted at [email protected]