Scheduling Blog Series Part 8 – Tracking a Schedule
Tracking a Schedule – Scheduling Blog Series Part 8
If you schedule has these properties:
1. Number of resources -times- number of activities > 60,
2. Activities with predecessors > 75% of all activities,
3. Meeting the end date is important,
Then you should allow schedule software to predict the end date.
The Intended Audience question was a quantitative way of asking, “if the schedule performance in the early part of a project affects start dates of several other resources and tasks later, then to keep everything on schedule, you need to track. Tracking alone doesn’t assure the end date. The project manager must see what is behind and act to mitigate it presently.
Tracking isn’t much more effort than not. You can’t do it reasonably by hand or by spreadsheet. If making dates and coordinating resources is important to success, then you should be using scheduling software to track. The only exception is where resources are dedicated to the project and can discuss progress together daily. I have seen complicated projects work where everyone is kept to date daily. Unfortunately, with resources spread across projects, these daily meetings are often unfeasible.
The faster a deviation in plan is detected, the less effort it takes to correct it. So, establish the shortest cycle for updates and tracking that gives you the best cost/benefit.
This blog describes a process and is illustrated by the software we sell. Learn tracking with a small project, where mistakes can be tolerated while you are learning what you are doing.
The tracking procedure’s inputs are percentage completions and actual start/finish dates. This isn’t extra work as this information should be gathered anyway. Its outputs are schedule slippage (or gain) and spending effectiveness. Tracking is a recurring procedure, consisting of four parts:
1. Set the “Status Date” in the schedule, i.e. the date the progress data reflects. (Our software doesn’t use the status date. Instead, update the schedule on the date the progress data reflects).
2. Gather progress data from resources a few days ahead step 3. Have them forecast to the Status Date or what the progress will be on the date that you will do step 4.
3. Input actual dates, then percentage completions,
4. Produce and save the status reports. Print and put in a binder. You can get to your information faster from a binder than probing through the software. Printing guards against information changing from schedule changes.
5. The project manager studies the reports and acts.
A schedule needs to be constructed properly before it can be tracked. The following characteristics must be in-place to predict the end date:
1. An approved baselined schedule (ours doesn’t require a baseline, but it is still better to do it).
2. All activities, with some exceptions, have predecessors and successors. (if the successor is the end of the project, or software assumes that’s the successor).
3. The project or contract end date is entered.
4. The user didn’t enter dates for activities scheduled by predecessor. Some software, when the user enters dates, assumes them to be constraints. The schedule won’t track accurately then.
The following characteristics must be in-place at the activity level to track how effectively funds are being spent (our Blog Part 7 discusses entering Work):
1. Work (units are hours or days the resource needs to perform the activity).
2. Material and expense costs if cost effectiveness of these is wanted to be tracked.
Leading software offers all manner of tracking tools. Your problem is to pick a good toolset. Here are some suggestions:
1. Do not choose to input actual costs. Have the schedule calculate it based upon percentage complete. Entering actual costs will tie you in knots. Financial cost codes aren’t intended to match your schedule’s organization. (Unnecessary for our software).
2. Set the update option to move the start of incomplete parts of activities to the status date (unnecessary for our software).
Some software allows resources to update progress on-line. You’ll have to prompt them to get done before you execute the reports. Suggest you send email reminders, with a firm date/time when further period updates won’t be permitted. This is another reason to print reports as some will enter their progresses after the firm date/time.
Reliable percentage completes data is the foundation of tracking accuracy. Reliability is helped when work quality is observable and progress countable. Such is the case in construction. Percentage completion can be divined in 5% increments there. On the other side of the scale is software. When software is developed from specification and code is written to address the specification, the progress is measurable, although the quality is unknown. In this case, add a follow-on activity to test and correct the development.
If it is easier to estimate the days remaining to complete an activity, some software (including ours) allows entry of remaining duration. The percentage progress computes itself from that.
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.