You have a project in hand and wondering how to create a schedule, here are some tips which you could use to create a sound schedule.
Break your one task into several small tasks. Whenever we are given any task (activity) or a task is lying on the table. Our first instinct is to finish it quickly with our own judgment. Wait a min! This is not the right way instead take reference from the scope statement, read and re-read several times what the client is looking for, take suggestion from your team and the divide the tasks in smaller chunks of work.
Rolling Wave Planning technique: this technique is used where you do not have the clarity of the upcoming activities of the project. For example: let’s say you have to establish a business (mind it, running a business is an operation work however establishing (start-up) a business is a project ) so the schedule may look like this using the Rolling Wave Planning.
Scheduling using rolling wave planning
Milestone: a milestone is a significant event which will make your life easier. Okay, to put it more concretely. There will be activities and after completing several activities you will reach milestone. For long projects, the significance of milestone increases tremendously as this will also help you to gauge the performance (in terms of schedule) of the project.
Once you have identifies which tasks or activities needs to be done in the project, the next step is to sequence those activities. This can be done using a network diagram. A network diagram can be created using Precedence Diagramming method.
Precedence diagramming method: first draw the logical relationship of the activities then consider any dependencies.
Network Diagram for an e-learning project
- Always create the network diagram because it will help you to justify the time taken for the project.
- The network diagram also helps you to establish a workflow of the project so this aspect should never be neglected in a project.
Estimation: this is a huge task and your whole schedule planning will depend on this. In the next step you have to estimate the resources used in the project and estimate the time taken for each activity. There are many methods which could be used for estimate.
One Point Estimate: in this type of estimate takes one estimate per activity. The con of this process is that the estimator might buffer his/her estimate.
Analogous Estimating: this estimating is based on the historical data. You pick up schedules for the last five projects and then you create a schedule for the latest one based on your expert judgment.
Parametric Estimating: this estimating process is based on data. The estimation will be done time per line of code, time per pagination, time per installation. Estimators can create the parametric estimation using Regression Analysis (scatter diagram) and Learning curve. Many a times the final result of parametric estimating is used as Heuristics (rule of thumb). Example, a schedule heuristics might be “Till Alpha phase 70% of the production work is completed” (e-learning).
Scatter Diagram (Image courtesy RMC Publication)
Three point estimates (PERT analysis, Program evaluation and Review Technique): in this technique you take three estimate (Pessimistic, Optimistic, Most Likely) for a single activity and then calculate the expected duration. The formulas are:
Expected Activity Duration: (P +4M + O)/6
Activity Standard Deviation: (P – O)/6
Thus in the previous example, if for Scope Analysis the data is P= 3 weeks (analyzed that there are many holidays coming); O= 0.5 week; M= 2 Week
Expected Activity Duration= 1.917 week (P +4M + O)/6
Activity Standard Deviation= 0.4 week (P – O)/6
Thus range of the estimate is 1.917 +- .4
How PERT analysis helps?
- Standard deviation helps to assess risks. The more the deviation, the higher is the risks.
- It helps to decide on the costing. Let’s say there is a substantial deviation to do a job. Example, client had asked to paint a room but he is unsure the size of the room because the room is yet be build and the room size might vary, which means the variation to complete the task is substantial. So in this scenario giving the client a fixed cost is a bad idea rather than suggesting time and material cost will be a better idea
Once the network diagram and estimate is done it’s time to put time frame in the schedule. Make sure you have the following details with you.
- Scope is identified
- All the activities are defined
- Workflow is prepared
- Estimate resource requirement and duration of each task
- Availability of resources
- Company calendar for working and non-working days
- Don’t try to cushion your schedule (keeping buffer time), dig dig and dig deep to get the accurate estimates from other team members, historical data. There may be chances that padding might help you but on the long run it is dangeroius as padding brings mistrust and the team will be unnecessarily loaded.
- Involve team members for estimating, this will solve two purpose. One, you will get accurate estimate for the activities, second, you will get their buy-outs. The sense of responsibility will come in which is very necessary for successful team management.
- While estimating always be pessimistic, try to probe as many known unknown scenarios.
- Define schedule baselines and not to be changed for creating useful schedules
- Estimation should be done for smaller chunks of work, the larger the activity there is more chances of incorrect estimation.
You should always measure the performance of your project along the way. The timeline in which you measure the performance depends on the size of the project. Let’s say painting a wall, performance needs to be measured in two hours and creating banking software, a week should work fine. Historical data or experience plays a big role to understand when exactly you need to check the performance. However, if you are new in the field then my suggestion is to check the performance frequently.
Analyze the schedule for further analysis: once the schedule is prepared, you should analyze the schedule further to match it completely with the goal of the project.
Critical Path Method: longest path in the network diagram. This path also determines the total time taken for the project. More than one critical path increases the risk in the project.
Schedule compression: schedule compression can be using fast tracking and crashing. In fast tracking the tasks in the critical paths can be done simultaneously. And in the crashing, resources are added to reduce the time frame.
What if scenario: to calculate the effect of what-if changes is through Monte Carlo Analysis. This analysis is same as three point estimate.
Resource leveling: if there is an uneven distribution of resoiurces then resource leveling will help to maintain schedule effectiveness and will decrease risks.
Sample Schedules: here are some example of sample schedule using various techniques.
Sample schedules (Image courtesy: PMBOK 4th edition)
To Sum it up:
- Break your one task into several small tasks (defining activities).
- the next step is to sequence those activities
- estimate the resources used in the project and estimate the time taken for each activity
- put time frame in the schedule
- Analyze the schedule to match it completely with the goal of the project.