Project Management Institute

Seven excuses for resisting schedule management

by Terence J. Plaza

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EXCUSES ARE EITHER SPOKEN or unspoken. In some cases, you will hear many of the following excuses when you suggest that your organization begin using modern schedule management techniques. If the excuses are spoken, you're lucky because at least you know what you're dealing with and where the person you are talking with stands. It's relatively easy to take it from there. You have a more difficult problem if the excuses are unspoken. In this case, there is little evidence that you are not getting buy-in from the other person. People may say that they are buying into schedule management, when, in reality, they're not. This situation poses a more difficult problem. In both cases, the only overt evidence may be inaction, apathy, or disinterest. You will need to look for these reactions. Here are seven common spoken or unspoken excuses that I have encountered.

“We Don't Need Schedule Management.” The most common obstacle encountered when trying to introduce the use of modern schedule management techniques into an organization is the general perception that the planning of a program, especially a small program, is just not necessary. Hey! People have been managing programs successfully for years without any fancy computer planning. Right? This sentiment, often expressed by experienced program managers, is far from the truth. You'd be very hard pressed to find a successful program of any significant size that was executed with no planning. In many cases, the program manager, using years of experience as a guide, actually had the program planned in his head. Every detail, both small and large, was continually mulled over by the program manager. The plan was communicated to others through a continual series of meetings, discussions, and follow-up sessions. By force of personality and the sheer determination of the program manager, the plan was communicated to fellow employees and executed. This sometimes worked in the past. In today's world of high employee turnover, few companies have the luxury of waiting for their program managers to gain the experience and skill necessary to successfully think through program planning in their heads?

Terence J. Plaza (tjplaza@west.raytheon.com) works as a project manager for Raytheon Missile Systems Company in Tucson, Ariz. He has 26 years experience in the aerospace industry and is helping manage some of Raytheon's most complex development programs. For the past 16 years, he has been applying management accounting and schedule management techniques to a wide variety of programs.

“Schedule Management Costs Too Much.” The second most-encountered obstacle to introducing a schedule management process is perceived cost. One of the easiest tasks is to calculate how much it is going to cost an organization to introduce a new process. There is the cost of the computer, the schedule software, training, and the obvious expense of actually pulling a schedule together. Considering that complicated programs can include upward of 20,000 tasks, its not hard to spend a lot of resources on the details of a good program plan. It's not uncommon for companies to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and months, with a small army of people, just creating large schedules. Armed with schedule cost projections, it's a relatively easy task to downplay the value of schedule management and focus on cost management.

“I Don't Understand It.” Many times, the opposition to introducing schedule management is borne out of a lack of understanding. Schedule management concepts have been around since the 1950s. Only in the last 10 years have the computers and software been available that make widespread use of schedule management feasible, especially on large programs. Consequently, schedule management may be a new tool for even experienced, senior program managers. Just as some senior managers were slow to embrace the use of personal computers, some program managers are slow to embrace schedule management.

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Schedule management also requires a detailed understanding of the steps/tasks needed to accomplish the many facets of a program by everyone developing the detailed program schedule. In the case of inexperience with the company processes or with schedule development itself, it may be difficult for some people to develop meaningful schedules. It may be easier for some to ignore or resist developing schedules than it is to learn how to do them. Publishing company practices and providing experts to a program should help people understand what steps/tasks need to be completed in accomplishing an activity. Providing education and workshops should help most individuals learn how to develop meaningful schedules.

“There's Nothing in It for Me.” Technical people will be the most resistant to schedule management activities. It's unlikely that an engineering or science student graduating from college will have been exposed to the concepts of schedule management. Students are taught to solve problems, not to stay on schedule (or within budget for that matter). Is it any surprise, then, that otherwise bright engineers and scientists have difficulty understanding, let alone showing an interest in, managing schedules? Before schedule management becomes the norm in any organization, people have to know and understand it. That takes education and practice.

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Most technical organizations do not readily embrace schedule management. Although engineering organizations profess a desire to put schedule performance on a par with technical performance, it's rare that an engineer or Integrated Product Team (IPT) leader is substantially rewarded for keeping an activity on schedule. IPT leaders are often selected for their technical, organizational, and leadership capabilities, and they are told that in order to advance, they must be an IPT leader. Many, chosen in this manner, are only equipped to deal with the technical challenges and not the schedule challenges of the project. Even though special training is provided to familiarize the new leader with schedule managing concepts, the skills are never really developed because technical performance is king. If the technical aspects of the job are the most rewarded, those will be the most important.

“I Don't Want to Know How Bad It Is.” Without question, schedule management could likely bring unwanted visibility to a program. It's difficult to hide an aggressive schedule when detailed schedule planning is performed. If people involved in a program do an honest job of identifying all the tasks associated with a program and base estimates of durations on historical information, it's likely to show that a program will take longer, even much longer, than management is willing to accept. Even after significant effort is expended to mitigate the schedule risk by developing workaround plans and eliminating scope, the information may show that it is unlikely that the schedule can be performed on time with reasonable risk. Such schedule risk may even jeopardize receiving a contract in the first place. Faced with this problem, it may be easier or more acceptable to management to ignore the problem and not develop and analyze detailed program schedules. “Why? I don't understand the schedule management anyway,” and “Schedules are so expensive to develop” may be the excuses heard.

“It's Too Late to Start Now.” It's rarely too late to begin schedule management. Yet, saying it is too late makes a great excuse for not using schedule management on an ongoing program. Managers think that because they won't accrue all the benefits of schedule management, it's not worth the effort. They don't realize that the benefits of schedule management are most realized on programs experiencing schedule problems. If a manager has never used schedule management, it's difficult to convince the manager of the utility.

“We'll Get Done When We Get Done.” The attitude often held is that a program will get done when it gets done. Faced with the challenge of managing a complex program, managers may find it difficult to balance the needs of meeting tough technical requirements, staying within budget, and completing the program on schedule. A project manager may find it impossible to meet all three conflicting program requirements at once and may silently ignore the program schedule, focusing entirely on the technical and cost aspects. Consequently, the program does get done when it gets done, and often very much behind the planned-for end date. What the manager is forgetting is that a late program will usually also be overrun. The program schedule must be managed carefully if one expects to stay within cost targets.

IN SPITE OF EXCUSES, it is clear that there are many benefits to be realized once schedule management is embraced by your organization. For example, more accurate planning, especially for large projects, and calculated cost management are much easier to accomplish. Discover other benefits for yourself!

Next month, in Part 2, I'll discuss five methods you can use to reduce the resistance to schedule management. ■

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network March 2000

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