I had a great conversation this week about one of my earlier posts on creating effective and predictive project schedules. It appears this subject is one of the common topics used in the maturity models being utilized these days. So I thought I would give another perspective on creating a good project schedule.
Project schedules are essential 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 relationships among tasks, ensure that deadlines can be met, and assign sufficient resources to tasks. Here are some guidelines about project plan schedules from authoritative project management sources.
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI) in the accepted Body of Knowledge for Project management (PMBOK)
Project plan development uses the outputs of the other planning processes, including strategic planning, to create a consistent, coherent document that can be used to guide both project execution and project control. This process is almost always iterated several times. (PMBOK 4.1.3, pg. 44)
The PMBOK further states:
The project plan is a document or collection of documents that should be expected to change over time as more information becomes available about the project. (IBID)
Also, according to the Software Engineering Institute’s (SEI) Capability Maturity Model® Integration (CMMI), Version 1.1, Project Management is a key part of the maturity process and has two key areas for project plans considered areas for achieving the higher levels of maturity:
- Project Planning – Goal 1: Establishing Estimates, Goal 2: Developing a project plan.
- Project Monitoring and Control – Goal 1: Monitoring the Project against Plan
To create a Project Plan schedule that meets all of the standards of a mature project schedule, both as defined in the PMBOK, the CMMI v1.1, and as widely accepted by Professional, certified project managers, should contain at a minimum these 10 items:
- Sufficient level of detail (Work breakdown and task sizes)
- Defined resources (Named)
- A complete network of dependencies (Adequate hard logic)
- Specific assignments (Resources against tasks)
- Sufficient use of milestones (Includes all Deliverables)
- Plan baselines (A static copy of the “plan” against which measures can be taken)
- Few constraints on tasks (Constraints are fixed and not predictive – like “Must finish on”)
- Actual work being recorded in the plans ( Actual work done on a period by period basis)
- Accurate metrics being calculated (Earned Value)
- Integration of all project schedules to provide a dynamic forecast and predictive outcome of impacts (“Workplans” or tasks for each team which form the complete schedule)
SEI summarized the use of project plans as:
“A project’s documented plan is the basis for monitoring activities, communicating status, and taking corrective action. Progress is primarily determined by comparing actual work product and task attributes, effort, cost, and schedule to the plan at prescribed milestones or control levels within the project schedule or work breakdown structure. Appropriate visibility enables timely corrective action to be taken when performance deviates significantly from the plan. A deviation is significant if, when left unresolved, it precludes the project from meeting its objectives.” (CMMI V1.1, pg 219)
One other bit of advice about schedules based on my observations and experience:
A dangerous time in the life of a project is in the middle of the schedule. After the excitement of beginning the project and before the end of project—everything has to be done by when?—there is the sometimes abandoned middle. In the middle of a complex project execution, it is easy to assume that “there is plenty of time left”. One forgets the logic and experience used to build the original schedule. Remember that a project schedule is not a “wall chart” to be placed on the wall and admired!
Bad idea! Bad practice!
Project managers need the discipline to monitor schedule and plan compliance every week. During project execution, project schedules should be monitored by actual work recorded against the plan. This means tracking time against tasks. This allows metrics to be used in the project processes necessary on large projects. Using staff estimates of percentage complete rather than actual work performed and estimates to complete, is not an accurate method of monitoring progress on a large, multi-project program. Additionally, without documented, supportable statistics, managers have no credible evidence to support resource demands during the execution of the project.
Following these basic principles gives you a better than average chance that your project schedule is a useful, predictive schedule and not just a static wall chart.