How to best understand Project Data Maturity, Integration, and Risk

Cover arts from Pexels Free pictures.Photo by Mikael Blomkvist.PM Solution Pro.2023

An overall project execution plan is still a puzzle at an early stage. It is looking for the correct information to replace fuzzy data, seeking to fill in the missing information. Major data points are still more constraints and assumptions. Even the strategy revolves around specific objectives that are more political than logic-based, fondly called economic dates and targets, backed by feasibility studies based primarily on assumptions.

Data maturity and reliability are at their lowest when assumptions (fill-in information) and constraints peak.

The rule of thumb to follow: “Projects should not be sanctioned when the unknowns far exceed the knowns.”

The overall execution plan loses substance when vital pieces are missing. It can also lose its essence when many minor project elements are absent through their cumulative effect.

Data maturity is a project attribute project managers have to deal with in some intelligent way. They seek to formulate a way to address missing and incomplete information and strike a balance. Integrating a project with missing or insufficient work scopes is not ideal. Filling in an information space with assumed fill-in data is a risky trade-off.

Creating what-if scenarios and quantifying the trade-offs are two of the best approaches to intelligent decisions. Through iterative simulations, the project will get some helpful foresight. Note, however, that this will not address project uncertainties but will only increase project awareness.

How can anyone completely or acceptably integrate construction, engineering, commissioning, start-up procurement, modularization, fabrication, deliverables, and other project elements into anything that still needs to be in full view?

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Integration, Quality, and Data Maturity Chart.PM Solution Pro.copyright2015

Figure 1 – Integration, Quality, and Data Maturity Chart

Figure 1 illustrates the general relationship between maturity, quality, and integration using time as a backdrop (Frago, R., 2015. Risk-based Management: Data Maturity, Quality, and Project Integration). It is only a partial view of the project lifecycle but demonstrates that data maturity increases over time. As the project moved to the right through the timeline, maturity summons quality to grow with the degree of integration improving.

At Gate 3 (G3), the EDS (Execution Baseline Schedule) and Project Management Plan (some companies prefer to call it Project Execution Plan rather than the usual PMBOK terminology) have most of the necessary information. These include a Risk Management Plan, Basis of Schedule, Execution Estimate, final revision of the Project Charter, Project Controls Plan, Basis of Schedule (BOS), and others. Ideally, all project documents must be ready for approval and final sanction.

Although distinctly different, the project is often compared to a precious baby in development. Each stage during the pregnancy gives us a glimpse of the whole until final delivery. The project lifecycle is similar to the baby’s biological phases conceptually. Time-dependent information comes naturally, dancing around the business beat.

Much like a forming fetus, no one can force a project to mature ahead of its time. Like everything else, there is a place and time for everything. Picking the right place, the right time, and the right resources make a project extremely successful. What is right shall depend on company objectives and risk appetite.

Quality is frequently a victim of time. Think about it. Try doing anything quicker than usual. What will happen to the quality of any endeavor compared to one given enough time? Right you are! The probability is high that we will see resources skipping steps, doing shortcuts, circumventing rules, violating regulations, lying, cheating, sugarcoating, and many others. The adverse consequences, to name a few, includes rework, higher safety incidents, project suspension, strikes, disputes, litigation, lay-offs, and bunches of other bad news. All these could happen because quality has deteriorated. 

A quality person probably coined the phrase, “Haste makes waste!”

We often see it. If you are a project person, you have noticed that a project schedule (that is supposed to manage time) becomes the victim of time. The PC Manager barked his order with a glint of a measured warning in his eyes:

“The schedule is good enough. We need to submit it today before noon! Senior Leaders are meeting tomorrow. Fail to submit now, and we will all look for another job next month.”

The project team must comprehend that the integrative requirement of the project depends on data/information maturity. Maturity spells identification, clarity, the correct level of detail, and completeness. The maturity of work components should spell quality (with quality achieving at least the accepted minimum requirement of the organization). The sooner we fill in the blanks, the sooner we get going. The maturity point advances to the next level through the Gates.

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Data Maturity, Risk, and Reliability Chart.PM Solution Pro.copyright2015

Figure 2 – Data Maturity, Risk, and Reliability

The quality of information is directly related to data maturity. It is a measure of when certain information is acceptably ready. The reliability of work data increases over time and signals the right time for total integration ( Figure 2). Reliability is a result of data maturity. Good integration will result in effective risk-based project execution, an execution that makes the most sense.

While acquiring good quality information is always in progress, the risk specialist and each team member should strive to help the project manager identify and highlight critical elements needed for success. Constantly be reminded that one must recognize the risks before they can be managed. We cannot determine the Risks if no information or indicator relating to them exists. Unknown risks are not manageable.

It entails integrating people, various resources, standards, procedures, work instructions, methodologies, and tools. All these practically revolve around collecting and collating data and turning them into something valuable and actionable. It requires risk-based management maturity.

The measure of maturity and decisions about that emanates from the leadership and project manager. So the drive to reach that certain maturity point comes from the people running the project.

Pulling a project together while fulfilling particular prerequisites that satisfy required quality criteria, such that it passes each review gate, is a challenge and a commitment.

For example, to achieve full schedule integration, the project has to ensure the schedule’s scope is complete to a level that permits effective control. Do not discount the required alignment between estimate, schedule, plans, and strategy. Violating these base requirements is an invitation to trouble.

Project Directors, Managers, Checkpoint Reviewers, and Project Specialists, therefore, must be prudent when making a recommendation. Each project player must reconcile “success needs” with accurate and proper integration.

A good cue: Final project execution needs all project components at an acceptable level of quality and integration. It is mandatory for highly critical project components. Data maturity leads to integration that leads to effective execution ( Figure 3).

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Maturity, Integration, and Execution Chart.PM Solution Pro.copyright2015

Figure 3 – Maturity, Integration, and Execution Chart

 The temptation to go ahead with the project despite a deficient plan, an incomplete scope, numerous engineering holds, schedule disconnect, unusually high number of assumptions, problems, issues, and uncertainties are pervasive in the construction industry. A Project must beware when submissions of key deliverables start to go out of sequence. Consider this one key risk indicator of potential troubles to come.

Whispers from several grapevines say that this is an attitude that exists and even flourishes during the glory days of years past. It is wise, therefore, to be aware that the attraction to skate through, if not circumvent, requirements are challenges that can become more prevalent during an economic downturn, such as what we had in 2008/2009 and what we have started to see now.

When company coffers are stressed and start shelving projects, some groups of project people will actively want to push the project quickly through the checkpoint or gate processes, even prematurely, towards sanction. It is a nonchalant way of maintaining work security at company cost.

Such quick decisions result in adverse risks once the project is budgeted. The real problem starts. The project needs more information to validate significant assumptions.

My recommendation: “When assumptions are greater than confirmed data, projects should tread cautiously and think twice before passing the Gate. When assumptions are far greater than known, a project should not try to cross the Gate.”

To picture this advice, one has to imagine a weighing scale. The left holds project assumptions, and the right holds validated and approved information. If it is heavier on the left, projects must tread lightly, reflecting on possible threats to the project. On the other hand, the project can cross the Gate if the left side prevails.

Professionals face the daily ethical dilemma of a Go or No Go recommendation/decision. So naturally, it is effortless to fool oneself. After all, we are all only human and usually quite emotional.

Project Managers tend to baby their projects and can undoubtedly lose sight of what makes good sense. One has to learn to push back and ask discerning questions when significant uncertainties surface.

A promise date (political date) must not solely drive project deliverables. A good balance must exist between the quality of deliverables and commitment dates. A project specialist must stand up to his manager, the manager to his director, and, if needed, the director to his vice president for what is valid and reasonable.

It is, therefore, necessary, an opportune time for all project team members to review their professional code of ethics as a personal reminder of what is at stake.

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

Plan to Schedule, Schedule to Plan.ISBN 978-0-9947608-2-1.Canada

About the Author

Rufran C. Frago is the Founder of PM Solution Pro, a Calgary consultingproduct, and training services firm focusing on project and business management solutions. He is passionate about providing advice, mentorship, education and training through consultation, collaboration, and what he uniquely calls, student-led training.

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  1. Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities: A Project Controls Perspective.ISBN 978-0-9947608-0-7.Canada
  2. Plan to Schedule, Schedule to Plan.ISBN 978-0-9947608-2-1.Canada
  3. How to Create a Good Quality P50 Risk-based Baseline Schedule.ISBN 978-0-9947608-1-4.Canada
  4. Schedule Quantitative Risk Analysis (Traditional Method).ISBN 978-0-9947608-3-8.Canada
  5. RISK, What are you? The Risk Manager’s Poem: Children’s Book for all Professionals.ISBN 978-0-9947608-4-5 (Canada)