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, by definition, 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
Firstly, let’s see where this fits into the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).
From the PMBOK
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.
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, I would add that project resources that have a major impact on the schedule should be addressed in the Schedule Management Plan. I once had a project where a pile driver was a week late because it was snowed in at its previous site, which brought the project to a standstill and rendered huge amounts of project management effort meaningless. This type of dependency on one resource should be talked about and the applicable contingencies planned into the project from the beginning.
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
It is usually helpful to have the schedule drawn out into a horizontal bar chart called a gantt chart.
Of course, overall project completion date and budget are also determined if the optimized values are determined for each task.
- How will the schedule be developed?
The type of software that will be used can be identified as well as the person creating the schedule. Any other methodology such as estimating techniques or resource sharing methods.
- How aggressive will it be?
The strategy for contingencies and reserves can be specified, as well as what would constitute a situation in which the reserves will be tapped.
- Who will be notified?
Unique stakeholders to the schedule can be identified, as well as their communication needs. A distribution list for the final schedule and/or revisions can be determined. Regular schedule performance reporting needs can be established.
- When and how will the schedule performance be measured?
Generally, earned value analysis will produce a schedule variance (SV) and Schedule Performance Index (SPI), as well as a few other numbers which give the project manager insight into how far ahead or behind the project it. Weekly (or other) progress meetings ensure the project team is up to speed with the project schedule and identifies progress to be achieved within the forthcoming progress period.
- When (not if!) the project is behind schedule, what actions will be taken to rectify it?
There are a few options. The highest to lowest priority can be specified in the schedule management plan.
- Crashing the schedule means adding more resources.
- Fast tracking means performing tasks in parallel that would otherwise be done in sequence.
- Changing the scope of the work to eliminate unnecessary tasks.
- Updating the schedule, which requires the approval of the project sponsor.
- What resources are required, and how will their schedules be managed?
Often projects are constrained by one or several major resources, like a pile driver for a building foundation. Maybe these major resources need some extra contingencies since the whole project moves ahead or behind with their availability.
- What are the assumptions embedded within the schedule?
Every project schedule contains assumptions, from the underlying conditions to the external requirements. If these are not laid out in the plan, the project stakeholders will assume they haven’t been considered which does not bode well when project changes are encountered.
Here is our first example of a valid Schedule Management Plan:
Mr. Project Manager will be responsible for developing and managing the project schedule. Whenever possible, the project team will be assist in estimating task durations and resources. Microsoft Project will be used to create the schedule and manage it, and the most recent copy will be posted on the wall outside of Mr. Smith’s office.
Mr. Project Manager will estimate percent complete for each task on a weekly basis and update the project schedule and cost variances accordingly. He will verbally consult with the project team as required. The cost and schedule variances will then be communicated to the project team during the weekly progress meeting on monday mornings.
It is important that the project schedule be adhered to. Schedule changes should be minimal and required only on a strictly necessary basis. Factors such as opposition from adjacent landowners, inability to hire laborers, weather, and the like would be considered acceptable but should be planned for in advance. Factors such as workload, poor management and inadequate tools and materials are not considered acceptable reasons. Late supplies and subcontractors are generally not considered acceptable due to the potential for mitigation through better planning.
Here is example #2.
The project schedule will be developed and maintained by Mrs. Project Manager, and the most recent copy will stored in the project management plan binder, appendix A, located in her office. She will also estimate task durations and resources, and act as the central go-to authority for schedule changes.
Mr. Plant Manager will inspect the project daily and report to Mrs. Project Manager the percent complete of each task. Mrs. Project Manager will then update the project management software as necessary and repost the schedule in the lunch room.
The project schedule will only be changed on the request of the project manager for reasons outside the control of the project. This includes late subcontractors, weather, high water events, and the like. The ‘Schedule Change’ form will be filled out and approved by Mr. Project Sponsor before the schedule will be considered officially changed. This form will need to be submitted within 10 days of the final completion.