Scheduling Blog Series Part 6 – When Scheduling Software Makes Sense

Criteria for Needing Scheduling Software and Expertise

Winston Churchill wrote in his book The Gathering Storm about events leading to WWII.  He described why he created a statistics department in his Admiralty.  He did it to collate data about ship movements and logistics so that information could improve decision-making when events demanded action.  The germ of this idea came from his experience leading the Admiralty in WWI.  It was the first statistics department the British government. 

When you are betting the business on a major or novel project with an end date, you likewise need to keep statistics.  Scheduling software that offers sophisticated reporting, operated by knowledgeable people, is your solution to this need.  Getting software is rather easy.  Getting the right software takes knowledge of the tools you need.  This blog is intended to help with this.  Getting trained operators is another matter.  Consider an outside resource to perform scheduling if this is your first foray with it. 

You will never get satisfactory project statistics using spreadsheets.  They are just not organized to analyze sets of data the way a business needs.  Furthermore, the proper formulas to use are not straightforward.  And you probably won’t get around to validating a homegrown solution.

Here are project types where scheduling software makes sense:

·         An effort with a specific product lasts six months or more

·         Repeatedly doing well-understood activities with the same resources

·         Project type is novel

·         When forty or more activities comprise the project

Scheduling software can report upon resource levels and usage that no spreadsheet can.  They can advise the dates when there’re aren’t enough resources to do the planned work.  They set dates according to predecessor to successor links set by the user.  Some show schedule and cost performance anytime in the course of the project (this is called the Earned Value technique).  They can advise the shortest time needed to complete the project (i. e. the critical path). 

The Dilemma

Leading scheduling software is complex to operate.  Project managers using it occasionally never get proficient enough to use its tools properly enough to safeguard your business.  I and others have seen project managers use software wrong too frequently.  New web-based software still requires the same understanding of scheduling concepts that Primavera and Microsoft products require.  One needs to have special aptitude for schedules, and then partake in a week-long professional training course.  Even so, unless the person follows up with proficiency certification, you’re not assured of the usefulness of the training.

Unless you had a background in statistics, you wouldn’t try to utilize a statistics program, would you?

Our Recommendation

The software we offer at Effective Project Solutions performs the statistical computations needed to establish where your project stands cost-wise and schedule-wise anytime during the project.  It advises when resources are over-scheduled.  It does these things without the operating complexity of the leading software (except that critical path analysis isn’t yet offered).  Program Leader allows newcomers to such software to schedule successfully.  It provides over 25 useful reports.  It also manages tasks as independent entities.  We also can coach you how to use it, or we can just do your schedules for you.  Find out more at effectiveprojectsolutions.net .

An Example

This Gantt chart is a piece of one of three projects in the Program Leader database.  One enters the normal kind of schedule data.

Gantt Chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A press of the button summarizes critical business information of the three projects’ 314 activities.  All worthy software should provide this out-of-the-box.  All one needs to do is designate labor rates for the resources and material/expense cost for the activities.

DASHBOard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resource performance is shown by the following metric report:

Metrics of Resources

 

 

 

 

 

 

Internal division and subcontractor-level performance is shown by this metric report:

Internal division metrics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The software needs to be able to show where resources are overcommitted and foster a solution.  This resource is overcommitted where red slices are shown under the subheader “Percent Resource Utilization.”  Availability (“Avail.”) is the portion of time the resource is to spend on the activity.

Resource Allocation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing the Team Size simply from 1 to 2 fixes this sufficiently.  Still, one person is enough when Resource Utilization is under 50% (see figures in the green zones).Balanced Resource Allocation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The underlying formulas behind this layout, which one needs the capability to understand, follow.  This equation means that to hold Duration constant and increase in Team Size will allow a decrease in Availability.

Governing Equations

 

 

 

The software should have the facility to enter non-work holidays.  Our solution assumes Monday to Friday are workdays.  Weekends and holidays are skipped in duration calculations.

Holiday Chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The software should also be able to email notifications to resources and supervision about late and upcoming activities.   Our software allows the user to set up a schedule to send emails automatically.  The following is an example of such an email.

From:     Mark Ramsay <effectiv@effectiveprojectsolutions.net>

Sent:       Thursday, August 2, 2018 5:00 PM

To:          KScully@nmail.com

Cc:          mramsay21104@verizon.net

Subject: Notification for K. Scully from the WBS Manager’s viewpoint   nmail.com

 

Dear K. Scully,

These are activities that are due soon.  Please let me know if you need

any help with them.

 Total Due within 40 workdays from now: 0

 Total Due within two weeks: 0

 Total Late: 3

 

————————————————————————

ID: 12      Priority: B      %-Complete: 25

Responsibility: Connie Smith

Start: 7/20/2018      Due: 7/25/2018      Forecast Due: 8/13/2018

 Activity: Develop Sales Channels

 Status:  

————————————————————————

ID: 13      Priority: B      %-Complete: 50

Responsibility: K. Scully

Start: 7/10/2018      Due: 7/13/2018      Forecast Due: 8/3/2018

 Activity: Review Competition

 Status:

 ————————————————————————

ID: 11      Priority: B      %-Complete: 25

Responsibility: K. Scully

Start: 7/16/2018      Due: 7/19/2018      Forecast Due: 8/8/2018

 Activity: Develop General Advertising Strategy

 Status:

 ———————————————————————— 

Conclusion

These are the kind of statistics and tools that you should seek in project management software.  While it all looks easy to do, you need to commit time to learn activity linkages and know basic algebra. 

We hope this blog gave you insight about the tools that you should seek in scheduling software and the skills needed.  Please contact us at effectiv@effectiveprojectsolutions.net if you have any questions or comments.

 

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.

 

Microsoft Project is a trademarked product of Microsoft Corporation.