Understanding Schedule Management On Project

Schedule Management Knowledge AreaWhat is that one thing that you, as a project manager, would not have most of the time?

Time!

Customer always wants things as of yesterday. There are always deadlines and a mad rush to get things ‘out of the door’ as soon as possible.

Indeed. We need to get deliverables done in the shortest possible time.

And this is done by determining – to whatever accuracy possible and to whichever level of confidence possible – the time it takes to perform individual tasks (or activities) on the project. And then to by understanding what kind of dependencies and blockers might cause delays, and then looking at the shortest path (aka critical path) that it takes to complete the project deliverables.

In other words, by understanding how to come up with a schedule for the project.

Figuring out the tasks, which tasks are to be done first and which ones are done later, who is best suited to do them, how long will they take, how to ensure that time is not wasted between tasks, how do I pull things back when a task is delayed… these are all things on your mind when you manage a project.

I am definitely going to take a course on time management… just as soon as I can work it into my schedule.
– Louis E. Boone

Re-read the above paragraph from PMP Exam’s perspective –

“Figuring out the tasks (define project activities), which tasks are to be done first and which ones are done later (sequence all these activities considering dependencies), who and what is best suited to do them (estimate resources required for activity – people, equipment, server, etc), how long will they take (estimate duration of each activity), how to ensure that time is not wasted between tasks (develop a project schedule), how do I pull things back when a task is delayed (control changes to project schedule)… these are all things on your mind when you manage a project.”

Exam pointer: Exam requires you to remember the sequence of these processes. They follow a logical sequence, so it should be easy to remember them.

The overall approach to schedule creation

With the advent of Agile development methods, there is an impact on what scheduling method (such as critical path, critical chain, scrum agile) is selected. This also influences the selection of scheduling tool.

Then detailed input such as activities, resources, duration, dependencies, and constraints are then fed into the scheduling tool. The outcome is a schedule model.

From the schedule model you can create a schedule for various purposes – such as a Gantt chart for individual activity tracking, Activity list folded up to milestone for reporting and so on.

We shall see this in more details in this post.

New practices in scheduling

There was a time when scheduling exercise would take months together – where a completed detailed project schedule would be the expected outcome. But this would often be slow, rigid, and error prone, because once development starts the changes to scope would impact schedule. Impact analysis and schedule updates would be tedious and involve wastage of work, considering that the future scope would undergo several changes by the time they are taken up for development.

This shortcoming coupled with newer development methods such as Agile lead to new scheduling practices that are iterative. The focus shifted to scheduling only that part of the scope which is going to be taken up for development in immediate future.

Two main trends for agile development method based scheduling are –

1. Iterative scheduling

As the name suggests, scheduling is done iteratively. That is, high-level scheduling is done for user stories to be implemented in future, and detailed scheduling is done for immediate work. This allows for incremental deliverables of the product. Dependencies can be managed better in this approach.

2. On-demand scheduling

This approach comes from Lean manufacturing and used in projects that use Kanban approach (no fixed duration iterations like scrum agile projects). Based on theory-of-constraints and Pull based approach, team’s throughput and resource availability determines when scheduling is done and for which scope.

Schedule management activities are divided into project activities

First, tailoring considerations determine the PMBOK specified processes to be used and the way they are implemented. Some of the tailoring considerations are – project lifecycle, development method, resource availability, and technology used.

Overall, the following processes are used for project scheduling.

  1. Planning how to manage schedule  is the process to plan procedures for developing, and managing changes to project schedule. This is just planning, no real schedule related activity is done here. The focus of this project management activity is around preliminary decisions one must consider about creation and maintenance of project schedule.
  2. Defining each project activity required to deliver scope  is the project management activity to identify specific tasks that produce deliverables.
  3. Sequencing these identified activities is the process to identify dependencies among these tasks without considering resource availability.
  4. Estimating resources (people, equipment etc) is the project management activity to figure out all resources (people, servers, machinery, tools, equipment and so on) required for these tasks.
  5. Estimating durations for these activities is the project management activity to estimate how long each of the tasks take to execute, considering the availability and productivity of the resources estimated for this activity. Now this is an important step in the path that leads to creating a schedule, but from PMBOK’s perspective this process is part of Resource management knowledge area.
  6. Developing the project schedule is the project management activity to put all the above together and come up with a schedule, which can then be tracked to ensure that all tasks are completed on time. While developing schedule any discretionary dependencies between activities are determined based on resource availability. Therefore, if activity-B can be executed in parallel to activity-A but you have only one person on your team capable of performing both these activities, then you will put a dependency between these activities so activity-B can start only after activity-A is completed.
  7. Controlling  change to project schedule is the project management activity to figure out what to do when things go wrong with schedule, and how to bring them back on track

In smaller projects these are processes may be done together because scope is smaller and there is not much complexity and one person can do this work in relatively short span of time.

Schedule development overview

Process of developing schedule involves the following process –

  1. Selecting a scheduling method (such as critical path method or critical chain method), and a scheduling tool.
  2. Project specific data such as activity names, dependencies, estimates of its resources and duration are fed into this scheduling tool to develop a schedule model that is specific to the project.
  3. This project model is baselined.
  4. As project progresses its status is updated in the schedule, variations are noted and corrective or preventive actions are identified.
  5. Once approved by Perform integrated change control process, based on the impact of these actions on the schedule new baseline is created.

More details of schedule development method in Developing Project Schedule lesson.

The plan to manage schedule should be in place before you start with any of project management activities in this domain knowledge segment. This plan talks about scheduling methodology and tool to be used, format and criteria for developing and controlling project schedule.

No doubt then that Managing Schedule is one of the most important areas where project managers spends most of their time on a daily basis.

Let us move ahead and see how planning for scheduling activities on the project is done.

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