Why your project needs a predictive project schedule

Have you ever been frustrated because you were sitting in a status meeting and the project schedule indicated you would be finished yesterday?!  Whatever happened to “truth in scheduling”?  A predictive schedule is one of the most powerful tools a project manager has. It provides essential information on status, flags conflicts before they happen, and provides backup when requesting resources.

Believing this, I am frequently baffled at the reluctance of some PMs to create or maintain a project schedule.  I remember years ago in the research lab hearing a senior developer say, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek when requested to provide a schedule for his project, “If I knew how long it would take, it would not be research”.

Maybe what I have seen is the reaction of PMs being burned by schedules that were imposed from “above” or were regarded as meaningless paper exercises required to fulfill contractual obligations with no apparent conformance to reality.  Does this sound familiar to you? Whatever the reasons, some PMs choose to steer clear of real predictive scheduling.

For those who spurn developing a project schedule, I can assure you that you are missing a key ingredient in managing your project effectively. Project schedules are your friend—not your enemy.  And yes, I have heard the people who say I don’t have time for project management and schedules – it gets in the way of my real work.  I call those people “one man projects!”

Here are some of the reasons I believe predictive project schedules are important:

  • A project schedule requires that you identify tasks and their relationship to one another—this is important for risk management, staffing, and sequencing.
  • Project schedules provide the only picture of what has happened (actual) and what is now planned. (assuming they are accurately updated)
  • Project schedules help forecast resource requirements and provide a visual representation of task dependencies that will help you sell your needs to senior management.
  • A project schedule gives everyone on the team insight into where the project is going and how their efforts impact outcomes.
  • A project schedule helps you keep track of accomplishments, needs, and compliance with requirements.
  • A project schedule gives you an easy to use method to evaluate the impact of changes and requirements creep.

I collaborated with my colleague John Rigoli on this subject in 2008 to help him prepare for a presentation at NASA.  Check out John’s presentation at NASA PM Challenge 2008 or download it at http://www.slideshare.net/NASAPMC/johnrigoli .

I feel so strongly about the importance and utility of predictive schedules to project management, that in coming posts I plan to talk about: the characteristics of a good project schedule, getting schedule buy-in, building meaningful dependencies and constraints, identifying risks and accommodating them, how to monitor status, schedule-based reporting, and using tools to build, maintain, and share project schedule information.
So what do you think?  Feel free to reply or suggest topics of discussion for the BLOG.

Many of you have asked if there is a video on the subject.  John and I collaborated on re-doing the presentation so – Here is John’s Video:

9 Responses to “Why your project needs a predictive project schedule”

  1. Cheryl Says:

    This is such a critical topic. Project schedules must be carefully constructed, based on reality. Then must be monitored and adapted over time to the changing conditions we face. And they must be USED to drive the project to success. But do customers really want to know the truth? Can they handle the truth?

  2. Bruce Says:

    Cheryl you are on target with your observations! My opinion is that not all “customers” want nor can handle the truth. I have found many executives that are looking for the organization to tell them that everything is fine (hoping that the project manager will fix any problems) so that they can report to their management that all is well. These schedules are called “Wall Charts” and never change.

    The good news is that most of the clients I work with really want to know the good, the bad and the ugly – as long as it is accurate. That is why a predictive schedule is a good thing.

  3. Ross Says:

    Thanks for the great post! I looked up some more stuff on the presentation by John Rigoli and found this short video on “How To Tell If A Project Schedule is Good.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ME1waJ24JIo . Its not too long, less than 7 minutes, and provides some great information on the toipic.

  4. Bruce Says:

    Thanks Ross! I contacted John and he sent me the video so it is availalbe here for viewing also. See the end of the blog.

  5. How to create and use predictive project scheduling « Fear No Project – A Project Management Blog Says:

    […] you want more on why you need predictive schedule check out the earlier post at https://fearnoproject.com/2009/02/13/why-your-project-needs-predictive-schedules/) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Thymer – easy web based project management […]

  6. Good Project Plan Schedules « Fear No Project – A Project Management Blog Says:

    […] tools to manage a project effectively – and when constructed correctly they also provide a predictive view of that schedule. Creating a schedule requires the PM to breakdown tasks into manageable parts, establish […]

  7. Part 3: If projects are like gasoline – Project Management Tools for Medium-Sized Projects « Fear No Project – A Project Management Blog Says:

    […] Microsoft Project has been around for a long time and many people are still using versions 2007 and 2003, however the current version, Microsoft Project 2010, will be used in the following examples and discussion. Most managers begin by creating a project schedule, which creates a high-level task list and can drill down to detailed tasks for each high-level task. It automatically creates a Gantt chart and supports establishing task dependencies. Microsoft Project uses the standard Microsoft ribbon to control formatting, navigation and frequently used activities. The ability to link tasks allows project managers to perform predictive scheduling, which I believe is an essential skill of professional PMs. (Why your project needs a predictive project schedule). […]

  8. Top Ten Questions You Should Ask about Every Project You’re Managing | Fear No Project Blog - Focusing on the Management Side of Projects Says:

    […] developed (and by whom)? OK I have written many posts and articles on project schedules and making them useful and predictive.  Like me, you may have inherited a winning proposal only to find that the project schedule is […]

  9. How do you celebrate birthdays? (celebrating team milestones) | Fear No Project Blog - Focusing on the Management Side of Projects Says:

    […] you know what the milestones are for your project or team? Oh, I have talked about the need for a predictive project schedule which always has milestones in it, but I am talking more specifically about which ones you use as […]

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