Project Management

Essentials of Successful Project Schedule Planning: Part III

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Categories: Project Planning

In past posts, I covered five steps for setting up a schedule planning framework and seven basic tips for building a project schedule.

In this final installment of this series, I'll discuss 10 common pitfalls of building a schedule on any project:

  1. The silo approach: Avoid developing the schedule in "silo" mode -- that is, without input from key stakeholders or subject-matter experts that can validate and confirm the schedule's content.
  2. Inappropriate tasks decomposition: When decomposing work in tasks, avoid an overly detailed decomposition or under detailed decomposition. In my experience, each task should not be shorter than two days and not longer than two reporting periods (typically two weeks). A task of this length is generally explicit, focused, actionable, assignable and traceable. 
  3. Too many milestones: Limit milestones to significant project events or decisions -- for example, the project start, completion of major deliverables or phases and the project's end.
  4. Overly ambitious schedule: Everyone wants to please the customer, but an aggressive schedule can have the opposite effect if unrealistic deadlines are continually missed. Instead, aim to exceed expectations by delivering the project in a realistic timeframe, with solid execution. If you inherit an overly ambitious schedule, you could "fast-track" (i.e., make work parallel) or "crash" the schedule by assigning more resources to reduce task duration.
  5. Loops: A project schedule is not a flowchart, and time cannot flow in reverse. Therefore, loops, a circular task dependency, are not possible or validated by most project management scheduling software. Do not confuse loops with iterations. Iterations of tasks --such as design, implement and deploy -- are allowed on a project schedule.
  6. Danglers: These are the dependency links between tasks. Only one task will have no predecessor (the project start task) and only one will have no successor (the project end task). All the other tasks should have a successor and predecessor.
  7. Confusing tasks efforts with schedule time: Don't just ask team members: "When can you complete this task?" Instead, ask for the estimated effort to complete the task in labor hours or days. Then, transform the effort into work periods (the work days the team member can carry out the task) and map this to the project calendar (considering business days, holidays and vacation periods). 
  8. Allocating schedule buffer instead of effort buffer: Don't allocate buffers to a certain schedule time. Task estimation is a three-step process: effort, duration and required calendar time. Allocate buffers primarily on a task's effort and not on the overall required calendar time.
  9. Depending on overall buffers: Avoid relying on sweeping buffers, like the classic "20 percent." When assigning buffers, consider the project-specific risks (for example, unfamiliar technologies), the experience of the project team and non-project related factors, such as resources allocated to parallel projects or team members' involvement in non-project activities.
  10. Wrong tasks on the critical path: Project management tasks, effort estimation tasks and other schedule planning activities should not be located on the critical path. They have nothing to do with the actual project work tasks.

How do you overcome these pitfalls, and what other schedule planning difficulties have you faced?

Posted by Marian Haus on: July 12, 2013 09:53 AM | Permalink

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