Project Schedule Management
Every project has a life cycle. It begins in the project’s development point – continues to the planning stages, from there to execution and eventually – the completion stage and project closing.
In parallel to the project, the project schedule is also “born”. The schedule changes owners, shape and content throughout the project’s life – according to the specific project stage.
To understand the process that the schedule undergoes, we will ask two questions each time:
1. Who is responsible for the schedule at such time?
2. What is the content that the schedule should present?
My explanation will focus on the process of building a project work plan and mostly on construction and infrastructure projects to demonstrate the issue, as I know these projects well. However, in other projects – for instance, high tech or social projects – there can be changes (e.g., RFPs instead of a tender), but the guiding lines are the same.
Schedule Management – First Stage: Development
The project’s development stage starts when the project is “born”. The developer has an idea to perform a certain project. In this stage, the developer can set the start date and/or end date and/or none of the above. For instance:
- A private developer can decide that the project performance will commence in two years. The reason for that lies in his cash flow.
- The state decides to construct a new interchange in a road intersection. The project will be set to commence in 5 years, since the area allocations must be approved in the various committees.
- How long will the project last? The developer can check the duration of similar projects – locally and abroad, ask veteran project managers and experts for their estimate – and specify that she wants the project to be ready within X years.
- A construction project that needs to be ready for a largescale international sports event (e.g., Olympic games) should be ready for the event’s opening date and not a day later – in this case, the end date is set and strict.
If you want to test that, try HCP-Go
Schedule Management - Second Stage: Planning and Building a Project Work Plan
In the planning stage of a schedule, the project’s work plan is defined – which includes the work content required in the project. In this stage, the developer leads the project and, in most cases, a project manager is hired to run all of the required processes for him. Both of them will compile a Skeletal schedule for the project. This schedule will consists of the project tasks to be performed, albeit with a low level of details and longer task durations. The most important output of the schedule will be the contractual milestones**, which will be written in the tender (or RFP) and the project’s constructor will have to meet and be tested by them. For instance:
- In an office tower project, the project manager and developer define the required main project summary tasks – e.g.: the tower will have 6 basement levels, 3 commercial floors and 35 office floors, area development around the building, connection to municipal infrastructures and obtainment of CoFo – Certificate of Occupancy. Now they need to specify the project summary tasks into sub-tasks. The task duration to be defined will be weeks/months. With the schedule, the developer and project manager will define the contractual milestones, which are the principle points of the project where the contractor will be tested. For instance, completion of casting the basement ceiling, completion of casting the base structure ceiling of the tower, completion of performing roof systems, completion of aluminum works (windows and/or screen walls), project completion and obtainment of CoFo – Certificate of Occupancy.
- In an infrastructure project, the planning process will include early planning, final planning and eventually detailed planning, the output of which would be plans for execution. In a road interchange project, the project manager and the schedule consultant build the preliminary schedule based on the plans for execution, which includes, for instance, the following project summary tasks: moving existing infrastructures, preparing new infrastructures, building bridges/boring a tunnel, building a road structure including asphalt and railings, signage bridges, landscaping. Now they need to specify the project summary tasks as sub-tasks. The task duration to be defined will be weeks/months. With the schedule, the developer and project manager will define the contractual milestones, which are the principle points of the project where the contractor will be tested. For instance, required traffic changes, bridge/tunnel completion, project completion and opening the interchange for traffic.
Schedule Management – Third Stage: Tender (or RFP) and Executor Selection (e.g., contractor for building, software developer for application, etc.)
The project initiator published a tender or RFP and received one or more offers from potential executors.
At this point, the possibilities available will include at least the following:
- The project initiator defines financial* and/or contractual** milestones for all project stages and requests a financial offer and detailed schedule that meets the milestone definitions.
- The project initiator defines financial* and/or contractual** milestones for all project stages and requests a financial offer.
- The project initiator define the timeframe*** – and requests only a financial offer.
- The project initiator does not define the timeframe – and requests a financial offer that also includes a time definition.
- The project initiator does not define the timeframe – and only requests a financial offer, with no reference to time .
* Financial milestones – milestones that set the content and its value, without setting the last date for execution.
** Contractual milestones – milestones that set the content and its value, and the last date for execution.
*** Timeframe – contractual milestone for project completion.
In possibilities #2-#5, the client normally demands a detailed schedule from the contractor within 14-30 days after NTP (Notice To Proceed, i.e. start of work).
In possibility #1, it is a pre-win demand. A detailed schedule will have high level of details, e.g., task durations will mostly be in the form of days / weeks. The detailed schedule will be written by the contractor (the executor).
The project initiator and the project manager on his behalf will receive the detailed schedule and test it in various ways:
- Technical schedule integrity – are all tasks connected? Are there situations in the Gantt chart that cannot exist in reality? – For such purpose, they will run HCP-Go on the detailed schedule that is received from the contractor.
- Content – is the entire schedule content compatible with the defined project content? Is the entire defined project content in the schedule?
- Project structure – who is the critical path and who are the hidden critical paths to each of the contractual milestones? Do they only include the tasks that should be on such paths or were unnecessary tasks added? In other words – do the paths ‘make sense’? What does the path histogram say – is there one project here or several? What is the structure of the paths? The answers to these questions can be obtained from running an HCP-Go analysis on the project.
It should be assumed that the project initiator and the project manager will have plenty of notes for the contractor. The contractor, on his part – will either repair or argue. The end result will be an agreed Basic Schedule, signed by the all the parties and forms part of the contract documents.
Schedule Management – Fourth Stage: Project Work Plan updates - Schedule Monitoring & Control
In this stage, the schedule will be updated after every set period – according to performance. The important questions are:
a. When is the update take place?
b. How is the update done?
c. Who does the update?
When is the update take place? The project initiator sets the frequency of schedule updating in a contract. Any time period can be selected – quarterly / bi-monthly / monthly / bi-weekly / weekly – or any other period.
The trick is to set an effective control interval to allow you to draw conclusions for future execution and not just perform retrospective event analysis.
How is the update done? Per each task, one should answer the following questions:
Has the task started? If yes – when? If no – when will it start?
Has the task ended? If yes – when? If no – when will it end?
Performance percentages will be updated according to progress.
When the update is done run HCP-Go analysis to ensure that no technical errors were created during the process and to understand the critical and hidden critical paths that must be handled with great care – by the contractor, the project manager and the project initiator.
Who does the update? There are two approaches:
Approach A: the contractor performs the update and sends it to the project manager, who then examines and approves it – or rejects it. The problem with this approach: the update is being done unilaterally. What’s the problem? It’s a human one. We always believe that we completed the task (even if we have a few small things to take care of). Who really knows if we’re done? The same one who needs to receive our work and carry it forward. They can also tell us exactly whether or not our task is completed. A unilateral update will present the project from the contractor’s perspective only – it will not always be objective and based in reality.
Approach B – the contractor and project manager on behalf of the project initiator sit together and update the schedule. In this manner, each party “watches” the other – whether performance plans were indeed provided or are there any missing details? Has the area development been completed, and delivery can be started – or is there a lot more tasks to complete? The huge advantage of a updated schedule in this way, is that the schedule is real, with the consent of both parties, and can constitute a work document. Its disadvantage lies in taking responsibility. When both parties work on the schedule together – no one can evade responsibility for their actions.
Schedule Management - Fifth Stage: Completion
At this point, there are two options:
The project has been completed successfully to the satisfaction of all parties. The only schedule left to execute is the project’s opening event.
The project has ended and there are severe disagreements over financial issues. This inevitably leads to lawsuits and if the lawsuit focuses on the schedule –then there are some schedules that get sub-validated:
– Basic schedule
– Recent updated schedule
– When building the case, additional schedules are created, such as affected schedule (to be discussed in another post…)