If there’s one part of project management that’s bigger than all the rest, it’s project scheduling. Since a project is defined as a temporary endeavor with a distinct beginning and end, defining when that end takes place and making sure it finishes on time are extremely important to any project, large or small.
Professional project managers look at the schedule every day. They print it out and hang it on their walls. They obsess about staying on track and producing the project deliverables on time and under budget.
Many amateur project managers produce schedules, often as a condition of winning a job or because their boss or colleagues asked for one. But the process of putting together some graphical bar charts that indicate task start and end dates is not sufficient for professional project management. It does not:
- Identify the “critical path” tasks which directly affect the completion date of the project.
- Minimize the project duration by maximizing the efficient use of people and resources.
- Ensure that resource usage is as flat as possible (minimizing downtime)
- Allow for easy schedule changes
This tutorial will illustrate, and demonstrate, how to do it professionally.
Throughout this tutorial we will use a hypothetical example project for which we will be developing a schedule. You are a project manager for a company that builds log homes. You have a new contract to build a log home for a client. You need to provide the client with a completion date as well as a budget.
We will be outsourcing the excavation as well as the trades (plumbing, electrical, flooring, etc.).
Let’s get started. Firstly, let’s see where this fits into the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).
From the PMBOK
In the PMBOK the 3rd out of ten knowledge areas is called Project Time Management.
PMBOK, 5th Edition, Section 6, “Project Time Management”
Project Time Management includes the processes required to manage the timely completion of the project.
There are 7 processes within this knowledge area, and six of the seven occur within the planning process group. It is these six processes that result in the production of a project schedule, and what this tutorial will focus on.
The six processes within the Project Time Management knowledge area that are related to project scheduling are:
- Plan Schedule Management
- Define Activities
- Sequence Activities
- Estimate Activity Resources
- Estimate Activity Durations
- Develop Schedule
These six processes are performed in chronological order and represent the 6-step process in developing a project schedule.
The End Result
The final result of the scheduling process will be a task list with the following things determined for each task:
- Start and End dates
We will also have the schedule drawn out into a horizontal bar chart (called a gantt chart) in MS Excel. Of course, overall project completion date and budget will also be determined as part of the development of each task.
Before we go on, let’s cover the first step briefly, the schedule planning.
Plan Schedule Management
In this first step in project schedule development, we must define certain aspects of the schedule management process. Here is the PMBOK’s description of Plan Schedule Management.
PMBOK, 5th Edition, Section 6.1, “Plan Schedule Management”
Plan Schedule Management is the process of establishing the policies, procedures, and documentation for planning, developing, managing, executing and controlling the project schedule. The key benefit of this process is that it provides guidance and direction on how the project schedule will be managed throughout the project.
The process looks like this:
As you can see there is only one output to this process, called a Schedule Management Plan. This document is a component of the overall Project Management Plan, and its purpose is to put into place the processes that ensure the project schedule is realistic and will be achieved. It contains the following information:
- Project schedule model development. The scheduling methodology, tools, software, and so forth.
- Level of accuracy. How aggressive the schedule will be, the amount of contingencies in task durations and budgets, and so forth.
- Units of measure. The units used for schedule development, such as days, hours, production units, etc. Generally, the units of “days” should be used unless there is a reason not to, because the gantt (bar) chart works best in days and the project completion date is on a certain “day”. Each of the project’s resources can also be given defined units of measure.
- Organizational procedures links. The identification of any organization procedures which will affect the schedule development. The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), another part of the project management plan, provides the framework within which the schedule is developed and task duration and budget estimates are produced.
- Project schedule model maintenance. Policies and procedures for updating the schedule if and when necessary.
- Control thresholds. The criteria at which the schedule will require updates. Maximum variances (cost and schedule) calculated with the Earned Value method are identified at which time action must be taken.
- Rules of performance measurement. The methodology by which the project’s schedule performance will be measured. Usually this is the Earned Value method, but any modifications or additions can be specified.
- Reporting formats. The type and frequency of reports to be produced, and who they will be distributed to.
- Process descriptions. Any processes used to develop the schedule.
In addition, project resources that have a major impact on the schedule should be addressed in the Schedule Management Plan.