Project Milestone Forecasting Through the Measurement of Consumed M&M’s

You’ve no doubt noticed the M&M’s theme sprinkled throughout this site, and on this auspicious day we bring you a little-known use for M&M’s Candies. Happy Easter…and whatever other significance this day may hold!

Summary

Many metrics have been used to track the progress of projects and determine if they are on schedule. Yet despite careful attention in selecting and tracking metrics, schedules often remain unpredictable. Project tracking remains as much an art as a science.

In this paper we present a novel method for assessing milestone readiness: the rate of M&M’s consumed by project engineers.

Background

Data was collected from 2000 – 2003 at a consumer electronics products corporation (hereafter referred to as Company M). Company M’s projects were often complex, involving multiple teams and organizations within the company, vendors, contract manufacturers, and development and brand partners. Coordination and tracking was non-trivial and Company M’s management team utilized a number of metrics to track product development. However despite these efforts missed schedules were not uncommon. It was found, however, that a single metric – M&M’s consumption – predicted milestone readiness with greater accuracy than existing metrics and methodologies.

Methodology

In order to measure the amount of M&M’s consumed, nine M&M’s dispensers were placed in a hallway adjacent to the engineers’ offices. (Two Skittles Candies dispensers were added later in the study. The effects of Skittles Candies will be assessed in a follow-up paper.) Each dispenser contained a different flavor of M&M’s Candies. The dispensers were refilled throughout the day, and the amount (in ounces) of M&M’s refilled was logged. Care was taken to minimize underflow conditions in the dispensers. Yield loss (i.e. the number of M&M’s dispenser errors resulting in candies on the floor) was not recorded but appeared to be proportionate among all flavors and colors.

Results

The graph below charts the ounces of M&M’s consumed on a daily basis in 2002, smoothed using a five day moving average. Significant milestones for projects P and T are also shown. The milestone dates are the actual dates on which the milestones were met, including any schedule slippage.

It can be observed that milestones correlate well with a spike in M&M’s consumption a few days before the milestone date, although not all spikes are related to milestones. The late November/early December spike in particular likely resulted from Company M suspending engineering dinners during the Thanksgiving week.

As a validation that M&M’s consumption correlated with milestone readiness, both traditional project management metrics and M&M’s consumption were followed for milestone T-2. The traditional metrics indicated that the project was to schedule and management had high confidence in meeting the scheduled April 19 target. M&M’s consumption – showing an aborted spike which plateaued – did not forecast successful milestone attainment. The milestone date was missed and reset two weeks out to May 3.¬† M&M’s consumption trended upwards and spiked a few days prior to the milestone date, forecasting a met milestone. Traditional metrics also indicated successful attainment of the May 3 milestone. The milestone was in fact met on the revised date.

Discussion

The correlation between spikes in M&M’s consumption and milestone completion stirred much interest but remains unexplained. Theories put forth include:

  • M&M’s Candies include a psychoactive component which allowed engineers to better execute their tasks. Studies have in fact shown that consuming chocolate can subtly improve cognitive performance.
  • The endorphins in chocolate acts as a pain reliever and allowed engineers to more quickly recover from various forms of corporeal punishment. The management team, however, maintained they employed psychological punishment only.
  • Engineers became too fat to fit through the doors, were trapped in the building, and consequently worked longer hours. It should be noted that while weight gain and increased work hours was observed among some of the engineers, the effect was not consistent among all engineers. Furthermore, company security received no “engineer stuck in doorway” reports during the study period.

Further research is required to better understand the relationship between M&M’s consumption and milestone attainment.

Related Work

It should be noted that Google also conducted a study of M&M’s consumption in its Project M&M. Project M&M, however, was an attempt to convince its employees to consume¬† “more healthful” snacks. It did not investigate M&M’s consumption as a predictive tool.

While it is unclear whether monitoring the amount of dried guava consumed would have the same predictive ability as M&M’s, a warning can be taken from post-study activity at Company M. After the study period, various project managers elected to maintain the M&M’s supply. A small group of engineers advocated supplementing the M&M’s dispensers with “healthy snack” dispensers. This movement correlated with a period in Company M’s history associated with large schedule slips, frequent changes in direction, and high employee turnover. Restoration of a steady M&M’s supply and removal of the healthy snacks correlated with a reduction in the turmoil. Removal of the M&M’s supply a few years later was followed by the sale of Company M in the next year. While it is difficult to establish any causal relationship between the availability of M&M’s and the general state of Company M, once M&M’s are introduced, the researchers recommend extreme care in reducing or withdrawing them.

Future Investigation

Additional follow-up is required better understand the correlation of M&M’s consumption and milestone attainment. The researchers recommend studying the following areas.

  • Whether force-feeding M&M’s to engineers can cause project milestones to be met.
  • Whether the consumption of all M&M’s colors and flavors are equally effective in forecasting milestones, or whether the consumption of only certain colors, flavors, or combinations thereof have predictive ability.
  • Whether eating M&M’s with chopsticks or “in the correct manner” has any effect on its predictive ability.

Conclusion

The researchers believe that a close working relationship with all project contributors, frequent and honest discussions of progress, and contingency planning are irreplaceable components of successful project planning and execution. However, when looking for statistical metrics as a measure of milestone readiness, the researchers recommend supplementing traditional metrics with measurements of M&M’s consumption.

Disclaimers

  • No engineers were harmed during this study.
  • Several M&M’s dispensers suffered breakdowns during the study and needed to be replaced.
  • This article was first published on April 1, 2018. However all data contained herein is true and accurate.

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