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Project Rework Series (1)

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Author: Michel Thiry     Source: PMR

Rework has been a common problem, especially in the construction projects, resulting in problems such as higher costs and longer duration. Recently, PMR magazine collected opinions about causes of and solutions to rework across the globe. The following is Michel Thiry's contribution:


What is project rework?
Project rework can mean two things: having to undo elements of a project that have already been executed or having to replan elements to execute them differently than initially planned.


Whereas the former is usually seen as a negative response, mostly because of the costs and time implications, the latter is part of the progressive elaboration of the project plan that constitutes a good project planning process. But, depending on circumstances, rework during execution can be positive and rework during planning negative.


Let’s examine these different situations and analyse them.
The Good
Rework is an integral part of an adaptive project approach where iteration and release on demand are key to success. In those circumstances, the continual review of project results and their rework to fit customer needs is an integral part of the project process. In programs, the cyclic nature of the life cycle also warrants a continual rework process.
In both these cases, the ideal situation is that the rework is done during the planning or preparation stage when costs can be better controlled, and time impact is limited but, a rework that is due to changing circumstances, or to achieve higher benefits, is also valid. The key to success is to understand the customer needs and expectations very well so that any change in plan, or execution, is perceived as a positive step towards the ultimate objectives.
The Bad
In a predictive project approach, the baseline plan must be followed, and any rework is seen as negative. Deviation form the plan, even for good reasons, is not desired because project success is measured against the respect of given parameters. Planning is deemed a progressive elaboration, but the project objectives are expected to be stable, so only the means of achieving them are on the table.
Predictive project approaches are best used in a stable environment where outcomes can be reasonably well predicted. When a predictive approach is used in a volatile and complex environment, rework will happen and will be deemed negative, as it should be because the project approach is wrong. If rework is happening in a stable environment, it generally points to bad project management, either in the planning process or in the execution process.
The Ugly
Whatever the context, rework caused by a misunderstanding of the customers’ needs and expectations is unforgivable. In a stable environment the customer requirements should be stated from the beginning and clearly identified in the project charter; the project plan will refine these to develop practical solutions that fulfil those needs. 
In a volatile and complex environment, the customer is involved throughout the project or program and outcomes are continually adapted to achieve the best response to their needs and expectations. But, if those needs and expectations are not well understood, or if the focus is on the product rather than its benefits, rework will be negative rather than positive.
So, what now?
Why is understanding the context of rework important? Rework has financial and schedule implications that affect the project or program objectives; if it is justified to enhance benefits, it can be considered positive; if it is required to correct mistakes it is negative. Rework can also be part of an adaptive project approach and must be justified by offering a positive value.


There is also an important, and often neglected, emotional aspect to rework, mostly for high performers who are negatively affected if they have to backtrack and redo work that they feel should have been done right the first time. This emotional aspect must be taken into consideration because it can adversely affect the team’s engagement if it is not properly managed. If rework adds value, the objectives will be shared with the team and the reasons explained.


Whether as a corrective action or as an potential enhancement, any decision to change course in a project or program needs to be validated by clearly demonstrating its value, otherwise it will be perceived as negative and it will adversely affect the outcomes of the project or program.


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