Chaos! That’s what happens in the absence of order. Picture for a moment what a project would look like if no one knew what resources were to be used at certain times or when those resources were to be employed and the time duration for certain tasks. A project schedule is what ensures that things don’t go haywire during the project lifecycle as time is an expensive commodity that cannot be bought.

In simple terms, a project schedule is a useful tool that helps project managers outline the start and finish times for each individual task that is part of a project, thereby providing a graphical representation of how long the project is expected to last for.

The project schedule takes into cognizance the following factors:

  • Identified tasks and activities
  • Resource requirements
  • Duration of tasks and activities
  • Deadlines
  • Resource requirements

Developing a project management schedule is a complex process that involves identifying activities, sequencing those activities, setting milestones for those activities and subsequently designing the project schedule management plan. As pertinent as the project management scheduling skill is, competency can only be acquired through actual experience developing them.

Developing Project Management Schedules

Like was stated earlier, developing project management schedules can be a complex process as attention to detail is an important prerequisite. The project manager would have to ensure that just enough time is allocated to a certain activity as too little time could see the project team working under pressure and probably compromising on quality at the end while too much time on a particular could lead to an extended project duration which also translates to increased costs.

To avoid these pitfalls, effective project schedule management follows a process that ensures that resources (time, human or material) are not wasted. They involve:

1. Outlining the work breakdown structure

This is a graphic representation of the scope breakdown – A breakdown of the actual work that needs to be done that qualifies it to meet the requirements of the stakeholders. This varies from project to project; areas like construction or engineering projects have already established hierarchical  workflow process that the project manager is expected to strictly adhere to while the work breakdown structure in some marketing centered projects may not be as compelling.

What happens in this phase is that the work is broken down into smaller components that can be easily managed with the most basic tasks situated at the bottom of the hierarchical structure.

2. Sequencing of activities

Sequencing of activities simply refers to the identification of dependencies amongst activities and dependencies may be classified as either external or internal.

External dependencies refer to a situation where a particular component of the project may have been subcontracted to another organization, with the delivery of said component a prerequisite for the kickoff of the next activity.

Some PMBOK referenced techniques for sequencing of activities include:

The Arrow Diagramming Method (ADM) – With this technique, circles are used to represent preceding relationships with the arrows serving as the connection between those activities.

The tail end of the arrow refers to the start of the activity while the head represents the end of the activity. The starting node for an individual activity is referred to as the “i-node” while the “j-node” represents the ending node of said activity.

Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM) – With this technique, a network diagram is created where nodes represent activities and arrows represent the directional relationship amongst the nodes. Sequencing of activities is then done, using the Critical Path Method (CPM) (to be expatiated on in our next post).

It features four types of dependencies.

a)      Finish to start: An activity must finish before the successor can start.

b)      Finish to finish: An activity must finish before the successor can finish.

c)       Start to start: An activity must start before the successor can start.

d)      Start to finish: An activity must start before the successor can finish.

Dependency Determination – This refers to the classification of dependencies and it can be categorized as either:

  • Mandatory (hard logic) or Discretionary (soft logic)
  • Internal or External

Source:

[PMBOK3]: A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. PMBOK® Guide; 3rd. Edition; published by the Project Management Institute; Newton Square, Pennsylvania (USA) 2004.

3. Task duration estimate

This process is a bit complex because no one can vouch for 100 percent productivity for every hour spent on the task. In estimating time duration, the experienced project manager factors in issues like; absenteeism, expertise, unforeseen events etc .

Although there are several techniques that help project managers estimate time, the best way to estimate time duration for activities is to refer to historical information from similar projects done in the past.

4. Identification of risks

A good project manager knows to account for risks during the project life cycle and putting in place a good risk management plan is essential for the successful execution of any project.

5. Development of the project schedule management plan

In creating project management schedules, a number of tools can be employed, it all depends on the size and needs of the organization.

They include:

  • The Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) – Developed by the US Navy during the launch of a missile project
  • The Critical Path Method (CPM) – Which was developed  by DuPont & Remington Rand  for the private sector
  • Gantt Chart – A bar chart that was developed in 1918 by H.L Gantt.

 

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