Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Schedule - Basics

Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.

                                                                                                - Jim Rohn

On completing my recent series on the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), I promised to continue the series on project management fundamentals with The Schedule.   In this post, I’ll discuss the basics of a well-formed schedule, to be followed in future posts with advanced scheduling techniques and best practices.
A schedule is more than just a timeline.  Most “schedules” that I see are actually timelines.  That is, they are a graphic representation of what the PM wants the schedule to look like, how the PM wants the project to flow.  A well-formed schedule, in contrast, is how the PM plans for the project to flow based on a given level of certainty (probability).  It is for this reason that a (time) schedule (and equally a cost schedule) can only be done integrally with appropriate risk management.

A well-formed schedule is built in these steps and, if any steps are omitted, it is not a well-formed schedule and therefore is not reliable:
  • WBS
  • Dependency chain
  • Task effort estimates
  • Resource assignments
  • Resource leveling
  • Risk buffers
We’ve already talked about the WBS.  Over the next few posts, I will expand on these other necessary elements of the schedule.  In addition, there is an optional step to quantify the reliability of the schedule.  This topic is challenging to explain and probably requires a full book to do it justice, but I will at least address the high-points.

One final thing before I close this post:  If you follow these steps and develop a well-formed schedule, will that guarantee a good schedule?  The short answer is: No.  Ignoring the obvious path that “good” is subjective and the pitfalls that leads to, my point is that following the “process” or steps of producing a schedule does not compensate for experience or fate.  That is, if an experienced PM produces a timeline without resource leveling, they will not have a reliable schedule.  On the other hand, if an inexperienced PM follows all of these steps, they still may not have a reliable schedule.   There are lots of ways to produce an unreliable schedule.  And sometimes God just laughs.
Other references on scheduling:
                PMBoK v4, chapter 6 (Project Time Management)
                The Practice Standard for Scheduling v2

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