Scheduling Blog Series Part 3 – Planning the Schedule

Part 3 – Planning the Schedule


This article discusses schedule preparation so that the project manager can proceed confidently into project scheduling.  The article discusses using a proven tool, the two-dimensional Work Breakdown Structure.

A schedule needs to represent all analyses, engineering, materials, equipment, software, testing, demonstration, documentation, and other work needed to complete a project.  Many of you have templates to guide delivering projects.  However, projects and customers/sponsors are unique.  They may require you to deliver different or novel things differently.  You may need to augment management activities to improve chances of success.

But many schedule software providers avoid mentioning the need to plan a schedule, exuding that you can “drag and drop” your way to a quality schedule.  I don’t care if the software lets you whistle activities around. Take these vendors’ advice and the schedule will remain in a state of flux.  No one will have confidence in it. 

Scheduling software can be instrumental in guiding the activities of a project.  Done properly, it will return the investment in preparing one handsomely.  But its one-dimensional bar chart depictions don’t help the mind grasp the project, except for the smallest projects.  That’s why the two-dimensional Work Breakdown Structure has been adopted by many businesses.

Planning Work

Getting Started

A Work Breakdown Structure (Click here for examples) Write your template schedule hierarchy on one 11 x 17” sheet of paper.  You don’t have to chart all the activities and the lowest levels of WBS. 

Add a level 2 WBS for Project Management.  This is where to capture extra activities the project manager should perform.

Capture special Contract Requirements

If the project is internal, reference the Statement of Work.  If there is no statement, write one and get it approved by the sponsor.  State also what’s not to be included in the project.

Break Down the Objective into Independent Parts

Write boxes for the standard organization processes used to deliver the goods.  Identify specifications that must be written or referenced to guide new kinds “parts.” Number the boxes for cross-referencing to the schedule later.

It’s key that every box on the chart is independent of the others.  As you write the breakdown from the top down, think hard that the categories and subcategories are independent things.

Make sure breakdowns of boxes into more boxes cover all things necessary.

Don’t forget support deliverables, like documentation and test reports.  Someone will have to do it to get final acceptance.

Study referenced Specifications

Does the customer supply a specification detailing project conduct? Those requirements will need to be included as activities in the schedule if novel work is required.  Having a meeting with resources to discuss the specifications could be represented as a box under Project Management.

Note exceptions to your business’ standard way of doing things

Are there multiple subsystem deadlines? Annotate them on the chart.  You will later set “deadlines” or add finish milestones to your schedule for them.  This is key as it may be necessary to document delays by others to request extensions to time and perhaps extra funding.

Note where the commencement of project work will be constrained by work or preparations by others outside of the project team or performing organization (i. e., your company).  These will be “start milestones” in your schedule.

Are you turning over deliverables in phases? Either organize the boxes accordingly or note this.

Is there “Buy America” provision?  What does that really mean?  Add a box on the chart to assess vendors for compliance.

Note Risks

As you do this exercise, note down risks that in your judgement find in the work plan.  There may be a guiding risk template for your organization.  Review it with the chart in-hand.  Make the risk template into a document and note your findings therein.  Asterisk the ones that should be included as activities under the Project Management WBS.

Talk to the Sales Executive

Are there other deliverables or ways of project conduct and communication, not written, that the customer expects?  Our job is to exceed customer expectations, so note these down.

Analyze your Breakdown


Does your firm have resources to do all the work in a quality way?  If not, under the project management category, add a box to hire subject matter consultants.

Management Challenges

The client or nature of project may need the project manager to do more things.  A task list may be needed to close out work in retrofit projects where unscheduled surprises need documented and worked on.  The list should be easy to do and update by the project manager and reviewed at client status meetings.  This keeps everyone accountable.

Are there lots of stakeholders?  Then I suggest reading Project Management Institutes PMBOK on the subject and adding activities to manage this under the Project Management WBS.

Are there delay liquidated damages specified?  What kind of monitoring and control actions do you need to do?  A baselined schedule is a great way to measure cost and schedule progress at any point.  You may want to get a consultant to help setup the schedule to do this.

Are prices of raw materials fluctuating?  There are ways to hedge prices to prevent costly surprises later.

Are all vendors proven reliable? Are there alternative technologies or sources?  If not, consider consultants or on-site presence to monitor their work.  Construct their subcontracts to pay incrementally only when obligations are met.

Do you have internal capability to monitor all work?  For instance, software work is its own world and is outside the capability of many to oversee.

Finally, do you have the capability to construct a schedule that meets the demands of monitoring and control?  Consider hiring a consultant to write it if harboring any doubts.  Have them teach you how to update it, which is easy even with complicated schedules.

Get the Breakdown Approved

Finally, Talk to your Boss.  Have him/her review and approve the chart.  Ask if he wants anything else done about reporting or project management.  For example, does he/she want a roles and responsibility matrix prepared?  Executive reviews of the risk log?

Proceed to Developing the Schedule

Please see a future article.