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4 Keys to Managing Schedules

© 2004 by Diana Lindstrom, PMP

This article is on the long side with 1,033 words. It’s well worth the time!

I just found a wonderful website! All about project management and how to become successful as a project manager. I can’t believe it took so long for me to find it, but I believe that we all find things when the time is right.

The website is and the article is found under Compass Newsletter. The name of the article is Why Schedules Fall Apart. I’m using the following excerpt with permission of the copyright holder, David A. Schmaltz.

“Why Schedules Fall Apart

. . . What can we carry forward . . . to make our future project schedules more effective?

1- Never Mistake The Method For The Mission.The path to your objective is not your objective, and straying from this path will be necessary to reach your objective. Divergence from plan is how the objective is reached.

Work with your sponsors to help them understand that their well-intended attempts to maintain accountability by insisting that the project execute as planned doesn’t help the project achieve its objective. If the project must both execute as planned and achieve its objective, . . . this is a double-binding expectation, one that creates an unmanageable contradiction for the project.

2- Plan early and often.To paraphrase the old adage about voting in Chicago, planning early and often will preserve the possibility for success by allowing you to take advantage the of [sic] learnings and coincidences that so contributed to the success of your retroactive project plan. Managing a schedule is a process of destruction and recreation which refreshes expectations, thereby preserving the possibility for achieving the objective. You will be wiser with each recreation and your project will be better for it.

3- Defer Details.Frame expectations within time boxes, but defer the details for far distant project activities. The likelihood is very high that these activities will never execute as originally expected. I remember (and not that fondly) a project I led early in my career to plan the five-year conversion of a very large application. No task was planned as greater than forty hours, and each estimate was padded within a most likely – least likely weighted average framework. After several months spent producing this plan, the members of the senior management review committee noted the details, turned to the last page, gasped at the bottom line, and canceled the project. I could have made them gasp with a few scribblings on the back of an envelope and not missed the bottom line by an order of magnitude.

4- Stay In Touch.The schedule is not the project and the project is never the schedule. The schedule might provide a useful framework within which to understand what is going on around you as the project unfolds, but it is never, . . . the final arbiter of project success. das

All works published in this newsletter are the property of True North pgs, Inc., and may not be reprinted, used, or otherwise distributed without the expressed, written permission of the publisher. Ask for permission and you’ll get it.

David A. Schmaltz, President

True North pgs, Inc.

PO Box 1532, Walla Walla, WA 99362

So, what does this have to do with my previous article about scheduling? It takes it several levels higher. My previous article talks about the mechanics of scheduling – knowing what’s on the schedule. David’s article talks about the philosophy of scheduling – knowing what it is and how to best use it as a tool.

The project is a living, changing thing. In order to manage it, you have to be able to deal with those changes as they occur. And changes in schedule occur very often, sometimes every few minutes. Understanding that the schedule will change is the first step to successfully managing change.

1. Never Mistake The Method For The Mission – One way to manage the project sponsor and senior executives is to give them the top level of the schedule, i.e. the major milestones. I usually give the title of the milestone and the target date for it – and that’s all. If they request more information, I get exact requirements from each of them. I do not give them more information than I absolutely have to.

This is not an attempt to keep anyone in the dark. It’s more like the philosophy that medical doctors use with patients – why give them more information than they can process?

If one of the stakeholders insists on more details, arrange a one-on-one meeting and enough time to really explain the schedule – especially the fact that the important date is the milestone date. Not the intermediate dates on tasks and subtasks.

2. Plan early and often – On a construction project, schedule reviews happen every week. Along with budget reviews, quality reviews, and risk reviews. I always review every project weekly and include updates from those stakeholders who had some action for that week. Then I incorporate the changes to the tasks and subtasks. After reviewing those changes, I know if I’m going to need to make other changes to the schedule in order to meet those important milestones. (Is that a little redundant? It’s not a milestone if it’s not important, is it?)

3. Defer Details – Don’t even put subtasks into the schedule if they’re more than a few months away. If the scope of the project changes, you’ll have saved yourself and your team a lot of time. And if the project is cancelled, you’ll feel better that you didn’t waste time on it.

4. Stay in Touch – I’ll go a little farther with this one. Continuous communication with the project team and other project stakeholders will keep you on top of the issues. Instead of finding out about an issue after it’s too late to do anything, you’ll be positioned to find out right away.

As a successful project manager, these 4 keys to managing schedules must be incorporated into your daily consciousness. It’s only when you manage the schedule, instead of the schedule managing you, that you can keep your eyes on the prize – the project product.

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