Project Management Institute

Time tamers

Four case studies reveal the winning strategies project professions used to combat time constraints—especially as circumstances changed




With project teams spread across organizations and continents, keeping efforts on schedule has become increasingly complex.

“Understanding advanced scheduling techniques will be something especially indispensable for any project manager in the future,” says Imad Mouflih, PMI-RMP, PMI-SP, PMP, project manager at STC, a Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based telecom company.

From cutting years off a complex program to missing deadlines without upsetting stakeholders, he and other project professionals share their insights about managing ever more intense scheduling demands.





The Challenge: A 28-month, £145 million construction project at Heathrow Airport in London, England involved integrating the schedules of more than 10 teams and standardizing procedures across different tools. Project teams built a pier, a large corridor connecting the terminal with the gates.

Scheduling Technique: Dimitris Antoniadis, PhD, operations and compliance manager at Carillion, a construction services company in Worcester Park, Greater London, England, developed a project control handbook that detailed how all project management practices, including scheduling, were to be carried out. As parties joined the project, they received the document.

They were also informed up front that they were to be held accountable for monitoring progress on their activities against the master schedule and, at designated intervals, rolling up that data into summary activities. Dr. Antoniadis would then insert the summaries into the master schedule. He required each activity to have a monetary value associated with it, so that if it were delayed or moved, impact on cost could be immediately assessed.

At first, some stakeholders were wary of the transparent scheduling and project control procedures.

“It took me two hours to convince a director from a separate party to use the work breakdown structure,” Dr. Antoniadis says.

End Result: Integrating the schedule with the cost, risks and opportunities in an overall program of works helped to result in a £35 million savings for the client, Dr. Antoniadis says.

The standardization of scheduling procedures proved popular. “In the end, everybody, even the project's sponsors, congratulated the team because the techniques did work.”

Scheduling Takeaway: Develop an efficient, simplified system for monitoring the project that can be transferred across different scheduling tools. Build in the ability to order more detail on an activity's progress as needed and consider combining risks with the schedule to better spot delays—and their monetary impact.



The Challenge: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched a US$3 billion environmental restoration program that encompassed more than 70 projects. The project's scope included the remediation of several areas contaminated by nuclear waste at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, USA, a 300-square-mile (483-square-kilometer) area.


“From the outset, the program's size and complexity made creating a master schedule and pricing out the multi-year baseline and overhead factors, along with the integration of seven project teams, very difficult,” says Manan Vakil, PMI-SP, PMP, project reporting manager at Fluor, who oversaw the program.

In 1999, when the program schedule was estimated, it was determined it would take over four decades, ending in 2040. Several years into program execution, the DOE requested that the schedule be accelerated by 14 years—leaving Mr. Vakil with the task of fast-tracking a complex program while maintaining the appropriate change control. This acceleration would cut the project duration by one third, resulting in substantial cost savings.

Scheduling Technique: To tackle the sheer immensity of the program, Mr. Vakil broke down the entire program into sub-projects and developed a master schedule using the critical path method. He matched the estimating work breakdown structures (WBS) to the schedule WBS, identifying links between projects to analyze subsequent schedule impacts.

Mr. Vakil and his colleagues formatted the scheduling software to allow only the team responsible for a project to provide schedule updates.

He also developed a consistent schedule coding structure across the program so that projects could be reported at various levels of management, disciplines and remediation areas. For instance, upper management could review schedule progress by milestones, while project teams could review summary activities.

When the client requested the intense schedule acceleration, it offered Fluor a financial award for each project it successfully completed early.

At that point, Mr. Vakil developed another working schedule by pricing out the program without any overhead factors, moving resources to where they were most needed. He assigned activities to be done in parallel—or early—when possible. He then took the pricing model amounts and put them into the change control to determine the monetary value. Once the accelerated schedule was approved, it became the new baseline.

Funding from the U.S. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act covered the cost of adding resources to execute the work in less time.

End Result: By continuously analyzing the schedules of the projects in the program and monitoring time buffers that were allotted to activities in case of delays, Mr. Vakil and his teams successfully accelerated the schedule and attained the financial awards. The program is now slated for completion in 2026.

Scheduling Takeaway: Even the most massive projects can be conquered when broken into manageable chunks. Closely monitoring resources and managing projects simultaneously or out of sequence can cut years off of a complex program.




The Challenge: Eager to win an oil storage facility project in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, equipment maker Belleli Energy Srl committed to an 11-month schedule—even though the client said it was anticipating a 13-month turnaround.

Compounding that challenge was the fact that the US$22 million Socar Aurora Fujairah Terminal project involved virtual team members based in Italy and India, as well as foreign suppliers in India, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States. An accelerated schedule put more pressure on all team members to make their deadlines.

Scheduling Techniques: A. Vincent Paul Raj, PMI-SP, PMP, construction manager at Belleli, and his team:

  1. Ordered long-delivery-time items, such as roofs and pumps, as early as possible
  2. Used a pre-determined list of qualified agencies to delegate inspection of all materials on each supplier's premises
  3. Airlifted critical items, such as main oil pumps and valve actuators, for speedier delivery

Despite these efforts, though, the supplier from the Netherlands failed to deliver the pumps for loading oil onto the ships on time. Without these items, the project team could not complete construction, and the project missed its deadline.

“Of course stakeholders were not happy, but at least they were kept informed about the situation,” Mr. Raj says. He forwarded them the project schedule every week. As a result, stakeholders knew the delay was coming and agreed to reset the schedule to a tentative 13-month time frame dependent upon when the pumps finally arrived.

In an attempt to prevent further holdups, Mr. Raj and his team performed a what-if analysis to identify key deliverables' worst-case scenarios and how those situations would affect dependent activities along the critical path.

The team divided the project into work packages (engineering, procurement, construction, etc.). Within a package, each task was broken down to the individual activity level. Pump and dome roof supply, for example, were deemed critical.


The Added Wrinkle of Scheduling Virtual Teams

“The conflicts that arise in all projects—scheduling in particular—are more prone to arise in virtual teams, unless we maintain adequate human resources and communication plans, and unless we realize that the needs of a virtual team are the same as those of a face-to-face team.”

—Fernando Contreras, PMI-RMP, PMI-SP, PMP, Project Management & Engineering Services, Lima, Peru

Addicted to Technology

Project managers today have an array of scheduling tools at their disposal. But never let yourself be utterly dependent upon software, warns Patricia Di Cunto Bracco, PMI-SP, PMP, project manager in the project management office of Banco Bradesco S.A., a bank in São Paulo, Brazil. “We must remember that the use of tools is fundamental to supporting the project manager, but interpretation of results is up to the capability and experience of the professional.”


Team members were responsible for closely monitoring all supplier progress—and, in at least one case, terminating a poorly performing subcontractor (having Belleli execute the work directly).

Temporary pumps were used until the permanent ones arrived. To mitigate risk, the team hired a third party to inspect the pumps before delivery.

These extra measures raised the project construction cost by 10 percent, Mr. Raj says, but his organization willingly absorbed the increase to win phase two of the project.

End Result: The Dutch subcontractor finally delivered the pumps in December 2011, and although the project missed the 13-month deadline as well, stakeholders were forgiving because the team had kept them abreast of the situation, Mr. Raj says. “Transparency in communication gained the trust of stakeholders,” he adds. “Now they are negotiating with us for the next phase of the project.”

Missing the original commitment prompted better communication between the company's commercial and project management units.

“The project management department gave feedback to our project director that it's not good to commit unpractical dates to the client,” Mr. Raj says. “This was taken very seriously in phase two.”

The project team gave the worst-case scenario project delivery date, which was accepted by the client.

Scheduling Takeaway: Communicate across departments during the planning phase to prevent commitment to an unrealistic schedule. Especially useful for fast-tracked projects, critical chain helps break down tasks essential to hitting deliverable dates. Inform stakeholders of worst-case scenarios so any delays don't come as a surprise.




The Challenge: A project team building an industrial plant in Thailand did not plan for country-specific frontend requirements, and the initiative was quickly thrown off schedule. Bob Albers, owner and managing director of Project Solutions International, a construction and energy project management consultancy in Bangkok, Thailand, was brought in to readjust the schedule and get the US$65 million project back on track.

Once constructed, the plant will be used to refine the byproduct of a manufacturing process into a sellable commodity. But the client had not considered that the process's environmental consequences might make obtaining land for the plant challenging. The team had also underestimated how long it would take to secure tax, machinery and product import and export incentives from the Thai government.

“Something that a lot of companies get into when they go to work in a foreign country is they don't understand the bureaucracies that they have to deal with,” Mr. Albers says.

Scheduling Techniques: First, Mr. Albers worked on convincing the home office in the United States to accept that the unanticipated complications made hitting the original completion date unfeasible.

Meanwhile, he and his team used project risk- and resource-analyzing tools to come up with a new schedule—this time accounting for local conditions.

End Result: The project team found that by reducing engineering and construction durations, it could deliver within six to eight weeks of the original date. Contractors would have to take measures to complete the same amount of work in less time, which naturally raised their costs. Mr. Albers explained the situation, and the client signed off.

Scheduling Takeaway: Perform due diligence on all of the factors that could affect the schedule—especially when working in a country with different regulations. PM

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