Planning and scheduling

the yin and yang of managing a project


Planning and scheduling are distinct but inseparable aspects of managing the successful project. The process of planning primarily deals with selecting the appropriate policies and procedures in order to achieve the objectives of the project. Scheduling converts the project action plans for scope, time cost and quality into an operating timetable. The translating of the project criteria for scope, time, cost, and quality and the requirements for human resources, communications, risk and procurement into workable “machinery” for the project team a critical interface juncture for the project team. Taken together with the project plan and budget, the schedule becomes the major tool for the management of projects. In addition, the integrated cost-time schedule serves as the fundamental basis for monitoring and controlling project activity throughout its life cycle.

This basic level paper addresses the integrated processes of planning and scheduling of multifacet/multidisciplinary programs. The paper presents a working level summary of the major Project Management topics involved in the planning process. The paper also details a systematic process for transforming the Project Plan into the Schedule and the use of the Project Schedule as a model for project control. Intended for the project management novice, the paper concludes with a suggested professional development scheme.

Ying versus Yang

The planning and scheduling of large projects requires the integration of all the processes of project management. Project scope management is a balancing game of time, cost, and quality. The human element is ever present in dealing with the procurement, risk and communications aspects. The weaving of both sides, the Ying with the Yang, makes for the tapestry that the project professional blends. Moreover, a project requires more than just planning the work, you have to work the plan as well. However, one must start somewhere, so why not at the beginning? Likewise, it is the tools of the trade that the novice needs to first master; so let us first dissect these basic techniques.

The TLAs of PM

The big-three PM tools for planning a project are the TLA of SOW, WBS, and CPM (TLA stands for “three-letter acronym”). The Scope of Work (SOW) is the key for the initial defining of a project. We will address this first.


The initial genesis of a project rarely has a consistently, definitive starting point. Project needs emerge from whatever—as hopes and dreams from a brainstorming session, from the complaints and irritations of one's customers, wild ideas and random thoughts from the morning jog, etc. These needs then are recognized, typically as a problem or opportunity of some sort, sufficient for the stake-holder(s) to take seriously. Finally, the prime stakeholder as a necessary undertaking to satisfy their perceived problem and/or opportunity articulates the needs. This formalizing of needs in the stakeholders’ mind the critical step that leads to the drafting of the functional description of the project's statement of work (“SOW”). The functional description, that puts things in the layman's terms, is translated into the language of the execution team as the project's technical specifications. The SOW provides the critical mass of information sufficient to initiate the planning process (Frame, 1995).

A one-page brief called the Project Description captures this critical information. Things worth including in the Header of the project brief form include:

The “what”: Project Title (things need a name)

The “who”: proponent stakeholders

The “when”: proposed start and the expected finish

The “how much”: best cost-guess

The “by who”: proposed project manager.

The Project Brief body addresses the:

•   Project Description (what is happening)

•   Current Situation and Future State (here now / where at in future)

•   Operational Objectives and Benefits (“why” do this project for the stakeholders)

•   Strategy (how to approach)

•   Limitations and Assumptions (what binds the package).

The form should be dated and include the signatures of the initiator and approval authority. It is amazing how putting ones name to something improves value of what is on the page (Nunn & Leavitt, 1994). The next PM tool is the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), both summary and detail level.


The Work Breakdown Structure (“WBS”) helps synthesize the project scope into a disciplined framework. The WBS is the most important tool in the planning of a project. Its family tree format can be based on the deliverables or products of the project, or, as a task-based structure detailing the work to be done. Model car and airplane builders remember the schematic included with the indecipherable assembly directions. The WBS is this parts-explosion of the components of work tasks or deliverable products that breaks down the “big thing,” the project.

A Venetian blind illustration helps explain the expand-out and the sum-up feature of the WBS. The header-bar at the top of the window jamb is the overall program. Using the drawstring, the slats are lowered down to windowsill. Each slat represents a level of WBS detail: program, project, subproject, phase, subphase, summary level, assembly, cost account, activity, task, work package, etc. With the slats wide open, the sun shines through, with some opaqueness. Cranking the slats to the closed position, the sun is blocked by the detail. At each WBS level, hangs a level of detail—work units, costs, deliverables, resources, etc., with the associated scope, financial budgets, customer satisfaction, and quality. For executive reporting, the WBS summary level uses the bikini principle: cover the essentials, leaving the rest to the imagination. At the detail level, the worker-bee expands the WBS appropriately for the task at hand. The WBS can act like the deep-pile foundation for a skyscraper; alternatively, a shallow pontoon outrigger holding up the life raft mast. The third TLA tool to address is the CPM.


Many, many years ago in the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War and at the emergence of Rock and Roll, two major network analysis tools became into being—CPM and PERT. The chaotic, political gyrations within both large corporations and governmental agencies, and the resultant whipsawing of projects, begged for some semblance of order. CPM and PERT provided the salvation of disciplined order to the crisis.

Previously, back-of-the-envelope plans with schedules sketched on a napkin served the construction boss well (in the mud, muck and mire). What goes around comes back around (like the hula-hoop). A simplistic but sufficient paradigm to handle forecasting from week-to-week and crisis-to-crisis emerged. However, what about the esoteric topics of R&D on programs that had never been attempted? Alternatively, where to focus one's energy and interest on a collection of seemingly equally critical priorities? Though these issues always had plagued projects, the emergence of computer-based tools could now help with the analysis. Necessities begot the mother of these modern PM inventions.

The Critical Path Method (“CPM”) flowed from the mathematical engineering labs of du Pont, to address the need to focus limited resources on competing priorities. The invention of Program Evaluation Review Technique (“PERT”) invented by the U.S. Navy and Booze-Allen specifically for the Polaris Missile System, addressed the uncertainty and risks with new ventures. Interestingly, both were computer-based for network analysis; PERT using probabilistic time estimates with CPM using deterministic scheduling values.

Some 35 years after its “discovery,” the CPM-inventor Bill Kelly reflected on what he wrought (Kelly, 1989). “One can get 90% of the value from the Critical Path Method,” Bill remarked, “by simply laying out the graphical, logical flow of the work activities. The ensuing understanding of the relationships between the activities is to me the prime importance of the critical path.”

The critical path method is a paradox: calculation of the longest path provides the shortest overall time in which the project can be completed. CPM continues to be a most powerful time analysis tool available to the project planner and scheduler. SOW, WBS, and CPM are the basic tools. Next to address are the steps to get from the plan to a working schedule.

Steps in the Process

The major process steps to systematically transform the Project Plan include:

•   Transforming the SOW into the WBS

•   Determining requirements

•   Formulating the Schedule.

Each of these steps will be discussed in succession (Lewis, 2001).

SOW to WBS: from “What” to “How”

This series of steps transforms the SOW and the high-level WBS into the detail task list.

Establishing Project Scope of Work

As noted, projects arise out of needs. What starts out as blue-sky high hopes, whims, and birthday wishes and heartfelt desires, are pounded into the “powder” of needs. Needs identification is the process of discovering what matters most. This needs analysis helps the proponent organization quantify and qualify their long-term business goals and then set their short-term operational objectives. Project goals are the specifications of what you hope to achieve at the end of the project. The project must make sense in terms of goals that benefits people in some way. These goals specify how completing the project will make things better than they would be without the project. Project objectives consist of specific aims. Unlike goals, a project can have as many objectives as the project demands. Project objectives require clear, concise writing so project participants understand each one.

The Project Scope is, in essence, the size of the project. It is the sum of the products and services to be provided as a project. The Project Scope includes:

•   How much is to be achieved in the project

•   The length of the project; when it must be completed

•   Obligation of resources: money, people, supplies, and equipment.

The Project Scope of Work (SOW) translates long-term business goals and short-term operational objectives into the functional and technical requirements chartered to the project team. The SOW integrates the limitations and assumptions that evolve the project plan during its development. The next step in the process takes us from the SOW to the WBS.

Working the WBS: From Up on High Down Low to the Taskmaster

The development of the WBS flows out of the SOW. The operational objectives satisfied by the project define the tangible deliverables with the corresponding completion milestones. This analysis yields the major phases of the project. The WBS family-tree structure is organized by either a product-orientation or a task basis. The gene-splitting genesis continues from dividing phases into activities then into tasks, with whatever necessary subcategories in between, down to the lowest WBS level—the work package (Frame, 1995).

Identifying the Project Tasks

As noted, the WBS window shade of the entire Project methodically opens its slats of successive levels of detail down the to task level. (If the team members are neophytes with the particular type of project, best take the WBS down to the work package level.) This step requires grinding the project scope into hamburger. Creating this detailed task list from the WBS leads to the next steps.

Determining Requirements

These steps address estimating task resource requirements and establishing task duration.

Getting the Right Stuff

The first thing is to estimate the appropriate type and level of resources necessary to make the task happen. Resources estimates include people-power, money (both cash flows and budgets), equipment, facilities, supplies and materials, and any special technology.

In estimating the duration, one needs to determine if the task is effort driven or fixed duration. For example, painting a room involves both putting the paint on the walls (physical effort) and waiting for the paint to dry (a relatively fixed duration). Further, it is critical to understand what type of effort drives the task—brawn or brains. Physical effort involves the muscles/brawn of the workers to perform such as, digging, painting, welding, etc. Brain-based tasks are products of mental effort like estimating, programming, or designing. Understanding the task parameters (how much to be done using how many resources) establishes the tasks’ durations. The next step in drafting the initial schedule analyzes the “gives” and “gets” of each task.

Launching the Thousand Ships

To sequence the work requires establishing task predecessors and successors. For each task, the essential inputs (“gives”) and the outputs (“gets”) are noted. Though a task may have many logical relationships with other tasks, elegance requires only the elemental essence. The tip here is to not over do it. For example, the predecessor of December 25 is December 24; and successor, December 26. However, which years? For that matter, every day since the beginning of time is a predecessor of December 25, 2002, and every day thereafter till Armageddon would be a successor. Obviously, this is overkill. With the task predecessors and successor established, the network logic diagram is constructed.

Formulating the Schedule

Building the schedule formulates the “what” and “how” into the “when” of the project.

Weaving It Together: The NLD Tapestry

Creating the schedule network involves diagramming the tasks ordered by its logical relationships. A very effective and efficient method to “sketch” the NLD is to use Post-It Notes®. With one note per task, list the pertinent information, mainly description and duration. Arrange the sticky notes in appropriate order, rearranging as necessary. Using a whiteboard as the base, diagramming of the logical relationship arrows is easily modified. The Network Logic Diagram is the result. Next step is to perform the schedule calculations.

To calculate the Critical Path requires performing the Forward Pass and then the Backward Pass. First, we perform the Forward Pass. The first tasks (no predecessors) have an early start (ES) of Day 0. These tasks have an early finish (EF) calculated by adding the early start to the task duration (EF=ES + dur.). The succeeding tasks each take the resultant EF as their ES, and then using the “EF=ES + dur.” formula to pilot through the network to the end. The process is now reversed, doing the Backward Pass. Commencing at the end, the final tasks (no successors) use the largest EF as their late finish (LF) day-number. The task duration is subtracted from the late finish day-number to calculate the late start (LS) (LF-dur=LS). The smallest LS become the LF for each preceding task. The “LF-dur=LS” continues back to the start. The float or slack is the number of days a task can be delayed with out affecting the overall scheduled completion. Float is calculated for each task by LF-EF and LS-ES. For the tasks where the LF-EF = LS-ES = 0, these tasks are critical and cannot be delayed. The resultant path though the network of all of these critical tasks is the Critical Path. An interesting paradox the CP poses: the longest (path/chain through the network) is the shortest (overall time to complete the project). Next step is to fine tune the draft schedule.

Schedule Optimization: Refining the Crude

Optimizing and improving the draft schedule starts with the Critical Path Method (CPM). By calculating the critical path, the scheduler gains essential insight as to which tasks are critical versus those tasks that can be delayed. Anything to improve the critical path improves the entire project schedule. Likewise, focusing on noncritical tasks will likely yield less than optimal results.

Another technique to improve the draft schedule is to analyze resources. The Resource Allocation process assigns sufficient “whatever” to complete the task per any scheduling constraints. Whereas, Resource Leveling starts with a given crew size then calculates the task duration based on this resources availability constraint. Resource leveling trends to smooth out the erratic swings in allocation requirements. Another resource refinement technique is crashing tasks on the critical path. This involves adding more resources to shrink the critical task duration. Crashing should only be done on tasks on the critical path and then on those tasks that nets the most cost-effective result (Frame, 1995).

We humans can think in three-space but then act in a step-by-step fashion. Though completing one task before tackling another is preferred, how can any thing be done on time? Think of the beleaguered soccer moms who multiprocess/multifunction/multitask the running a complete household on a shoestring budget. Mothers (the true renaissance PM) and movie producers make things happen by attacking multiple tasks simultaneously versus sequentially. Fast tracking is a broader form of this concurrent scheduling technique, commonly used in construction. Successive phases are started as soon as possible. For instance, the site work and foundations of the construction phase is started as soon as sufficient design packages are ready. The facility design and procurement phases continue in concurrence with the construction phase. Though not fool proof—this fast-tracking method gives rise to many change orders fixing the design mistakes found in the field.

The compiled NLD can look like a spider web—a gossamer tapestry of order and logic. Correspondingly, the network can be an incomprehensible rat's nest of derisive drudgery and tedious toil. De-bottlenecking the choke points is one way to improve on this situation. By visual inspection, the NLD reveals tasks and the paths through which too much logical connections flow. By astute rerouting of the process paths and shrewd re-piping of the network logic, the over-pressured task points can be stressed relieved.

The finalized schedule is now ready for go-for-launch and lift off.

“Plan the Work / Work the Plan”

The schedule is more that just a road map, giving the direction to the project team. The schedule is an itinerary of the planned activities combining the scope requirements with the work packages. It is a “trip tick” providing the helpful information along the journey helping the team gauge their progress and aiding their management in assessing team and project performance. The schedule is both mile marker and a benchmark measure. Lastly, the project schedule provides the framework for gathering and sorting out all of the paraphernalia and souvenirs of the trip, both file folder and trip photo album. The captain's ship log and the team's diary of the project journey. It is time to way anchor and trim the sails.

Project Schedule as Model of Control

The project schedule as a model for project control occurs in these instances:

•   Project Initiation and Implementation

•   Tracking Progress and Monitoring Performance

•   Project Communications and Reporting

•   Measuring Project Performance, Project Evaluation, and Project Closeout.

Anchors Away

In starting a project, the schedule provides a focus and structure for the new teammates, probably recently assembled. Though people feel most comfortable with a democratic form of governance where their words are heard and considered, the benevolent dictatorship format is the most efficient. The project schedule provides the visual balance between these two opposing forms for team structure. Though the quality of the team is the prime determiner of project success, it is the synergy of the collective efforts more than the sum of individual talents that make a project click. It is typical for the project plan and schedule to be developed by others than those of the team involved with the execution. The project implementation kick-off necessitates the execution team to collectively experience the project plan for the first time. Their buy-in to the approved schedule is the essential step of the project initiation, with out which the project plan implementation is doomed.

It Sounded Like a Good Idea at the Time

Athletic contests can provide immediate feedback as to progress and performance. The scoreboard shows clearly which team is ahead. The mountain of meaningless statistics placates the also-rans in second place, keeping the announcers jabbering away while the activity on the field continues. The game plan may now be in the can, but the game rolls on. Likewise, the winning team may be ahead in spite of their best efforts to fail, working hard to grasp sudden defeat from the jaws of victory easily within their grasp. (As a long time, beleaguered fan of the Detroit Lions, the writer knows well from experience.) The project schedule provides the baseline against which all activity is measured and evaluated. The team tracks activity progress. This progress data then requires their honest assessment and frank analysis to determine and measure overall project performance. The project team uses the project schedules planned—versus—actual performance to assess themselves. They become their own harshest critics in communicating the project status to the project stakeholders.

Commercializing the Project Advertisement—Getting the Biggest Bang for the Buck

Madison Avenue has made an industry out of producing witty slogans that sell—brief with a hook.

Brevity is the spice of life, and humor is life's spiciness. The best comedians tell jokes with a quick punch line. They want to leave their audience grinning and amused but not rolling in hysterics. The Bob Hope versus the Milton Beryl school of vaudeville comedy. Are project managers really the new millennium's stand up comedians? Well, finding humor in the face of shear adversity in the project-from-hell is not a bad trait for a project leader.

Project leaders are required to play the action character on a regular basis. At each reporting period, the PM must:

•   Tell the key messages

•   Gain acceptance for the particular point of view

•   Persuade the right decision makers to act properly with due haste

•   Inspire the group to continue to conquer the unreachable star.

Quite a tall order for mere mortals; however, project leaders are not allowed to feign mortality. Making things happen is a project leaders key trait. This requires communicating the project news, both good and bad, and then correcting the bad stuff while continuing the good. A project manager should spend most of their time planning with their team, guiding them in the proper direction. Fighting fires are for firemen. The other part of the project leader's efforts should be the reason for their existence—ending the project successfully.

Project Management Is in Business to Go Out of Business

The primary purpose of the project schedule is to guide the team to the end. The schedule is the measuring stick for assessing the project performance, evaluating progress, and getting to project closure as soon as suitable. A project ends, operations gone on indefinitely. The project plan describes the ends; the project schedule defines the means. Neither the project plan nor the schedule is a product of any inherent value other than helping the stakeholders to meet their operational objectives and long-term strategic goals. The project schedule, in this sense, acts as the stages of the rocket ship that propels the crew to their destination, being jettisoned when their mission is accomplished.

Post Script

This paper concludes with this suggested professional development scheme for the project management novice. The PM Network March 2002 cover story states that establishing a PM career track improves project performance, job satisfaction and the bottom line (Logue, 2002). Seems like everyone wins: project, individual and the organization. By making project management a viable and desired career path, organizations will succeed by planning and executing project for success and excellence. Nurturing the continued development of all workers is the lifeblood of any organization. PM must be taken seriously as if the life of the organization depended on it, because it does.

Life Is What Happens While Waiting for Something Better to Come Along

The Project Management Institute offers an array of certification programs and levels—the Certified Associate in Projects Management (CAPM), Project Management Professional (PMP®), and the suite of Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ) programs. Though not yet complete, the framework is there for the both aspiring and the grizzled veteran to pilot their own course through career development and toward self-fulfillment.

An important but overlooked portion of each certification program is the self-assessment portion, which affords self-introspection of one's career progress and professional performance. Coupled with the certification renewal process of earning professional development units (PDU), the professional self-tracks their personal development.

PMI's Certification Programs offer a process superior to any corporation's appraisal system typically fraught with office politics, self-incrimination and demoralizing retribution. Dr. Edward Deming, the guru of quality, preached to totally do away with individual appraisals since they demoralize team unity and personal initiative. PMI's Certification Programs fill the void, offering valuable insight through self-analysis while tracking the important metrics. The apparently conflicting professional development goals of teamwork and self-promotion are balanced.

Nice Guys Finish Last

In conclusion, a sports question: Are championship teams made with superior talent playing well or, with the synergy of good players submitting to team goals? The competing super egos within many professional sports organizations (sourpuss owners, indulgent coaches, and pampered athletes) make for greater obstacles than the opposition. Leo Durocher called it right with his quip of “nice guys, finish last.” Championships are won by the team of common athletes playing well together, beating the group of great players (nice guys) who focus on themselves and finish last. The victorious teammates win.


Frame, J. Davidson. 1995. Managing Projects in Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lewis, James P. 2001. Project Planning, Scheduling & Control. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Nunn, Philip, & Jeffrey S. Leavitt. 1994. Total Quality Through Project Management. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kelly, William. 1989, March. “Reflections On CPM.” Project Management Journal, pp. 45–52.

Logue, Ann. 2002, March. “Building and Keeping the Dream Team.” PM Network, pp. 30–36.

Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA



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