How To Control Your Project Schedule

Control ScheduleControlling Schedule is the project management activity in which progress on project activities is compared against Schedule baseline to understand whether project is ahead of the schedule or behind. Based on the deviation you can plan on corrective or preventive actions and manage changes to baseline. This process helps thus reduces the risk of delivery slippage when managed well.

From 6th edition PMBOK focuses on Agile approach as well.

In case your project follows Agile methodology here is what this process should do –

  • Determine current status of project based on completed deliverables against planned iteration
  • At the end of each iteration conduct retrospective review meetings to identify improvement areas
  • Adjust project backlog based on outcome of retrospective review meetings
  • Find out iteration velocity (number of features implemented per fixed duration of iteration )
  • If all this needs schedule to change, manage the changes and baseline it again

What goes into this activity?

Schedule management plan and Schedule baselines from Project management plan are used as inputs for this process.

Schedule management plan recommends methods and tools to use, such as Earned Value Management (EVM) and Schedule Variance (SV). Schedule baseline is the reference to compare current project progress against.

In essence, controlling activity is about comparing current project progress information against the baseline.

Exam Pointer: Usually, if work performance data is an input, work performance information will be an output. This is because when data is analyzed in a specific context such as what a process provides, it turns into information!

Baselines are crucial!

To update a schedule the project manager needs to understand schedule baseline, cost baseline, scope baseline, and performance measurement baseline. The change to one might also mean impact and changes to other baselines.

Work performance data

Understanding of work performance data such as start/end dates of activities, percent completion of WIP activities is needed to analyze impact of scope changes on schedule. These are all numbers. Raw data.

Apart from these, the project manager needs to know schedule data such as activities, dependencies, activity attributes, resource histogram and schedule network diagrams. Resources calendars, project calendar, and project schedule is necessary.

How it is done?

Analyze important data

In Develop Schedule process we saw the different tools that can be used to measure project performance such as Critical path method or Critical chain method. There could also be additional methods such as Earned Value Management- EVM (we’ll see in Control Costs process) and Trend analysis used to measure and analyze project performance.

If you used Critical Path method to develop schedule, then look at activities on critical path or near critical path, for slippage. If any of these activities slip then project completion date will be impacted and hence these activities need to be closely monitored.

If Critical Chain method was used to develop schedule, then watch the remaining buffer on critical chain activities or feeding chain activities for slippage indication. This is done by comparing planned buffer versus remaining buffer.

Feeding Chain buffer is the schedule buffer allocated at the end of all activities on a network path that lead into Critical Chain. Develop Schedule process talks about about Critical Chain (or Critical Path) method.

If Earned Value Management (EVM) methodology is used then schedule variance (SV) and schedule performance index (SPI) are utilized to measure how the project is doing against schedule.

Trend analysis helps you visually observe project performance over a period of time to determine whether it has been improving or degrading.

For Agile projects: Iteration burndown chart

burndown chart

Figure: A burndown chart plots remaining work in the Iteration on a daily basis (image courtesy wikipedia)

Although some projects use a burnup chart (work completed is plotted against time), the most useful piece of information is the remaining work. This is plotted on a burndown chart.

A burndown chart plots 3 important time measurements, against time –

  • actual remaining work in the Iteration
  • planned remaining work for the Iteration (also called Ideal burndown line)
  • forecast based on work done till date – this shows the likely variance based on work done till date

Some projects even plot remaining work on a daily basis.

Project management software

Software (such as MS Project) can be used to accurately measure schedule variation. Usage of software will also help us change certain activity-related parameters and see their impact on critical path and project completion dates.

Resource optimization techniques, Modeling techniques, Leads and lags, Schedule compression, Scheduling tool

These techniques are very useful and we have already seen them in Develop Schedule process.

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Apart from the above, Trend analysis, variance analysis, performance reviews, what-if scenarios are some of the techniques to determine the impact on the baselined schedule.

What’s the outcome?

Work performance information

Most of the processes in the Monitoring and Controlling process group will have this output, which are the project performance indicators such as SV and SPI measurements for work packages.

Schedule forecasts

When you have current work performance data analyzed within the context they become work performance information, and this can be used to forecast the future performance of the project schedule. Earned value management indicators such as Estimate At Completion (EAC) are used.

Change requests

Again, Monitoring and Controlling processes may very well discover deviations (such as a change to baselines and the project manager will have to raise change requests. Change requests must go through Perform Integrated Change Control process before becoming actionable.

Project management plan updates

We used the Schedule management plan and Schedule baseline from the Project management plan as inputs. Both of these stand a chance to be updated based on changes done during this process. Based on the schedule changes even the cost of the project may change hence Cost baseline might be updated as well.

Project document updates

If schedule variance is found, new schedule network diagrams might need to be developed based on the corrective actions planned. Other schedule outputs such as Milestone charts, resource histograms might change, and even alternate schedules may need to be drawn. Hence, both schedule data and schedule stand to be updated due to this process. There could be other project documents such as risk register that you may update based on what you discover while executing this process.

Organizational process assets updates

Findings such as identified reasons for variation, corrective and preventive actions selected along their reasons are documented. Schedule data, project schedule, and even risk register are some of the documents that may get updated, and there could be others to be updated based on what you discover while executing this process.

To refer to one of my experiences, we were trying to provide a detailed schedule right at the proposal stage of a new sub-project for an existing customer. We tried to compress the schedule (using crashing and fast-tracking) in order to satisfy our demanding customers. Scheduling exercise took two of us two weeks of time with 12-14 hours per day spent on it, and we presented an updated schedule about 4 times. The customer’s undue focus on reducing the detailed schedule (worthless exercise since requirements were not detailed) ended up in considerable lost time. Finally, we realized this and settled for high-level estimates with suitable documented assumptions, and got project timelines approved.

Lesson learned?

Do not attempt to give a detailed schedule at the proposal stage, unless every small detail of scope is worked out. You might end up spending too much time modifying the schedule, which anyway changes later when you enter the planning phase to work out a detailed schedule.

This brings us to the end of Schedule management lessons. In the next post let us look at how Cost management activities are planned on a project.

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