Scheduling Blog Series Part 2: The truth about scheduling competently.

Even semi-powerful scheduling software can, when used properly, offer management critical insights to project health that is otherwise unattainable.  Good software can keep a company from going bankrupt or losing its reputation.  It can also help main a positive cash flow and demonstrate to clients and sponsors that commitments are being met.

I have seen schedules developed in five companies now. I have watched many project managers bludgeon Microsoft Project until it has no more utility than a spreadsheet.  I have seen overly detailed schedules that become tedious to develop, update, and communicate. The most well-know professional software has too many features for the beginner.  Many organizations need to take the time to develop procedures to plan, develop, and progress a schedule.  They should enlist a consultant to get them started.

Embarking upon improved scheduling methods has to start first with educating management what procedural changes are needed, what training and certification are needed, and most importantly, what material to assemble before even attempting to input data into scheduling software.

The following chart puts my experience about scheduling into a knowledge base that I hope will guide you.  Here is a bibliography of good references.  As always, you can take a shortcut to Wikipedia to get a sense of some of the terms in the chart. Good luck!

References:
Scholtes, Peter R., The Team Handbook: How to USe Teams to Improve Quality, Joiner Associates, 1988.
The Construction Industry Institute, Pre-Project Planning Handbook, 1995
Kerzner, Harold Ph D., Project Management – A Systems Approach 8th Edition, John Wiley and Sons, 2003
Boyett and Boyett, The Guru Guide – The Best Ideas of the Top Management Thinkers, John Wiley and Sons, 1998
Pressman, Roger S., Software Engineering – A Practitioner’s Approach 6th Edition, McGraw Hill, 2005

About the author:

Mark Ramsay, PE, PMP, is owner of Effective Project Solutions, LLC.  His past jobs included Project Engineer for DuPont Co., Global Project Manager for Millennium Chemicals, and Project Management Consultant for Johnson Controls, Inc.  Mark graduated from Princeton University with a Mechanical/Aerospace Engineering degree and earned a Masters in Technical Management from Johns Hopkins University.  He is certified in software quality by the ISTQB.  He has won numerous project awards throughout his career, successfully managing sophisticated projects up to $40 million.

 

About Effective Project Solutions (EPS):

Established in 2012, EPS develops and sells Program Leader task and scheduling software.  EPS also offers scheduling services to clients.  Program Leader is for those operating many small projects who want an alternative to “spreadsheet management” and a replacement for confusing large project software.  Please see effectiveprojectsolutions.net for more information.

 

Scheduling Proficiency Hierarchy of Needs Required Competencies Applicable:
Scheduling Demand Scheduler Organization Software Body of Knowledge Project Types
Diagram a business process Can summarize work into top level categories Willingness to standardize upon a process Most anything that can diagram Internal project.  Resources co-located. Daily status meetings.  Run by supervision.  Ordering of tasks flexible.
Help with preplanning a unique project Logical abilities with attention to detail.  Able to do a Functional Decomposition. Goes by several names: Project Preplanning (Construction Industry Institute), Front-End Loading (Industry) Accepts durations and linkages between activities. Calculates start and finish dates. Stakeholder management Truly unique projects
Getting buy-in of a work plan Can translate client constraints into milestones and deadlines.  Understands all work necessary to complete a project to the level of detail the organization prescribes.  Understands how activity work products flow into successors.  Skill with FS, SS, FF, and SF links. Standardized activity definitions.  Standardized organization and flow of activities and level of detail expressed.  Processes to get buy-in from stakeholders and subcontractors. WBS, resource assignment, and summarizing capability Stakeholder management, team building Many people are affected by project outcome.
Assessing whether the work plan will complete to dictated time and cost constraints Finer understanding of necessary vs. unnecessary constraints.  Understands float and critical path.  Setting up a resource table with nature and sizes of work teams. Bottom-up estimating.  Uses project estimate person-hours to derive effort-driven schedule durations. Float and optionally critical path calculation.  Person-hours summarization by day.  Effort-driven duration calculation. Organizational Change Management in order to wrap the organization around new schedule management practices Time-sensitive projects.
Ensuring assigned resources don’t become overcommitted Understands the “effort” variable.  Can delay or reduce effort on tasks.  Understands which tasks have priority. Comprehensive resource management.  Periodic reporting to assess organization-wide resource usage on biweekly basis. Resource summarizing capability to short time intervals.  Optionally; resource leveling algorithm. Project Management Office in order to set procedures and practices Project needs large percentage of   organizational resources.
Managing work (via activities and assignments) Getting percentage completes regularly from PM.  Use of a schedule baseline.  Makes reports for management and client. Methodology for setting realistic progress percentages. Summarizes work progress. ditto Client-paid projects.  Large internal projects where timeliness is important.
Forecasting expected completion and expenditures  Understands planned and forecast dates. Formal PM training from a schedule professional.  Certify the PMs with exercises and a test.  Recognizes schedule and cost deviations and can take timely action to correct. Schedule “baseline” capability. ditto Major internal or large client-paid projects
Evaluating cost and schedule performance throughout the project Understands Earned Value, and can explain what the values mean to stakeholders. Understanding and policies and procedures to support earned value.  Manual integration of actual period cost. Earned value calculation. Add advanced scheduling expertise Major internal or huge client-paid projects
Forecasting a billing schedule in order to stay in the black. Can graph BCWS (budget cost of work scheduled) monthly. Understanding and policies and procedures to support earned value.  Manual integration of actual period cost. Can report BCWS over time (spreadsheet programs as adjunct will work). ditto Major internal or huge client-paid projects

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