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Is Your Project Schedule Dynamic?

Most everyone starts their project with a schedule. They define the work that needs to be completed in the form of activities with varying levels of detail. They then identify the duration of each activity and sequence them based on interdependencies, and may also associate the level of effort (hrs) to each activity. When all is said and done the final product is a schedule that documents the overall duration of the project and perhaps the total level of effort as well. Great! There’s nothing better than a good plan at the start of a project.

However, no sooner than the first week of the project something happens . . . things don’t go as planned. Activities that should be completed aren’t. Others that were scheduled to take the entire week finish early allowing for new activities to begin that weren’t originally scheduled to start until the following week. So much for a good plan. Now we have a schedule that doesn’t reflect reality.

There is nothing unusual about this situation. It happens to every project. But, one of the things that separate the good project managers from the bad is how dynamic their project schedules are.

As work begins on projects actuals-to-date are recorded and estimates-to-complete are re-evaluated for some subsets of activities. This often results in a change to the initial predictions; however, these changes may or may not be realized in a timely fashion depending on how dynamic the schedule is. Knowing the true current status of a project is paramount to delivering it close to the initial time, cost, and scope predictions. It’s all dependent on the frequency of the updates (actuals-to-date and estimates-to-complete) and the underlying structure of the schedule.

Highly dynamic schedules are always built using the full functionality of a project management software tool such as Microsoft® Project. There is just no way to get around it. Managing the current status of all the activities, maintaining the interdependencies, and calculating the estimated completion date on a weekly basis can only be accomplished with these tools. When updates are only accounted for once or twice a month and the underlying structure of the schedule is in the head of the project manager then scheduled updates will be infrequent and often not reflect reality.

This is what Kevin experienced when he was asked by the CIO of a Fortune 100 company to audit an ongoing $20 million project that would overhaul the financial applications for the company. He began his quest by interviewing the project sponsors, program manager, and project managers. The general feeling he got was the project was progressing well but was a little behind schedule. After his interview with the program manager, Jessica, he asked if he could get a copy of her schedule. Jessica inquired if he wanted it in the standard format; however, Kevin didn’t know a standard format existed. Jessica led him to the break room and showed him a large four foot by eight foot, six phase Gantt chart with a version date of seven weeks ago. Kevin’s stomach sank as he realized that the project audit was not going to go very well.

Small and simple projects can be effectively managed in the heads of the project managers using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to record major milestone dates, but don’t try this with larger more complex projects. It will lead to major surprises, lots of bad news, and missed opportunities. Build your schedules using a highly dynamic underlying structure and you’ll save yourself time and a lot of headaches.

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