How to Create Realistic Schedules That Deliver on Time

By Vinai Prakash

Roughly 78% projects are behind schedule, over budget, and deliver less functionality than was agreed in the scope.

This means that there is less than 1 in 4 chance that your project will be on time, on budget, and deliver on the agreed scope!

Ever wondered why?

The issue could be that the project schedule is created much early on, without much initial inputs, and then no one has the guts to change it. So however unreasonable it is, most project managers won’t change it…

They will suffer, work late nights, weekends, burn 80 hour weeks, and then burn out. And the project still does not deliver on time.

Many times, the ball park figure and initial estimate is done even before the project is started is frozen, and the project manager is asked to stick to it. This analogous estimate is most likely inaccurate, and holding to it is disruptive to the project.

After all, do sponsors want half baked, over priced products or are they really looking for a on-time, on target, on budget delivery for the agreed upon scope?

The PMP Certification program for Project managers, initiated by PMI ( www.pmi.org) explains a great way to come out with realistic schedules that deliver on time, on the money and as per spec.

PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) is now in its Fifth edition, and describes a holistic way to look at scheduling, cost, scope and 6 other knowledge areas of project management.

The PMBOK Guide is the sum of knowledge within the profession of project management.

The PMBOK Guide suggests that:

As key stakeholders are identified (in the Collect Requirements process), they need to be interviewed, or their feedback gathered using various other techniques, and the detailed requirements identified and systematically documented and prioritized.

Based on the overall requirements, and sponsor’s feedback, the client current and long term requirements and overall objectives of the project, the detailed scope should be mapped out in detail (Define Scope Process), and approved by the key stakeholders and the sponsors.

The Scope document does not merely cover what is included in the project. It also documents what “is not” part of the project. Having clarity on the “out-of-scope” items is a great way to stick to the agreed upon functionality, and avoid scope-creep.

Now that the scope is finalized, the initial team members or the project management team create a Work Breakdown Structure (Create WBS Process). This is the act of breaking down the high lever objectives into detailed areas of work, and is a way of progressively elaborating on the project objectives.

This work breakdown structure is a good thing to show to all stakeholders. Being a pictorial  like a Org Chart, the WBS, crystalizes the scope into major activities, and as a picture is worth a thousand words, this pictorial does wonders in explaining the agreed-upon functionality into modules, sub-modules and functional areas.

With an approved WBS, the next step is to break it down into detailed activities (Define Activities Process), and then Sequence them into a logical order (Sequence Activities Process).  With the activities sequenced, we now know what comes before each activity, after each activity, and what will happen if this activity is not completed on time!

Developing a Realistic Schedule

It is at this time that the activities are at such low level that they can be accurately estimated – for the amount of time required to complete them. So who should create the WBS, the activities, and estimate the time required to complete them – the sponsor, project manager, project management team, client or the actual doer of the work?

Initially, this work is done by the project team, the project manager (on smaller projects), or the project management team ( on large projects). However, these people are not the experts, or the actual people doing this work. So in this case, their estimates can be “off”, and create a schedule that is a paper schedule, which will go out of sync the moment work on real project activities start.

The best approach is to get the actual workers to look at this detailed WBS, the Activities and their sequence, and then estimate how long will it actually take. There is nothing wrong in asking a junior person or the actual worker about the time required to do a good quality job.

These people will be happy to provide you inputs. In fact, they will be excited, now that you have shown interest in them, their opinion, and asked them about their ‘expert advice’.

So what you will get is a much more realistic timeline.

Further, because the actual people who are going to do the work have been involved in creating the estimates, these people are more likely to adhere to the timeline, and honor it.

Thus, in the end, you get an agreed-upon, and realistic looking timeline, that has the buy-in from not only the project management, the team, but also the actual workers of the project.

Do note that as the project plans for the detailed activities, and additional team members are identified to do the actual work, the experience level of these additional project team members could increase or decrease the project risk, creating the need for additional risk planning.

Further, other knowledge areas – like Quality Management, Communications Management, Procurement Management and Cost Management may also have an impact on the schedule, and the overall schedule must be aligned to the needs and requirements for these areas of the project.

This updated timeline should then be Base-lined (Schedule Baseline), so that future progress can then be measured against this timeline to see how the project is faring against the actuals, and what attributed to any deviations, so that corrective and preventive actions could be taken.

You will be surprised how much closer you will be with such a project timeline!

Making such a schedule, and presenting it to the stakeholders, makes for a much more professional approach.

People are less likely to question the expert-advice, and it also shows the amount of time the project manager and the team has spent in understanding the requirements of the project, the scope, the WBS, activities, their sequence, and the time each one is supposed to take, and doing your home work properly.

Thus, the next time you are asked to come out with a schedule, or budget for any project, don’t use your ‘expert judgement’ alone.

Ask for the time to do a detailed analysis, and then work out the detailed cost (Bottoms Up Estimation Technique). This techniques takes time, but is much more accurate, and you won’t be accused of delivering a project late too.

Hope this helps you! Happy Estimating, and Happy Deliving of Projects on-time…

And if you are planning to get the PMP Certification, you will find a lot of useful articles on preparing for the PMP Exam.

Cheers
Vinai Prakash, PMP

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