Wednesday, March 19, 2008

P.E.R.T.: a shampoo or a secret weapon at Local Motors?


(PERT Chart, wikipedia)


PERT is a method to analyze the tasks involved in completing a given project, especially the time needed to complete each task, and identifying the minimum time needed to complete the total project.

This model was invented by Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc. under contract to the United States Department of Defense's US Navy Special Projects Office in 1958 as part of the Polaris mobile submarine-launched ballistic missile project. This project was a direct response to the Sputnik crisis. Some US government contracts required that PERT be used as part of management supervision.

PERT was developed primarily to simplify the planning and scheduling of large and complex projects. It was able to incorporate uncertainty by making it possible to schedule a project while not knowing precisely the details and durations of all the activities. It is more of an event-oriented technique rather than start- and completion-oriented, and is used more in R&D-type projects where time, rather than cost, is the major factor.

While the rest of the world was wringing their hands and worrying about how we were going to build a next generation American car company, Local Motors was busy at work completing a two month planning effort focused on getting that job done. On March 5th, we alluded to "crossing the line of departure" in this blog, and now we are ready to give a glimpse of what that process means.

Working with a consultant who originally worked on the Polaris missile project in the US NAVY, for the past 2 months the LM team has used the PERT methodology to organize and plan the discrete activities and milestones needed to achieve our initial prototyping goal, our design community ambitions, and... hold your breath... our first SALES to customers.

(Polaris Missile, Wikipedia)

Now, it is true that we are devout followers of 37 Signals Get Real teachings in which chapter 6 they warn, "No matter how much you plan you're likely to get half wrong anyway. So don't do the "paralyis through analysis" thing." We agree with this teaching, but such thinking must be placed in the context it was meant for - building a web app. For building cars, there are longer lead times and multi-party supplier dependencies where a little bit of planning goes a really long way.

So the long and the short of it, is that we have taken on the bear of sorting out those natty details and questions and on March 5th we put the finishing touches on our first crack at it the plan.

Here is a look:

(a view down the critical path.... hmm red is NOT a preferred color!)

(a "brief" task list)

One of our advisers said "that when we finish this effort - and it will be exhausting - we will collectively breath a sigh of relief because at least a version of the plan and its timeline will be in front of us."

Well, I want to say that that adviser could not have been more right.


I will now go to sleep and wake up in the morning, recharged and refreshed and ready to take on the items that lay ahead in our plan.


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