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Defining and Developing the Project Schedule

Project Management Topics

A project schedule is a tool that communicates what work needs to be performed, which resources will be required and in what timeframe the work needs to be done. The project schedule must reflect all the work associated with delivering the project on time. If a project does not have a complete and updated schedule, the project manager will be at a disadvantage to communicate updates on the project baselines (Scope, Cost and Time).

How to Manage and Develop the Schedule

To manage the Project Schedule, we first must have a scope in place. First, we work with the customer to define the product scope, describing the thing that they want us to create. Then we create the project scope, all the required work and only the required work to create the product scope. One the scope is determined, you can start working on the work break structure or WBS. The WBS is a breakdown of all the project deliverables that is decomposed into work packages. Once the WBS has been created, you will take those work packages and generate an activity list.   

The activity list should be arranged in the order in which the activities take place. The activity list will be an essential input into building the project schedule, it is important the activity list is complete and correct. The activity list is effort based and contains the estimated duration. The activity list maps back to a single work package on the WBS. For example, you are planning a dinner party, and one of your work packages is the menu.  The activity for that would be preparing a shopping list, deciding which grocery stores to visit and looking up recipes. It is important to remember a well thought out WBS allows for a smooth transition from scope planning to schedule planning.  

Our next step is to sequence the activities. Sequence activities is the process of identifying and documenting relationships among the activities. The activities are represented in a Project Network Diagram(PND), showing the activities, their dependencies and the sequences. You cannot sequence the activities without defining the activities. The PND allows you to visualize the work and determine the critical path. The critical path comprises of the activities that cannot be delayed without delaying the project finish.  The critical path reveals the activities that, if late, will cause your project to miss its target completion date. The critical path directly correlates with Project risk.

To estimate the duration of each activity, you will need to know the resources that will be assigned the activity. The key focus is determining the duration not the level of effort for this process. The durations require various factors and should not be left to mere guesswork. Some of the factors to consider are:

Constraints – anything that represents a limitation. For example, if one of the resources you would like to assign to the activity on vacation, will they be available? Are you sharing this resource with another Project Manager?

Assumptions -  is anything you think to be true but there is no guarantee.  For example, we assumed that the vendor provided a correct ship date for the equipment. Or there was an assumption that the contractor followed all the building rules.

Resource Availability – How many resources do you need to perform the activity and are the resources available. Many times, Project Managers are at a disadvantage because they do not directly control the availability of the resource, rather they must seek out the functional manager and provide a request.

Enterprise Environmental Factors – are internal or external factors that influence the organization. For example, safety regulations and mandated inspections will impact the duration of an activity.

Organization Process Assets – historical information that can provide an estimated and actual duration for the same or like activities.

Risk – can be both positive or negative. If your estimate duration was incorrect and the activity took much longer than anticipated, there is a chance for a delay in the project. On the upside, if an activity is completed ahead of schedule, you may find that the project is completed ahead of schedule.

Once the schedule is developed, the Project team should be used as a means of communication, that is frequently updated and monitored throughout the life of the Project. Remember when the Project is complete, the latest schedule should become part of the Project archive.

If you have never created a WBS, it can be quite challenging, our Project Management classes provide easy to follow examples on how to create your own WBS. Sign up today.