This blog takes a deeper look at project scheduling, specifically looking at the quality of the project schedule.
Two years ago I wrote on the differences between Project Planning and Project Scheduling. You can read that blog here, at the time I was keen to distinguish between the terms, but did not look into the project scheduling process.
Project Scheduling relates to assigning resources to tasks, and assigning tasks to particular dates. It will involve a careful balance between:
- The Dependencies between the activities
- The Availability of resources (dates, times)
- The Number of resources available (read this blog on ‘Never Enough Resources!‘)
- A Smoothing of the overall resource use to avoid ‘peaks (or overloads)’ and ‘troughs (or idleness)’ of resource usage
The output of a project scheduling session will be more than just a Gantt chart, which often includes the dates and durations, but not the resource assignments. The output will be a Gantt chart plus the detailed resource analysis.
Steps in Project Scheduling
The following may show a project scheduling process to follow when creating a project schedule:
- Identify the tasks to be performed (a WBS)
- Create a dependency list between these tasks (a dependency chart)
- Identify the duration of each tasks (not the work content which is different)
- Create a Network Analysis (on paper or computer) showing the durations and dependencies, and identifying the critical path
Now, depending on the project, the major influence on the project may be time, or resources. If the project is ‘time critical’, then looking at the critical path, and resourcing the project to complete by the required date is important.
If the project is running in an environment where resources are scarce, and the project is cost or quality critical, then the resources may be applied as they are available without so much concern to the project end date.
The following steps will therefore be iterative:
- Identify the number of resources available
- Apply them to the project tasks paying attention to skill levels
- Re-calculate the critical path and end date, along with the resource plan
- Review for changes and improvements
If the project only has 20-40 tasks and 3-5 resources, these iterations can be achieved on paper. However a more complicated project will need computer software to help manage this process.
In this way a schedule can be produced which includes the required Tasks, Dates, and Resources.
Project Schedule Quality
So how good is our schedule? What makes a project schedule ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’?
The information in the schedule must be robust, and the schedule available quickly to those who require it:
- The tasks are all present with no tasks missing, and the project scope is correctly defined
- The tasks are individually and clearly defined
- The durations must be correct
- The information on resources must be correct
- The information in the schedule should be reliable
- The schedule needs to be available in a form for all project stakeholders to be able to easily access
The schedule is of course a living document, and project progress needs to be closely monitored against the schedule so that corrective actions can be taken. Poor monitoring of project progress would make any project schedule quickly redundant.
The APM recently held a webinar on the quality of project schedules, and you can view that webinar here.
Better Planning Leads to Better Projects
Creating a good project schedule is one element that can lead to a good project (Leadership, Communication, and Team Working are equally if not more important). A good project reflects well on the project manager.
Good Project Plans = Good Projects = Good Project Managers.
Project Plans and Project Schedules are different things. A Project Schedule is more than just a Gantt Chart. Metrics need to exists so that Project Schedules can be defined as good or bad.