I am a science/engineering person (pharmaceutical R&D, PhD). I get frustrated when people talk about timelines (that almost always change), instead of appreciating those of us who seek to understand complexity, reducing risk, and removing bottlenecks, which keep our timelines on time. I would appreciate comments that help me think about this in a more positive way.

In pharmaceutics, timelines are always a little hazy because efficacy/safety/stability issues can throw things off. We go for “easy” projects that are variations of known products (safe and they work). My project, which I hold the patent on, is novel. No one knew if it would work or be safe, making it hard to get money to make progress. People on this board even questioned it in Spring 2011. I found novel tests to answer these questions. 2011 was a very hard year for me with an unexplained bad rating to start the year, fallout from the merger, and everyone attacking to achieve milestones that I felt were impossible without these novel tests. I'm happy to say that by the end of 2011, I found funding in other departments to run my novel tests ($400k) which successfully showed the product is safe and is better than our current product. The path to those milestones (human studies) will be easier and achievable in 2012. Also, after 40 doctors gave up, I also found a novel test that identified my wife’s worsening mysterious disease, which led to a treatment that is improving her, and she had a healthy baby a few weeks ago.

But to my question. I get frustrated when people who don’t understand this stuff keep talking about timelines, instead of supporting steps to that reduce the bottlenecks.

Another fellow in my dept. My age or younger, started a year before me, but has 5 non-PhDs under him since his original department had non-PhDs that needed supervision, unlike mine. Until last year same rank as me, but due to changes, he works for my boss’s boss, but is three ranks below my boss. I was working with him on writing something related to a professional association, not work related. What bothered me is he keeps talking about timelines and when we’ll have drafts written, but he does very little of it because I can tell he understands none of it. And it keeps getting delayed and delayed. When he attended a meeting on my project, he would say obvious things, like “the product must be stable,” without offering support to my novel tests that take us there. It just makes me mad that these people move up instead of those of us that deliver.

Instead of talking about timelines on things I know nothing about, I talk about bottlenecks and offer support to prevent them. Like The Goal (which Mark has mentioned since the author died in 2011). I build relationships with people and vendors. They WANT to help me and tell me when they can deliver. I made a WBS, to capture every task, constantly added to it since my project’s path forward is new. I use the WBS stay alert for potential bottlenecks and offer support to keep them from becoming bottlenecks. I don’t talk timelines. And everyone delivered, on time and with superior results in 2011. I presented my novel ideas in Jan 2011 – despite enormous resistance to them, all were completed by Dec 2011, and all the people who helped me are eager to work with me again. I refused to give timelines for other milestones people wanted (human study). Everyone now agrees a human study was impossible in 2011 without these novel tests, and we’re on schedule to run one in 2012.

I would appreciate if someone straighten me out why people with the timeline approach seem to move up, and my bottleneck approach leads to so many problems (maybe just that I perceive them, since I did deliver results). 

SamBeroz's picture

 Timelines matter because the value of a delivered result is time dependent (I don't have much use for a million dollars a hundred years from now).  They also support  planning  resource allocation and work integration.  A result that can't be capitalized on because the budget, manpower or facilities are not in place isn't worth very much either.

You're focus on bottlenecks and risk is not incompatible with providing a timeline.  You can give the activities in your WBS a best / worst / expected case duration which should correspond to their level of risk. If the best / worst are reasonable approximations, you can assume they span 6 standard deviations for each task.  You should then be able to create a best / worst for the project based by summing the variances (square of the standard deviations) and taking the square root.  Then you can tighten up the timeline by attack risk from tasks that have the largest standard deviations.  Generating accurate best / worst case numbers can be difficult and needs to be done with care.  A good resource is Steve McConnel's Software Estimation book, which is applicable to non-software projects as well.

Hope that helps - Sam

wroschek's picture
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Congratulations on helping your wife. Mine has also gone through some difficult health issues recently and is doing much better with our proactive approach.

Also congratulations on the addition to your family! I have 2 and they are each a blessing and a miracle.

My take away from your original post is:

You obtained funding for a safer and less expensive product and will be in humans within 2 years of project launch.

That is a pretty amazing timeline and shows why timelines are important, resource allocation and measurable goals. 

Congrats again!