How Important is OTOBOS?

How Important is OTOBOS?

OTOBOS is one of the fundamental tenets of project management. A project manager should strive to keep their projects On Time, On Budget and On Scope. We generally accept this to be true. After all…if a project runs late, or costs way more than expected, a lot of people won’t be very happy. Because we generally understand this, it’s very easy for project managers to lose sight of what’s really important about their project, and hone in on their triple constraint. Unfortunately, they often elevate their need to deliver projects within OTOBOS parameters above the actual project objectives.

I have even seen OTOBOS be called out as a specific project objective in some charters.

Let’s be clear. Being On Time, On Budget and On Scope is very important. However, it’s also the project manager’s problem. If the PM shows no concern for a project’s triple constraint then the sponsor will likely find a replacement.

And OTOBOS stops when the project does. Don’t real objectives need to have a little more longevity? After all, the product or service the project creates will (hopefully) continue to live long after the project has closed its doors for good. Perhaps we can put OTOBOS in its proper perspective by looking at a wildly successful project that ran horrifically late and went catastrophically over its budget.

famous poster

This movie changed everything (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How about the movie Jaws? This is a film that redefined the movie going experience. Before this movie came out, the summer blockbuster didn’t even exist. Merchandising opportunities for movies had been few and far between. Jaws’ success changed everything.

From a stakeholder perspective, this film was nothing short of an astounding success.

But things weren’t very rosy during production. The project’s baseline schedule called for a production of 55 days and a budget of $3.5 million. By the time production wrapped 159 days later, Steven Spielberg had spent over $9 million.

Threat of cancellation loomed each day the project pushed past its deadline. As the bills kept mounting, stakeholder confidence in Spielberg’s abilities dwindled. Mechanical difficulties with a fake shark that was never salt-water tested and a script that still wasn’t complete weeks into the shoot created a tremendous amount of friction on the project team. If you listen to Spielberg recount his experience on this film you’ll find he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. This was an experience he would not wish to repeat.

But he had a vision. He knew what he wanted to create. He knew what his stakeholders needed. While his approach to risk management may have been pretty disastrous his clarity surrounding the finished product never wavered. The result broke all box office records, created countless sequels and parodies, redefined the summer movie and blew the lid off the movie merchandising industry.

What can we learn from this? A project that is OTOBOS is unlikely to be cancelled. All being “not cancelled” gives the project manager, however, is the opportunity to see the project’s objectives through to completion. OTOBOS is the platform on which we create project objectives. These are informed by a vision.

Make sure you have one.

What do you think? Do you believe OTOBOS is a valid project objective? Do you believe OTOBOS is more important than other project objectives? How do you think project sponsors and stakeholders rate on time, on budget, on scope against other things? Shout out in the comments below!

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I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
  • Rick Dolishny

    I’m an interactive project manager and deal with this all the time, usually from seasoned veterans who used to work in the golden days of the film and TV business: throw buckets of cash at a project then abandon it five minutes before it goes to air.

    It was a business model that worked for generations but doesn’t work now.

    I know your Jaws analogy wasn’t literal, but it sheds a light on a difficult subject: project management in the entertainment industry. It never existed until the bottom fell out of the broadcast industry around 2009. Now, there’s the question of accountability, defining success, and generally the OTOBOS you talk about.

    The way I see it, it’s a tremendous opportunity for PMs to step in and bring entertainment or interactive projects in line. But it’s not without the egos, mystery, and drama that comes with the business in general.

    Nice to hear from you again BTW. I enjoyed your blog posts from a while back. Nice to see you’re on your feet. Where are you teaching?

  • Heya, Rick! Thanks for writing! I’ve actually had the “privilege” of working on a sizable video project (interestingly enough) in 2009. I was *horrified* at the lack of governance. “Wheeeee! There goes some MORE money!!!!” LOL My experience in the area is limited but I would absolutely agree with you that the entertainment industry in general needs a TON more accountability and oversight. I think there’s huge potential for project managers to take the reins in interactive/video but stakeholders will have to relinquish a fair bit of control for that to happen. I don’t know if that’s likely or not – especially because of those egos you mention.

    I’m teaching in Oshawa – I wasn’t sure what to do with this blog but it occurred to me my students might benefit from third party perspectives. As much as we try to quantify everything in our line of work there’s still so much opinion (mine included)…I think it’s good for the students to have different exposures.

  • OTOBOS is laudable, but it’s only the start. It doesn’t talk about value or benefits, and life is more flexible than that. My company is called The Otobos Group, because I think time, budget and schedule are important, and I thought about how to include value in the name, and I couldn’t! For me, OTOBOS is the principle by which project managers should carry out their jobs. It’s not a project objective or a deliverable, it’s simply a guide to how to work – shorthand for the concepts in PM methodologies.

  • Thanks so much for commenting, Elizabeth! I knew your company is called The Otobos Group and hoped you might chime in. That OTOBOS is in your company name says how important the idea is to you. Yet you still recognize that OTOBOS is more of a principle than an objective. I find this is a challenging idea for students to grasp. My position in class has been that OTOBOS is the project manager’s concern – and project manager problems have no place in a charter. Charter objectives need to acknowledge what the *customer* needs – OTOBOS is the vessel that helps you get those things with the least amount of pain.

    And I love how you call OTOBOS “shorthand for the concepts in PM methodologies”. What a neat way to put that! 🙂

  • Katy Brouwer

    The concept of the triple constraint and OTBOS seems clear enough to me until I get to the different knowledge areas and preparing supporting documents. As a project manager, you need to ensure OTBOS but of course each project will have one of the constraints favored over the others. I suppose that it would depend on the overall business impact of the project and the organizational structure but to what degree do you assess this during the initiation of the project? For example, most IT projects fail because of cost overruns, commonly associated with time. I’ve read that most sponsors will take the initial IT cost estimate, and in some cases, double it. Based on historical evidence, estimation techniques should be catered toward the likelihood of success not just the time to deliver. Having a low cost estimate is great, but if your project takes 2 months longer to complete, those preliminary cost estimates are not a true reflection of what is required to have the project succeed.
    I’m sure there is an art to determining the organizational focus regarding the triple constraint, but is it common for the focus to shift (say, from cost to time) after risks have been identified?

  • Hey, Katy, there’s some really good points in there, and a great, tough question! The thing about the triple constraint is, if time increases, cost automatically increases (unless you choose to ratchet down the number of resources you have available, which will likely push the schedule out even further). If you’re looking at overruns, the best thing you can do is take a look at project scope. DO we need all these features, CAN we make do with less, CAN we change the end deliverable. On many projects, though, all these things are fundamentally intertwined so it’s not always as easy as saying “let’s just drop a couple features”, especially if core functionality is still under development.

    This is one of the reasons that Agile methods have become so popular. With an Agile approach, core functionality is often developed in early project iterations. As a project’s time horizon increases, the relative importance of features under development diminishes. Under these conditions, if it looks like you’re going to hit a schedule wall, it’s easy to say “let’s forget about the last iteration in favour of coming in on time and budget – we already have most of what we need – and it works”.

    That’s often not possible with a more Waterfall approach, because stakeholders will try to cram every single last feature they could ever imagine and call them mandatory during the requirements phase. How can you prioritize work when everything is equally important? (*cough* you can’t *cough*) This is one reason you’ll find project sponsors doubling work estimates – because they can’t distinguish between the relative importance of individual work products. So, “double the estimate and hope we land on our feet”.

    One important tradeoff with an Agile approach, however, is that an initial project estimate CAN’T be fully defined until the project team has determined how long one development iteration needs to take. Sure, you can guess, but that could prove fatal later on. To combat this, many IT project managers choose to run two or three iterations – actually build some stuff to see how long work packages will take this particular project team to create – before they revert to the stakeholders with a clear estimate. This does blur the line between the process group a little bit, but it often makes for more accurate estimates.

  • Katy Brouwer

    So, is it fair to say that based on prioritized work packages, a PM could just say- “It currently meets scope requirements, let’s call it a day.” and ignore components that won’t change the overall project scope? What does that say about projects with contract procurements with incentive and/or award fees? I suppose at that point, if you are going to incur cost overruns you might as well just kiss the incentive fee goodbye.

  • Well, the PM could never really make that call (not if he/she wants to keep his/her job hehe). That’s a discussion that needs to include the stakeholders – ultimately it would be their decision. But the PM could certainly raise the issue – “hey we’re looking at going over budget and running late – we’ve got everything we need – we could wrap things up”.

    All of this assumes that the management team is working as just that – a team. When you start looking at vendor contracts, in particular higher vendor-risk contracts like fixed bid and CPIF, now you’re entering territory that has the potential to get ugly. The PM can put the offer on the table, but if the stakeholders say “no, we still want everything – suck it up princess” then the PM is bound to deliver and potentially eat his shirt. This opens a-whole-nother can of worms. In cases like these, the vendor is wise to take preliminary steps to establish customer satisfaction criteria and put metrics in place that can demonstrate an imbalance on the part of the customer should things take a nasty turn like that.

    Specifically where CPIF is concerned, though, the customer is still bound to cough up for project costs – so they’re eating the overruns too – a lawyer is best to advise here, but from my perspective, if the contract contains a clause that says “the client is willing to stop prior to deliverable completion then the incentive should be awarded”, the vendor might be covered. Will the client sign a contract to that effect? That remains to be seen.

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  • I also worked in the interactive project management business for the last three years and I can relate.

    But I don’t think that “more accountability” is the solution for entertainment industry projects. I strongly believe project leadership must be contextual; we should manage as our stakeholders want us to manage. And entertainment industry stakeholders just don’t care very much about OTOBOS (well, maybe only “on schedule”, and only if there’s a client with a release date on contract or something like that).

    What, in my opinion, seems to be more valuable for entertainment industry stakeholders is 1) a good creative idea, and 2) pristine execution. Money and time are only means to this ends. If you, as a PM, show that you care deeply about this, you’ll have the ticket to overcome much of the drama and ego in the industry.

    …and then, after everybody goes home, you can quietly open your Excel spreadsheet with project costs and devise a strategy to deal with all that overrun. Just don’t fret if you cannot get the creatives worried about this, too.

  • That’s very interesting, Jose, and thanks for commenting. What you’re really saying is that OTOBOS is ultimately a matter of perspective and I think you’re probably bang on.

    I lived in the Far East for many years. In Brunei, I remember, there was an amusement park with world-class rides and all the staff that would be required to operate and maintain them. The park was completely free for anyone who wanted to take advantage of the rides. The Sultan paid all the costs because it’s something he believed would be good for his people and for tourism.

    It was a wonderful and delightful thing – but also a money pit.

    Lee Kwan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore visited the park and his main comment was, “what a waste”.

    Those of us who come from a finance background will likely always be horrified with a lack of project oversight and tight financial controls. But projects aren’t always about money – there are other equally important considerations.

    On a slightly different note, one thing I noticed about my brief stint in the entertainment industry: accountabilities were sometimes blurred. I noticed a popular role called “producer/director”. This concerned me.

    Basically, the same person is managing both the creative and the financial aspects of the project. I think these two roles carry a tremendous potential to conflict one another – “realize the vision” “NO! be fiscally prudent!” “NO!”

    I would think it would be a difficult relationship when two people occupy these roles – when only one person wears both hats I suspect it’s very likely one role often gets marginalized.

  • david

    I am first time project manager. My project was supposed to close by end of July. Here we are in September trying to get the final acceptance. We´re only OBOS for this project!