WHY I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT THIS TOPIC?
The purpose of project management is to bring together people, processes and tools to accomplish a desired objective. It follows, then, that two of the most important elements of project management is managing the resources that actually do the work and developing a project schedule that can actually be completed on time. In practice, however, many of us focus on measuring resources and analyzing schedules rather than acting as a force multiplier that understands and motivates their team to accomplish the project goals (1). Missing project goals and objectives and causing budgets and timeline overruns, wipes out our teams’ trust and our credibility as managers. I’ve been participating and managing projects since the early days of my career and have seen many of them fail over and over for lack of proper planning, scheduling making simple mistakes in managing the resources that actually accomplish tasks. This is why I have been continuously focused on changing my leadership and management skills challenging myself with the front-end of leadership and technical expertise that would help me prevent those repeat failures. We all hate to fail!
SCHEDULING AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLES, I USE IN PROJECT MANAGEMENT
The main purpose of project scheduling is to create the plan to deliver the project scope over time. A project schedule, in its simplest form, could be a Gantt chart of work elements with associated schedule dates of when work elements and milestones (usually the completion of a deliverable) are planned to occur (2). Here are some basic scheduling management principles that are simple to use: I won’t commit to something I can’t Deliver. Providing a reasonable scope and accompanying requirements for deliverables would be essential for this principle. I will attempt to eliminate uncertainty wherever I can. I will build in plenty of contingency or project buffer to cope with schedule variation where I can’t eliminate it, however, I will keep them at a central “schedule buffer bank” and distribute them among tasks that are flagged as complex and highly variable by subject matter experts’ solicitation and standard metrics. I will pick the right level of granularity per task. Not all tasks will require the most detailed of breakdowns to be accomplished on time, so to avoid an overburden of the project scheduler picking the tasks to develop a micro-schedule for is very important. And finally, I try to always schedule for the unexpected. Acknowledging what we don’t know or what is risky and uncertain in both its likelihood and resulting effects and properly preparing the project teams for it is imperative to avoid scheduling pitfalls.
Basically, resource management refers to the set of actions and methodology used by organizations to efficiently assign the resources they have to jobs, tasks or projects they need to complete, and schedule start and end dates for each task or project based on resource availability. Here are some basic resource management principles that are simple to use: Resources are people too. The fact that people are ultimately responsible for project success is the most important thing to remember about resource management. Soft skills like communication, leadership and emotional intelligence are necessary to effectively communicate with team members in order to inspire and motivate. Visibility is key. Numbers don’t actually speak for themselves: people do. Using metrics wisely to help identify project areas that might need attention, then seeking to understand how I can help by talking to the person or the team responsible for completing the work. Collaboration increases productivity. Using a tool thatenables your team to collaborate and foster both productivity and creativity is critical to successful resource management. Transparency fosters trust. I always attempt to foster a clear prioritization of tasks, generating solid estimates and promote risk awareness. And finally, I never forget to show the love. Projects can be very stressful. Getting to know my teammates to find out what type of work they really love to do or what type of work motivates them most is key.
KEY STEPS IN PROJECT SCHEDULING AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Project scheduling involves creating a document, that details the project timeline and the organizational resources required to complete each task. Scheduling converts the plans, scope, and cost into an operational timeline (3). Some key steps for project scheduling integrated with resource management involves the following: Plan schedule management. Define the project task and activities. Determine task dependencies. Sequence activities. Estimate resources. Estimate task durations. Develop the project master and micro schedules. Monitor and control.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES IN COMPLEX PROJECTS ARE COMPOUNDING POOR OUTCOMES
A project manager is supposed to be a leader, not only for the project, but also for the team. PMI statistics show that only 2.5% of companies successfully complete their complex large-scale projects. An astonishing figure. The challenges of project management for most complex projects are similar. Keeping teams on the same page, poorly defining goals and objectives, setting unrealistic deadlines, using bad project management tools, scope keeps creeping, insufficient team skills or expertise, miscommunication causing destructive conflicts, poor decision analysis and risk management techniques, lack of accountability and teamwork, are some of the most common ones.
AN INNOVATIVE PROJECT SCHEDULING METHOD
Traditional scheduling methods such as Critical Path or Most Critical Path, Critical Task or Critical Chain have been widely researched and used by PMI professionals in almost every project. As discussed above, although these methods are well established for many years, on-time project completion success rates for complex projects are still very poor. An innovative approach I was fortunate to help develop and shape a decade ago began identifying and linking project scheduling failures with Hidden Critical Paths (5). The HCP method analyzes task networks for all different possible path durations. HCP critical path is the longest path in the network. HCP paths have very close durations to the HCP critical path. The HCP technique identifies all hidden paths by calculating the duration slack (duration difference) between the HCP critical path and all other possible paths and assigning a robustness score for each one. The HCP score is always between 0 and 1 where 0 indicates a very robust project network and 1 an un-robust network. Hidden paths are affecting project completion risks, time estimates and resource management almost in the same manner as classic critical paths. Using this method leads the project scheduler to pay attention to hidden paths that represent a risk to completing the project on-time and optimize task duration thus tipping the chances from failure to a successful completion.
A REAL-LIFE CASE STUDY OF IMPLEMENTING HCP
From 2004 and until 2007 I was selected as project manager for expanding a semiconductor chip fabrication factory including building construction, capital equipment installation and qualification, and ultimately drive production startup for a new product technology. Our project schedule network included thousands of tasks and over a hundred possible paths. By implementing the HCP method, we were able to reduce the number of non-redundant paths to fifty, two of them were identified as critical paths and five of them were hidden paths with duration slacks between two and five days. Our HCP network analysis score was 0.72. That meant that our project network wasn’t as robust as we originally thought. By shifting our focus to the hidden paths, we found that over 15% of the planned workdays were actually without work! It allowed us to reallocate resources to work on those days and start tasks earlier than planned. Finally, the project was completed on time, on budget and the company successfully launched a new product line faster than anyone else. Using this new approach changed our perspective and project scheduling mindset and enabled our team to execute project effectively ever since.
1. 5 Key Principles to Resource Management – LiquidPlanner, Sam Sauer, 03/2017
2. Importance of Project Schedule and Cost Control in Project Management – Bill Scott, 07/2017
3. How on Earth Will I Get This Done? The Basics of Project Scheduling – Kissflow 06/25/2020
4. Common Challenges in Project Management (and How to Solve Them) – ProofHub, Sandeep Kashyap, 08/2019
5. Beyond the Iceberg’s Tip – Hidden Critical Paths (HCP) – Tal Levanon, 2018