Use of pert in planning research

A marketing research plan is a form of project and as such may be thought of as a combination of interrelated activities that have to be carried out in a certain order so that the entire task is completed. There is a logical sequence to the interrelated activities in the sense that some of them cannot start until others are completed. Projects and planning activities have become extremely complex and require systematic and effective management techniques to help optimise the efficiency of executing such activities. Efficiency amounts to bringing about the greatest reduction in the time to complete the scheduled activities while taking into account the economic feasibility of using available resources.

A network analysis tool such as PERT (project evaluation and review technique) can assist planning, scheduling and research control. This tool provides help to monitor and organise resources in order to enable a project or activity to be completed on time and within budget limits. Projects and planning activities are complex entities that often have extensive duration times, involve many different and interrelated costs, and comprise work of a distinctive, unique, non-repetitive nature. It is customary to model projects and planning activities as networks to capture the nature of the interrelationships and the sequencing of their various component parts. PERT is a three-part technique:

1 Planning: incorporates an in-depth analysis of the project or planning task and the construction of the network to describe it.

2 Scheduling: involves the analysis of the project or exercise to determine completion time, critical activities and the start and finish times for each activity.

3 Controlling: includes using the network and the schedule to keep track of progress and making any revisions necessary to keep the project or exercise on schedule and within budget.

The planning stage involves three parts:

1 identifying and sequencing all activities

2 drawing the network to represent the exercise

3 estimating activity times and costs.

Use of PERT in planning research

Once the network has been constructed and the expected times decided it becomes possible both to determine the minimum completion time for the exercise and to schedule each activity. This stage is handled well by a computer program.

At some stage in the project, it may be thought desirable to shorten the completion time. This can usually be achieved by allocating additional resources to critical activities. A minimum duration for the project or exercise will exist and further expenditure will not be able to reduce completion time below this minimum. It also has to be realised that the efficient allocation of resources requires further analysis of the project or exercise, examining time/cost tradeoffs in order to obtain the greatest time reduction per amount of money expended.

Computers have made a significant impact on the process of project management and planning, and specialised software packages - more specifically, packages that run on desktop computers - have been developed. In applying the PERT technique, the networks produced are often large and require many revisions for replanning and updating. Making such revisions by hand can be time-consuming, confusing and costly. The process is much accelerated by the use of appropriate computer software, making changes and comparisons much easier. There are many relevant software packages available, some specifically designed for use with the desktop computer. A useful guide to have when selecting a package is that provided by Smith and Gupta.6

An example of a sophisticated project management computer software package is Time Line for Windows.7 It possesses convenient graphing tools that make it easy to build and revise schedules and to assign and coordinate resources, dependencies and due dates across multiple projects and planning exercises. Multiple views also allow us to see many aspects of a complex model simultaneously. There are six types of view permissible:

• the time-scaled PERT view

• the resource view

• the cross-tabulation view.

The package also includes Guide Line software that enables the user to generate project and planning schedules just by answering a series of questions. The Guide Maker add-on enables the user to create custom guides for any business situation. Guide Line is based on the idea that most projects and planning exercises have been done before. Once the user has specified project or planning exercise requirements, it produces task lists, resource allocations and time estimates for the project or exercise.

Information about projects is stored in a database and it is taking various views of the database, coupled with appropriate graphical representations, that enables detailed and informative analysis to take place. (See Figures 2.3-2.6.)

Figure 2.3 shows the standard cross-tabulation view of a marketing research plan. Two views or windows on the data are being displayed simultaneously. Moreover, the two views are synchronised to examine the same set of records. The two windows can be expanded or contracted to show more or fewer fields and further records can be viewed by panning down through the records to ones that are not currently displayed on the screen. The cross-tabulation view or windows allow the user to examine the tasks that have to be completed in their logical sequence and to see how the costs will arise over time and affect cash-flow requirements.

Figure 2.4 shows the standard resource view of the data along with availability and cost of each person involved in the exercise.

Figure 2.5 shows the standard Gantt view of the data. Here again two windows on the database are simultaneously displayed. The right-hand window shows graphically how elements of the plan take up time slots. The left-hand window identifies both the nature of the task involved and the nature of the human resource requirement to carry out the task. Once again, the user displays more or fewer fields in each window and pans through the data to examine as yet undis-played records.

Planning Research Tasks

FIGURE 2.3

Standard cross-tabulation

FIGURE 2.3

Standard cross-tabulation

Use of PERT in planning research

FIGURE 2.4

1 Standard resource

Source: Screenshot reprinted by permission from Microsoft Corporation

FIGURE 2.5

Standard Gantt view of data

FIGURE 2.6

Standard time-scaled PERT graphical view of data Source: Screenshot reprinted by permission from Microsoft Corporation

FIGURE 2.6

Standard time-scaled PERT graphical view of data Source: Screenshot reprinted by permission from Microsoft Corporation

Figure 2.6 shows the standard time-scaled PERT graphical view of the data for the marketing plan. As above, different parts of the data can be viewed in this graphical manner by panning vertically or horizontally.

—summary

In this chapter it has been argued that marketing research performs a key role in helping to solve marketing problems and improve decisions. It achieves this by producing information that helps to allay uncertainty. The cost and value of marketing research, however, must be taken into account when deciding how much time and effort to expend on this activity. While the benefits of good information speak for themselves, the research has to be cost-effective if it is to be used at all. Where the costs outweigh the benefits it is not desirable to undertake research. Marketing research projects are complex entities and require considerable planning, scheduling and control. This helps to coordinate a project and ensures that research information is produced within the specified period and cost specifications. Computer-based PERT network methods help to plan, schedule and control a project and facilitate savings in the cost and time required to complete the project.

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