Scheduling Blog Series Part 7 – Developing a Schedule
This blog is for anyone who schedules, whether using scheduling software, spreadsheets, or pencil and paper. This blog describes a process and is illustrated by the software we sell.
We share here a schedule developed by a team of students (including me) from a graduate-level Project Planning and Control Course.
We see advertised scheduling software (mostly web applications) that illustrate using very general activities, for example, “Develop Software.” Such a high-level activity while illustrative is useless for planning work. You need activities depicting sufficient detail that guides others in what to do. You are leading people to do sometimes hundreds of hours of work. It behooves you to think through what you are asking them to do and in what sequence.
Doing some of these steps will require you to write new formulas for your spreadsheets or sum your pencil and paper schedules in new ways. There comes a tipping point where the sheer number of activities pushes one into scheduling software. The judgement arises that it would be more efficient to learn the software rather than plod with formulas, extensive numbers of columns, manual sorts and filters, and manual arithmetic. We refer you to Blog #2 which shows the individual and organizational tasks needed to schedule to progressively advanced objectives. If you have leading schedule software, research it before attempting these processes. Many need options set up and careful adherence to their processes to pull this off. Our software has the options built-in, making it pretty much “foolproof” (no disparagement intended)!
Most people can make a schedule of a plan. The trick is to do it in a way that allows tracking and useful reporting and notifying. Tracking means knowing whether you are on-schedule and on-budget. That requires other data besides the activities and their dates.
A technique called “rolling-wave planning” is appropriate when near-term tasks can be detailed, but future tasks are understood only in general terms. Consider detailing the schedule for the upcoming month the week before it begins. Then you will know more what has to be done with the benefit of knowledge from a few week’s progress.
There are ten process steps that this blog will describe:
1. Understand Constraints and Requirements in the Contract or your Stakeholder’s Expectations
2. Make a Diagram then Create the WBS Dictionary
3. Enter the Project Start and End Dates
4. Enter the WBS Elements
5. Enter Resources
6. Enter Schedule Data
7. Review the Schedule Yourself
8. Check Resource Loading
9. Review Schedule with Team, then Stakeholders
10. Baseline the Schedule
Activities may have to await others outside of the project to do work first. That is best expressed by a start milestone. Certain activities must be done before the contract end date. A finish milestone or deadline expresses that.
It’s advisable to create a network diagram while writing the WBS dictionary. Do this by hand. This will guide activity entry and setting up activity linkages. This example comes from a Google search of CPM diagrams.
Additionally, make a list of the preparatory plans the project manager needs to do. For example, PMBOK recommends plans for its knowledge areas. The project manager needs to prepare them.
Activities in a schedule usually consist of a few words. Activities should start with a verb. A few words allow packing the most activities in a list-based schedule view. A few words suffice when the organization knows what they are. But a few words don’t specify intent well enough for novel activities. A WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) dictionary allows one to define specifically. Then the user can enter activities using short phrases using this the Structure as a supplement.
Following is a piece of the Structure that our team created. The entry and exit criteria clarify what is needed to start, how the activities are to link-up, and how to measure success upon completion. View by outline and have each entry numbered (not shown here).
Phase 1 – Strategic 10-Year Business Plan
This set of tasks develops the background of Play On, Inc. and develops the need to expand into a new business area.
State Corporate Mission
This task is to formulate a corporate mission for Play-On. The entry criterion is development of the business case (3.2). The exit criterion is team agreement on a corporate mission for use in the deliverables.
State Business and Competitive Status
This task involves gathering data on Play On, Inc. to provide a background of the current business situation. This will include stating our historic and projected revenues and earnings; stating our net worth and capitalization; stating our financial rankings with our competitors; and stating our relative stock strength to competitors. The entry criterion is development of the business case (3.2). The exit criterion is team agreement on the current business status for use in the deliverables.
Describe Business Need
This task develops and describes the business need to expand into the new market. Entry criteria are the development of the business case (3.2) and development of the current business environment (1.1.2).
…and so on.
The software we provide allows multiple projects. A project entry screen looks like this. Most software provides for this entry. A spreadsheet or worksheet should note them.
Note the names in the following screen. Those of you using spreadsheets should include columns for them. This will allow filtering of activities in which they have accountability.
Note that our software maintains revision logs. This records the time when something was changed.
Step 4: Enter the WBS Elements
Our software allows the WBS Elements to be assigned a manager, allowing reports to be created for WBS Managers. Elements are numbered according to their execution sequence. Spreadsheet users should provide a column for them, if WBS Managers are used in your organization. Then you can filter activities according to them. Our software offers just one WBS level, which is fine for many projects.
Step 5: Enter Resources
Resources can be internal or subcontracted. Resources can be named or left generic. Our software will prompt the user to fill in resources as they enter new ones in activity records. If the user chooses to ignore the prompt, a layout will pop up asking the user to fill in the information at the time of executing a report that requires the information.
When possible, it’s best to enter the amount of work and how available the resource is to do it. Working within resource’s time constraints is the best way for them to buy into the schedule. Most software will calculate the duration from availability and work. Then link activities. Our software does this by the user entering linking activity IDs in the predecessor and successor fields (see box no. 4 below).
Work and Availability can be entered in spreadsheets, but in that case each column should represent one day and make use of the SumIf and SumProduct functions. This is a bit complicated and should make one consider the jump to scheduling software.
One should always have an estimate before going too far with entering activities. The Work can be gathered from a detailed Project Estimate. The hourly rate used in Step 5 would come from there. If you are doing novel activities, estimate work with the resource at time of entry.
Ensure that ALL activities needed for project success are included. Even activities assigned to the client or sponsor should be included, like preparing an area for a retrofit. Such can protect your firm from delay liquidated damages. Milestones should be entered to represent constraints for starting an activity, or a contractual deadline for completing some intermediate work product.
A general rule is an activity should represent the longest duration that is manageable. Don’t set durations less than a day. Otherwise your schedule will grow and complexity with no return on the effort.
Consider not scheduling the project manager’s activities. Show the PM as one activity spanning the project duration. At month end, advance PM’s progress percentage to the end of the month. Up-front activities like preparing PMBOK recommended plans can be shown as milestones (i. e. zero-duration activities). Entered as such, they will not affect Earned Value calculations (see about EV in Scheduling Blog Series Part 5).
If you use schedule software and it has Resource Leveling, you won’t have to link activities of the same resource together. This can be a time saver. However, Work (i. e. man-hours) and Availability (portion of time that can be committed to the activity) must be entered for leveling to work. Activities must be sorted according to their order of execution commencement. Research and apply the frequency that the leveling routine should examine the data. It is shorter than you might expect (we can’t advise without compromising privileged knowledge). View the results by average and peak resource utilization.
Step 7: Review the Schedule Yourself
Check the work by viewing the project in a Gantt view (partially shown). If the work extends beyond the Contract (or Project) End Date, work on the durations of the critical path (the path in our software are those activities with zero free float). Activities forecast to complete ahead of schedule have a green component; those late have a red. Activity remaining duration is always set to start on the current date (one can’t progress in the past). Some scheduling software requires this preference to be set. One must push remaining duration ahead with manual scheduling.
Step 8: Check Resource Loading
Whenever Work and Availability are entered in activities, the resource loads can be shown. Here, H. Ford is overscheduled a day in November. This is trivial enough to ignore. You should review daily utilization with each resource to secure whether they will give the time indicated to the project. This chart and the underlying computation were discussed more fully in Blog 6.
Step 9: Review Schedule with Team, then Stakeholders
Review the schedule your team and stakeholders and secure buy-in. Progress activities accomplished and underway. Repeat steps 7 through 9 until it’s done.
Step 10: Baseline the Schedule
When accomplished, baseline it or save it as a separate file for reference. A baseline is a record of the original schedule. It is also a necessity for Earned Value calculations in most other scheduling programs (ours will default to the planned dates in absence of a baseline). Thin black bars under activities indicate the presence of a baseline. The time this Gantt was compiled, some work had been done (black bars). Weekends and holidays, which are non-workdays, are shown in fuscia.
A touch of a button baselines in our software. Others require that summaries get selected first, which is a bit tricky for the novice. Below is a partial view of the finished schedule.
It’s important to write activities that lead people into doing the right thing. A rule of thumb is activities should be at least a day and no longer than a week. A schedule should be validated by checking resource loading. Editing a schedule to meet a date without this can cause trouble later. Secure buy-in from the resources and stakeholders before baselining the schedule, which makes it official.
The next blog will discuss updating the schedule an selection of reports to show project progress. Earlier blogs can be found at www.effectiveprojectsolutions.net/blogs .
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.