Project Return

Poka-Yoke Your Project Schedule

November 29th , 2016

One of the most important projects management documents organizations prepare is the Project Schedule. Depending on the size, duration, and complexity of the project, the schedules could run from a hundred to few hundreds and even over a thousand line items with start dates, end dates, duration, etc. 

As a leader, how do you make yourself comfortable that your teams are preparing top-class schedules and not just random line items with dates? To put differently, how to Poka-yoke (mistake-proof) your schedule? Remember, you don’t have a ton of time to review each and every line item in the schedule!

Now, let me make a shocking statement.

Most project professionals don’t prepare authentic project schedules. This includes some that are certified by leading project management organizations such as PMI, IPMA, AXELOS, etc.

I am sure you would have a counter-argument! Every project does have a project schedule. Some schedules are in good old Microsoft Excel while others could be in Microsoft Project, Oracle Primavera, Clarity, and so on.

So, where is the problem?

How could it still be applicable to “most project professionals?”

Here is the catch – go back and read the above statement again! It is not referring to project schedules but to ‘authentic’ schedules.

Aha! What is an authentic schedule?

Or put it differently, are there a few critical aspects that could help leaders efficiently evaluate the quality of a project schedule?

Without making any specific reference to any software tools available, project managers, project team members, and enterprise leaders should look out for the following elements.

1. Is the team relying on Microsoft Excel for preparing a schedule?

2. The design of the Work Breakdown Structure with a specific focus on the level of detail considered and the underlying rationale.

3. What is the basis of task estimates? Are there Detailed Tasks with unreasonable durations? For instance, do we have Detailed Tasks with say, 50days / 60 days / 80 days / 100+ days in duration? If yes, is there a justification why it cannot or should not be further broken down?

4. Have standard holidays been considered? What are the work weeks and working hours considered?

5. Has the team considered overtime work at the stage of planning?

6. Have Task Relationships been established for all the Detailed Tasks? In other words, has the team identified Predecessor and Successor tasks? Of course, the exceptions being the First Task, Last Task, and Summary Task? Have Task Relationships been established for Summary Tasks?

7. Are relevant Milestones captured, specifically those that are contractual?

8. Do Detailed Tasks have constraints, specifically Must-Start-On or Must-Finish-On constraints? What is the justification for these?

9. Is there an incidence of Lags and Leads? What are the underlying assumptions?

10. How does the Project Critical Path look? How many Critical Path Tasks exist in the project? How many tasks are on the Near Critical Path?

Now, for some Surprise Bonus Points!

In addition to the above, a few aspects associated with resource assignment should also be reviewed:

1. Have resource leave plans incorporated?

2. Do only Detailed Tasks have a resource assigned?

3. Does a single Detailed Task have multiple resources assigned?

4. Have resources been leveled?

5. Have workloads been balanced reasonably well?

Project Managers, Team Members, and Business Leaders – get going and do review the above-mentioned pointers!

Your project schedule is about to be Poka-Yoked!