What your schedule isn't telling you
Have you ever made safe assumptions on your schedule only to be halfway through the project only to realize that it is not executing as planned and the resources needed to execute are not available? Join this session to learn the three things you can add to your project schedule to make them more valuable than you ever thought possible. Learn secrets from top aerospace and defense contractors, as well as top IT organizations that will make your project teams more productive and give the project manager the critical information needed to successfully manage the project with confidence.
With increased focus on execution and profitability, project managers must operate as efficiently as possible. Yet, the siloed project management systems most businesses use today limit efficiency, and data from these systems can be inconsistent and unreliable. To compensate, companies are forced to use time-consuming manual processes to analyze and report on critical business information. Additionally, data are often out of date, making it difficult to pinpoint problems or opportunities quickly. The result is time-consuming and costly data integration processes that render organizations unable to anticipate issues or make the best decisions for project success.
Integrating cost and schedule systems can both eliminate surprises and dramatically improve efficiency and effectiveness of decision making for a project or even a portfolio of projects. The project schedule is the basis for project control and visibility. It must be done well in order for the project manager to monitor the true status of the project. As your schedule ebbs and flows (all projects experience change), so do the resultant costs, resources, and time phasing of the project. This integration gives the enterprise the ability to understand what the outcome of the project will be and will help maximize the use of valuable labor and material resources. Modeling resources is a challenge for companies in ALL types of industries. Businesses that have fully integrated their cost and schedule systems have enjoyed increased predictability, profitability, and overall project success.
The Three Items to Add to Your Schedule
In the past, schedules have been considered a back office tool. They were created in a vacuum and, in order to get a copy or view them, a project manager or control account manager would have to sit down with the scheduler to understand the project status. In the last decade, the importance of the schedule has been recognized. For instance, the Department of Defense (DoD) has required schedule submissions in certain types of contracts and they require cost/schedule integration as a part of the ANSI 748 guidelines. Project management methods have also incorporated this concept.
The schedule is no longer an assembly of tasks and activities; if managed properly, it can be an invaluable project management tool. The following three items can be added to the schedule so that the project team can get the most out of its project plan:
• The architecture of the project
a. Integrated Master Plan (IMP) Structure
b. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
c. Cost Breakdown Structure
d. Organizational Breakdown Structure (OBS)
e. Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS)
• Resources associated with each task
f. Baseline Plan
g. Forecasted Plan
h. What-If Scenarios
• Decide on a Method for Resource Loading Your Schedule
i. Project Planning
j. Resource Leveling
Today, many companies realize the value of having the project architecture embedded (coded) in the schedule. Most schedule applications today have the ability to have multiple coding structures and allow that structure to be “attached” to each task or subproject in the schedule. Having a coding structure that, at a minimum includes the IMP ID, WBS, Cost Breakdown Structure (this could be the same as the WBS), OBS, and RBS gives the project manager visibility to multiple layers of the schedule through sorting, filtering, and reporting capabilities. Other codes that you may want to include are Responsible Individual, Contract Line Item, and Earned Value Technique, just to name a few. It gives different work teams (Control Account Manger or Integrated Project Team Leader), in addition to the project manager, access to the data they need to manage their scope. Having the codes embedded also helps the project manager identify problem areas within the schedule, which helps reduce surprises that ultimately lead to cost overruns and delays.
The project architecture (coding) provides the basic structure that allows the seamless integration of the schedule to the cost management system. Without coding, the ability to automatically integrate does not exist. Project teams are often resistant to the mundane task of keeping activity codes up to date. The upfront work to keeping these codes up to date will pay off in information, which will be available to the team and will lessen the amount of manual manipulation required to keeping the systems reconciled.
Resources Loaded with Each Task
Resource loading schedules is definitely a trend that is gaining momentum. One of the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) 14pt check items is, “Is the schedule resource loaded?” Loading resources against each task or activity does take time and discipline to complete and maintain the plan. The reality is that you are doing this anyway and why not have it be in lock step? Most schedule and cost management systems today both generate and receive information reciprocally. Once the resources are loaded against the task, they can be electronically moved to the cost management system to be priced through overhead and the resources spread against the dates of the tasks or group of tasks. Since the schedule is the basis for the entire plan, the baseline can be set and you can be assured that you have 100% cost and schedule integration for the project baseline. That baseline can now be locked and execution can begin.
Changes happen and schedules expand and contract, necessitating the need for forecasts. As the schedule is statused, dates and resources will change. Schedule tools are also capable of having estimates to complete or forecasts. Estimates to complete can be changed as the schedule dates and needed resources are updated to reflect the current status of the project. Resources can be analyzed by project or the enterprise to find under or over utilization of resources. Many schedule tools have histograms and reports that reflect the usage of the RBS. The forecasts can also be integrated automatically to the cost management system. This integration assures the cost forecast is tied exactly to the schedule.
There could be potential contract changes that need to be estimated. These changes could impact the scope, technical, and cost aspects of the project. It could shorten or lengthen the schedule. The ability to do What-Ifs with confidence is a truly valuable tool for the project team. Having the ability to quickly change the schedule without disturbing the original baseline or current forecast to look at multiple scenarios is a true plus for the customer as well as the contractor. Being able to keep this change in a different forecast and include it or not include it keeps the teams from doing double work and gives the project manager full visibility into what the change is doing to the overall project. It also allows the teams to fully understand the hand-off and any necessary trade-offs before incorporation of the change.
Methods for Resource Loading a Schedule
Basic project planning is the industry standard for scheduling a project today. The plan consists of activities or tasks that are logic based. The activities are tied together, such that the forecasted dates in the schedule move with the current status. Resources can be assigned to activities and these resources move in concert with the updated status. This is an accepted method for resource loading your schedule and is the most widely utilized method for engineering and development contracts. Below is an example (Exhibit 1):
Exhibit 1 – Project Planning Example
The vast majority of companies resource load their schedules simply to get an idea of what resources are needed and their associated costs. Analysis and resource conflict management are performed either manually or in some other tool such as MS Excel. Most scheduling software today offers resource scheduling algorithms that allow the scheduling tool to analyze and resolve resource conflicts called “resource leveling.” Utilizing a common resource pool and analyzing the resource demand versus availability across all of the projects in an organization, scheduling tools today can provide a very good first pass at leveling resources across projects. Resource leveling saves time, consolidates resource information into one tool, and provides a means for assessing resource impacts quickly during what-if planning.
An example form of resource leveling is called Finite Scheduling (Exhibit 2). Finite Scheduling is a technique in which resource requirements are identified for each task in the schedule, and then during resource leveling the tasks move to the available resource (optimizing the resource’s load). This type of resource scheduling does not consider time only resources. Keep in mind that resources can be both people as well as materials. This technique is used mostly in a manufacturing enviromnent or a time and material type of contract in which resources drive the schedule.
Exhibit 2 – Finite Scheduling Example
Three Things Your Schedule Should Give You
The schedule can and should be the driver of project planning, status, and performance. If the schedule is coded with the necessary architecture, resource loaded by task/activity, and a consistent method for project planning established, the schedule will give you the following:
- Basis for cost/schedule integration so that your schedule and cost management system are aligned
- Reports and graphs related to all of the project structure allowing all of the organization to understand project status.
- Understanding of resource planning and utilization for the project or the enterprise.
©2011 Kim Koster
Originally published as part of Proceedings PMI Global Congress 2011 – Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX
Earning a scheduling certification helped three project professionals deliver more precise estimates — and become better leaders.