Planning and Scheduling
Copyright 2020, Faulkner Information Services. All
Publication Date: 2010
Report Type: TUTORIAL
Planning and scheduling are among the core activities of project
management. But unpredictable delays, failures on the part of third
parties, and other obstacles make these tasks a constant challenge even
for the most experienced manager. Planning and scheduling are never
perfect, so good project managers must continually refine their methods,
learn new techniques, and adjust their approach based on new information.
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Project managers develop plans and schedules by breaking projects down
into component parts that can be easily managed.
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The components should be well-defined to allow their costs, needed
resources, and time for completion to be accurately estimated.
With careful planning, project managers can anticipate problems that
might arise and find a way to preemptively address them. These techniques
can be used when performing projects that are internal to an organization
as well as those being performed for customers.
The project plan can also help to protect a service provider. For
instance, the plan should describe prerequisites that a customer must
meet in order for a service provider to begin or complete work. If the
project falls behind schedule because one of these prerequisites is not
completed, the plan will provide documented evidence that the provider was
not responsible for the delay.
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The Challenge of Planning and Scheduling
The aim of planning and scheduling is to break down a project into
well-defined, molecular steps. At this granular level, each step is small
enough to analyze. Every step should have the following assigned to it (at
- Start date
- End date
- Resources needed (e.g., construction materials)
- Personnel assigned
- List of dependencies (i.e., the tasks that must be completed before
another task can start)
Project managers can use a combination of the following to develop task
lists and estimate schedules:
- Similar projects from the past – If a project team keeps good records
of its activities, this documentation can be used in the future to
create schedules for other projects.
- Expert opinions, both from within and outside the organization.
- Product lead times.
- The work schedules of team members – Consider whether overtime is
allowed and determine the additional costs for overtime labor (e.g., if
union labor is used, union regulations may affect this). Also factor in
employee vacations and company holidays, which might vary among
different subcontractors and other stakeholders.
- Task list templates – Some templates can be found online or in trade
publications, and others may be included in the template libraries of
- Specialized software – Such software includes broadly focused project
management applications and narrowly focused task management tools.
Project Management within an Organization
Project management is often discussed in the context of a service
provider performing work for a customer, but the discipline’s tools and
techniques can deliver many of the same benefits when applied to
initiatives that are internal to an organization.
In project management theory, companies can be placed on a spectrum
according to whether they tend to organize their activities around the
concept of a project or around static departments. The former type, called
“projectized” organizations, typically assemble teams and appoint managers
for individual projects. Once a project is completed, the employees are
assigned to other projects. If a company adopts a more projectized
organizational philosophy, it will need to adjust its accounting practices
to accurately track costs and revenues by project rather than by
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Some project problems are avoidable and can be attributed to shortcomings
in planning and scheduling. A general approach to such problems, as
outlined in a CIO.com interview with the head of a project management
training company, is to talk to members of the project team about their
views on how the work is progressing and what problems are occurring or
But there are also specific types of problems with specific solutions.
Table 1 lists some common problems and describes ways to prevent them or
to mitigate their effects.
| Delays in receiving equipment or
|One possible response to this problem is to order
early, but the approval for purchase may not be issued in time to
do this. Also, an organization might lack a safe place to store
the equipment and materials until they are ready to be used.
Try not to schedule a task immediately after another task on
Another way that service providers can protect their interests
It is important to distinguish between third-parties hired by
|Loss of personnel||Like many aspects of project management, problems
can result when the schedule and plan leave little margin for
error. A project should not be planned so that the resignation of
one or two team members delays the entire schedule.
Good documentation can also help new team members to be brought
|Customer-Initiated Changes|| Customers often change their minds, sometimes
because of adjustments to their own business plans or in response
to the early results of the project.
As recommended by one analyst, problems associated with this
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Invest in Project Management Education
An enterprise project manager should be certified by the Project
Management Institute (PMI); at minimum earning the Project Management
Professional (PMP) credential. PMP holders are globally recognized as
possessing the “experience, education and competency to lead and direct
While certification should be considered essential for individuals
occupying an official project management position, all members of a
project management team would benefit from formal training. To that end,
each member should be provided with a copy of “A Guide to Project
Management Body of Knowledge” (PMBOK Guide), which is available from PMI.
Determine Customer Prerequisites
Often, the factors that delay or derail a project are the customer’s
responsibility and are out of the service provider’s control. (In this
context, a customer could be external or internal, such as when the IT
department provides services for the accounting department.) As part of
the project plan, it is essential to define any steps that the customer
must complete in order for a project to move forward.
Some of the steps that customers might need to perform include the
- Provide workers with physical access to facilities, which could
include issuing them badges, hard hats, or other safety measures.
- Grant workers login rights to servers and network equipment so that
they can perform diagnostic and configuration services.
- Ensure that adequate electrical power is available for any new
equipment being installed, and ensure that enough electrical outlets are
near to where the equipment will be located.
- Ensure that enough rack space or shelf space (depending on the type of
equipment) is available.
- Prepare for network services to be unavailable for a certain period.
For instance, the customer might need to inform its employees that email
services will be down for scheduled maintenance.
If the customer cannot meet these requirements, the service provider can
offer to assist the customer with these tasks for a fee. Such delays may
also bump a customer’s installation to a later date. Service providers may
build “trip charges” into contracts to cover the time expended when they
dispatch a technician to a site, but the technician cannot complete the
project because of a customer’s failure to meet prerequisites.
Consider Bonuses and Penalties
Many contracts assign bonuses and penalties to project teams based on
their success in meeting scheduled deadlines. When the issue of bonuses
and penalties arises, the organization performing the project should
ensure that the contract includes clauses that exempt it from penalties in
certain circumstances, such as the following:
- The customer fails to fulfill its prerequisites on time.
- A third-party not subcontracted by the provider fails to meet its
- Weather creates delays.
- Equipment that is being installed experiences manufacturer-related
- In the case of new types of projects, such as creating a novel type of
software, the project’s goals prove infeasible.
Define the Place of IT
In some cases, IT tasks might be only one part of a larger project. The
project manager might be from another industry. As a result, IT
considerations may be:
- An afterthought
- Unfamiliar to some stakeholders or project managers
- A comparatively small part of the overall budget
- Dependent on other factors for their success
When other tasks are much more of a focus than IT issues, it can be
difficult for those responsible for IT to obtain extra resources or get
other team members to respond to urgent needs. Two pieces of advice for
dealing with such situations are:
- Assign a project manager for the IT portion of the project, and have
this person report to the main project manager.
- If needed, recruit outside expert assistance to cover technology areas
with which the project manager is not familiar.
Distribute the Project Plan and Other Documents
Importantly, the project plan will contain a communications plan that
determines what information will be distributed during a project, who will
receive each type of information, and when the information will be
distributed. It will define the following:
- Distribution list – Multiple lists may be needed to
accommodate different types of stakeholders. For instance, engineers
might need detailed reports, whereas executives might prefer only
summaries. Also, some information might be inappropriate to send to all
stakeholders; for instance, personnel evaluations should not be shared
with customers, but they should be documented as part of managing the
- Central repository – Publishing information in a
central repository, like a SharePoint site, that is available to all
stakeholders will reduce time spent searching for information and
requesting it from others.
At the end of a project, the manager should prepare a final report to be
issued to all project team members and stakeholders. The report will
include all iterations of plans and schedules. It should be stored so that
it can be used as reference material in the future. For instance, if an
organization was performing a migration to a new accounting software
platform, records of the problems that occurred could help to better plan
the organization’s next implementation of a new enterprise software
Consider Utilizing Microsoft Project As the Primary Planning Instrument
Most enterprise end users have access to – and even experience with –
Microsoft Project. By invoking this popular planning tool, project
information can be readily shared among all stakeholders:
- Enabling project management transparency
- Encouraging participation, as appropriate, in the project management
Scan for Problem Early Warning Signs
Analyst Mohammad hossein Mohammadi suggests that project managers should
search for problem early warning signs:
- “A small variance in schedule or budget starts to get bigger,
especially early in the project. There is a tendency to think you can
make it up, but this is a warning. If the tendencies are not corrected
quickly, the impact will be unrecoverable.
- “You discover that activities you think have already been completed
are still being worked on. For example, users whom you think have been
migrated to a new platform are still not.
- “You need to rely on unscheduled overtime to hit the deadlines,
especially early in the project.
- “Deliverable quality or service quality starts to deteriorate. For
instance, users start to complain that their converted e-mail folders
are not working correctly.”3
Know When and How to Abort a Project
A good project team manager is cognizant of the fact that many projects –
even seemingly well-run projects – will fail. A repeated inability to
achieve reasonable milestones is a good indicator that failure may be
likely. To avoid throwing “good money after bad,” a seasoned project
manager may elect to:
- Postpone a project until more favorable project
conditions present, like the availability of additional project funds;
- Cancel a project if, upon reflection, the costs of
the project outweigh the benefits.
Neither decision should be made lightly, and both would demand the
concurrence of senior management, especially if postponement or
cancellation would have adverse effects on customers or other key project
Before postponing or canceling a project, the project manager – working
in concert with the business continuity manager – should develop a
contingency plan, or course of action designed to minimize the impact to
enterprise customers, employees, and business partners, and, of course, to
the enterprise’s reputation.
The project manager should also consider the consequences of partial
project implementation. It may be necessary to “back out” or reverse
actions already performed. For example, if one part of a two-part software
application is deployed, the residual program components may produce
problems – particularly over time – and must be removed.
Conduct Lessons Learned Sessions Throughout the Project
Analyst Brad Egeland observes that “Very few project managers actually
get around to conducting lesson learned sessions at the end of the project
as everyone is moving on to their next assignment. Conduct these sessions
after each big deliverable or milestone so as to help you manage better
now and in the future.”4
Be Aware of New Trends and Evolving Strategies
Artificial intelligence (AI) is helping performance analysis become
automated. New types of tools continually enable project managers to
measure efficiency and provide insights into the performance of the team.
Additionally, hybrid methodologies for project management derived from
Agile and Waterfall techniques are being adopted. Kanban, a workflow and
visual based methodology that enables more structured project management,
is also an evolving strategy. Other trends include emotional intelligence,
remote teams, data analytics, and Internet of things (IoT) methods for
data collection and team collaboration.5
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Project Management Institute: http://www.pmi.org/
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