A project schedule

The trouble with Project Schedules

Why is it that one of the most difficult aspects of managing a project is maintaining the schedule. And why is it that many project managers will move heaven and earth to keep their project in line with the project schedule. That rather suggests that there is a problem with the way we use a schedule rather than a problem with the project itself.

We try to apply rigid controls to a project to meet some estimate that could have been made based on statistics that bear little relevance to the current project. In the worst cases there are no estimates simply a business-driven deadline determining when the project needs to be finished.

Or we try to force a task into a clearly unrealistic timeframe because another task is dependent on it. Instead it is time to recognise that a project schedule is not something that can be established at the beginning of the project with any real level of accuracy – that is not to say that a schedule should not be put in place, but instead of a rigid tool by which the project succeeds or fails it should be a flexible tool that adds real value to a project. One that helps the project manager to do a good job rather than one that is a maintenance nightmare.

A schedule is a very useful way of helping those involved in the project visualise the current status but that is no help if the schedule ears little relation to reality. This is why you find projects that have stayed on target but are considered failures.

But how can you build a flexible schedule and, more importantly, how can you get the stakeholders and others involved in a project to accept that the schedule is almost certain to change? That is the difficult part…

One way to tackle this is to clearly state to all interested parties that the schedule is a guideline describing how long we think tasks will take – but there is no guarantee that this will be the case. Emphasise the fact that the schedule will definitely change as the project progresses and more accurate estimates can be provided but even part-way through a project the plan will still need to be very flexible to accommodate new information and unexpected issues. It’s really just a matter of managing expectations by being totally honest and open about the need for the plan to be flexible.

Sounds simple, but I know that some corporate environments this sort of honesty does not go done too well.

Why not comment and share your experiences of how you adapted a project schedule and managed to keep the stakeholders happy?