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Project Scheduling: The Unsung Hero of Successful IT Projects

By Patrick Fuller, Principal, Fuller Solution

Two big challenges face leaders in charge of delivering on complex IT projects:

– How do I successfully lay out the project vision and get everyone on board; and,

– How do I make sure the project comes in on time and on budget.

Sounds simple, right? Any experienced IT leader will tell you it’s easier said than done. From our experience, we have learned there is an unsung hero in the project management world that can help deliver on both of these goals: Project Scheduling

Whether you are using Microsoft Project, an industry standard, or a tool like Primavera or Axosoft Scrum, the practice and principles of Project Scheduling are essential to the successful planning, execution and completion of any project. And, when the stakes are high, such as when equity investments are involved or a project is critical to a business’ core strategies, IT leaders and business executives have little room for missteps.

Let’s take a closer look at the value of Project Scheduling and break it down a bit.

 The Value of Project Scheduling
Project Scheduling involves the use of a tool that communicates what work needs to be performed, which resources within the organization will perform that work and the timeframes in which the work needs to be performed.

From a business perspective, Project Scheduling allows you to create a blueprint for the overall project discussion and answer fundamental and critical questions:

– Where are we going with this project?

– How does it fit within what we are already doing?

– What do we need to do in order to accomplish our goals?

– What will the final outcome be?

– How will we measure if we are successful?

By defining and answering these questions, resources and costs can be projected and managed effectively.

Resource Management
Knowing what resources are needed before a project starts helps to secure commitment for those resources early one, as there is clarity in terms of the level of commitment that will be needed from each resource. Also, if the business needs shift and a project needs to be accelerated or delayed, it will be easy to quickly identify what resource changes are needed to accommodate the business priorities.

Cost Management
Every project has a budget and people and materials need to be managed within it. Project Scheduling helps to determine a project’s value and associated costs. Every project has trade-offs and discussions around quality are always going to occur. A clear schedule will help surface tradeoffs and keep cost and quality discussions neutral so that decisions can be aligned to the overarching project and business goals.

The concept of earned value management (EVM) is also important to note here as a project management technique for measuring project performance and progress. An essential component to EVM is having a project plan or schedule that identifies work to be accomplished with a valuation of that planned work – areas addressed through Project Scheduling. Additionally, evidence shows that the principles of EVM are positive predictors of a project’s success.

A Word of Caution: A Project Schedule is Not a Checklist
While an effective Project Schedule does serve as an important roadmap and guide for any successful IT project, it is not a checklist. From our experience, when the Project Schedule morphs into a detailed checklist, it can lose its value as a management tool.

It may indicate that a project manager is not connected to the project’s subject matter expert (SME) or that there is not enough SME engagement in the project. There is a fine dance between enough detail and too much in Project Scheduling. At Fuller, we work with our clients to effectively navigate this challenge to achieve the right balance and ensure the Project Schedule serves its intended purpose – to deliver a project on time, on budget and in line with the business goals for the project.

Project Scheduling in Action
A skilled project management professional is an important aspect to successful Project Scheduling, notably in these four areas of a project’s lifecycle:

– Define: Here the big questions mentioned above are discussed and answered with the support of a project sponsor and subject matter expert (SME).

– Plan: At this step, the project scope is clearly defined through requirements and budgets, time estimates and resources are mapped out.

– Execute: During this stage, many roadblocks can occur that will require resource shifting, schedule adjustments and more. Continual measurement against the baseline will be important as decisions are made.

– Close: Often a missed step, this is a golden opportunity to capture valuable business knowledge on a project that can be used for future project successes. For example, if a similar project arises, you will already have a documented roadmap to help set budgets, timelines and allocate resources.

Project Harmony
Project harmony does not have to be a pipedream. While there will always be roadblocks with almost every project, we know from our experience working with clients that tools like Project Scheduling within your project management can help to create a shared project vision, buy-in and harmony across the project team.

PS: We’d be remiss if we did not give a shout out to the book Dynamic Scheduling by Rodolfo Ambriz, which outlines best practices, tips and tricks for scheduling with Microsoft Project. The book is a must have for any project manager’s bookshelf.

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