By definition, a project aims to deliver a product or service in a given time. If it has an end date, then the project has a schedule, however brief it may be.
Today, however, it is difficult for us to conceive of successfully completing a project without a more substantial schedule than a simple end date. A good dashboard cannot exist without a project schedule. However, if scheduling is such an integral part of project management, what are truly the reasons for it? What benefits do we hope to gain from it, what added value can we expect from it, but also why is the scheduler so often misunderstood? These questions are often more complex than they appear.
What is Project Scheduling?
Let’s clarify: Planning can signify “making a plan” or “making a schedule.” One rarely goes without the other. After all, the schedule can be part of your plan. We will focus more specifically on this latter meaning.
Scheduling, therefore, “is a process that defines, […] after analysis and prospective thought, the objectives to achieve, the necessary means to do so, the steps to carry out, and the methods of monitoring these.”[i]
Put more simply, to schedule is to define:
- What the steps of the project roll-out will be.
- How these steps will be organized within the roll-out.
- What means will be necessary to achieve each step.
- How the successful completion of these steps will be monitored.
To schedule is to above all look through the eyepiece of time to observe the tree of possibilities, with more or less likely and uncertain paths, and to describe which future that one prefers.
Indeed, one can be a scheduler and poet.
Scheduling: What's in it for us?
Scheduling is all too often underestimated. Indeed, it is more than a tool that monitors an individual’s performance. It serves more than to simply admonish the one who did not meet their deliverable when the small bar on the Gantt chart says that the task should have been completed yesterday.
At the start of a project, the schedule will allow all the stakeholders to know precisely what is expected of them and the resources available to them. It makes it possible to formalize, in a more collaborative way, the future course of the project. This is an essential step in strengthening everyone’s team spirit – motivating the team around clear and attainable objectives.
During the lifecycle of the project, the schedule is a tool of anticipation and precise follow-up that allows you to have, at every moment, a greater understanding of past, present, and future events.
It allows the project manager to make the best decisions and the team to adjust their workload in accordance with what they must produce and what they are committed to.
Finally, scheduling is a powerful communication tool for all project stakeholders, whether it is the client, suppliers, partners, or members of the project team.
Once the project is completed, the schedule is a tool of indispensable value for the company’s future projects who can then draw on the previously gained experience.
What is a good schedule?
A schedule is like a recipe for cooking: not everyone needs the same one to achieve a satisfactory result. For some, it is necessary to detail every last step. To know from the menu the necessary elements to achieve it, to know precisely each of the durations. For others, they may settle for much less detail. The fact that this sentence adapts to both contexts is proof of the relevance of this culinary metaphor.
To continue, the right schedule is one that allows you to manage your project well. It allows one to communicate well, to allow it’s stakeholders to take ownership of it. And, the right schedule will be different for each project. If you start to think that all this is a bit complex, this is just the appetizer.
The different techniques and tools for scheduling
Just like projects, schedules can take many forms. They could be a simple date table, a Gantt chart with thousands of lines, like in a railway schedule, or even a prioritized product backlog.
Add to this that each type of schedule will allow for different, varied, and sometimes exotic methods of analysis from which literature overflows. The most famous of which is the Critical Chain method invented by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. Each method is, of course, accompanied by its own organizational rules, its own key indicators, and is often accompanied by its own supporters and critics.
Finally, because it would be far too simple otherwise, let’s add that there are many tools available. Each more or less complete, complex, and easier to use than the rest.
MS Project, Primavera, and Planisware may be the first names that come to mind, but there are so many others (and yes, fortunately or unfortunately – you be the judge, I include Excel and Lego among those).
The role of the scheduler in all this
The scheduler is Ariadne in the mythology of Theseus. Conductor and juggler, they need to combine a multitude of tools, practices, and constraints that the project imposes on them to carry out their mission: to schedule, certainly but not only.
They will also have to accompany, convince, animate, analyze, postpone, negotiate, convince, capitalize, communicate, and convince again, keeping a smile on their face.
“I’m not a hero, but I’m a scheduler, so… close enough!” [ii]
PM Technical Leader
@ MI-GSO | PCUBED France