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“Main Samay Hoon”! Kids growing up in India in the early 90s and having the privilege of television box at home, would relate to this famous line and instinctively hear the voice as well. I am sure this line stills mesmerises all Indians who watched the epic battle of Mahabharata play out on national television. As a kid, it was overwhelming to imagine TIME as the immortal character who witnessed all scenes unfold in his awareness (for simplicity of writing and lack of research in this subject, I perceived TIME as a male character).
Imagine how effective tracking time would have been if TIME himself kept all records as the neutral timekeeper. Simply put, TIME would prove to be the most effective outsourced agency for tracking a project. Unfortunately, we humans have not cracked this code yet.
In the modern world, with limited availability of resources, everybody is racing against TIME to achieve great things in life. Project management is no exception to this. All projects irrespective of any sector, are very much focused on time. Time being essence of all contracts, timely completion of project is one of the important parameters by which projects’ success or failure is determined by the project stakeholders. Since industrialisation in 19th century, innumerable projects have been undertaken. A quick analysis shows that 60-70% of projects have failed to deliver in time. Most project failures are attributed to time overrun.
Apparently, answers to this would be as complex as the question.
Many researchers, scientists, and management gurus devised many tools and techniques, over the years, to find the answers for achieving timely completion in a scientific way but haven’t mastered the art of controlling immortal TIME. A recent edition of PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge by PMI.org) has also replaced the term ‘Time Management’ with ‘Schedule Management’, as one of functions of project management.
Some of the well known scientific techniques of project scheduling or schedule management are listed below.
All terms of techniques mentioned above are interchangeably used as project planning tools as well. Although project scheduling and planning are two sides of one coin, there exists many distinguishing characteristics between the two functions. Project planning involves setting up of objectives / scope, selecting work methodologies, resources, adopting standard processes, whereas project scheduling helps in converting all plans into operational timelines. Project plans or planning would fail in absence of realistic project schedule and vice versa.
As they say, start early to reap more benefits! After every initiating phase of a project, it is recommended to put each plan into project schedule to monitor realistic progress on timescale. Type of scheduling techniques can be decided based upon level of plan and details varying from basic to detailed. The easiest and oldest way is to list all tasks and assign calendar start and end dates to each task in tabular form. These task lists took form of Gantt Chart to depict length or duration of task on bars of different shapes. As project transcends from concept stage to implementation stage, nature of activities or tasks becomes more complex which involves multiple relationships and interdependencies amongst them. In scheduling parlance, project schedules may be prepared for levels varying L1 to up to L6 level as per project details. These levels of work break down structure are uniquely defined to cater to specific requirements of organization.
Project management software like MS Project and Primavera P6 which use CPM of scheduling, enables project team to prepare detailed construction schedules. However, a project scheduler should have appropriate knowledge of best practices of scheduling while using this software; otherwise incorrect schedules would be of no real use to any stakeholder. A bad schedule with good planning, would be disastrous for project controls.
There are different kinds of project schedules depending on stages of the project or functional requirements of the schedules.
A prospective bidder, a typical contractor (service provider) prepares proposal schedules as part of bid submission during award phase. These proposal schedules are generally prepared at a broad level, maybe at L2 or L3 level as per requirement of project proponent (develop / owner in the construction industry). Proposal schedules submitted by various contractors at pre-award stage enables the project proponent to understand how their expectations with regards to timely completion shall be met. Inadvertently, in most situations, quality of proposal schedules becomes one of the selection criteria. Proposal schedules serve as first impression for building into prospective & professional relationships for the pertinent project. Upon award of work, the appointed contractor should further develop proposal schedules into a detailed programme including resource loading which gets approved as the baseline schedule (also referred to as Integrated Master Schedule) after a iterative process of discussions and revisions. This schedule becomes the benchmark against which all stages of the project shall be evaluated.
A common misconception is that the entire schedule preparation and tracking process must be carried out at site by a member of the project team. In reality, this process can easily be handled remotely. A competent and experienced scheduler collects all information like drawings, scope of works, approved methodologies as input. He / she then prepares the first draft of the schedules in MS-Project / Primavera P6, with the help of available input, making assumptions for missing information and utilizing prior experience of developing schedules of similar projects. Initial draft schedules include list of tasks as per approved work break down structure (WBS) of agreed scope of works. Draft of project schedules get reviewed by concerned stakeholders before approval as baseline schedules. Project scheduler updates baseline schedules periodically as per the latest information about actual work, communicated from the project site.
Whoever is reading this article till now must have realised the importance of developing and updating a project schedule. While project planning is absolutely essential, scheduling is the practice of clearly documenting the plan which has been envisioned for the project. A well prepared schedule is a vehicle for clearly communicating the plan to all involved stakeholders as well as sharing information about where the project stands currently and how they are supposed to move forward.
To summarise this piece, given below are some specific crucial activities that project teams perform with the input being the updated version of the schedule.