“Are we on schedule?” Schedules are a critical element of warehouse projects. They are important in both planning and project communication. Using scheduling best practices will help you plan and communicate effectively throughout the project. Here are some things to keep in mind as you build (or receive!) schedules.
Schedules: Who they are for and what they do
There can be multiple types of schedules, like time schedules and resources schedules. Here, we’re going to focus on the most common meaning of “schedule”, which is the time schedule.
Schedules have several audiences on a project and serve several purposes. They can be used to plan, to report, to forecast, or to manage risk.
It makes sense, then, that multiple types of schedules can be used in a project. A project manager that uses only one schedule in a project will end up neglecting some aspects of communication or planning. Below is a set of schedule types that may be used throughout the project.
High-level schedules are visual tools to communicate with stakeholder groups or executives. The high-level schedule is usually on a single page showing work at a workstream or sub-project level with key milestones. There is no logical linking on the schedule and it has to be updated by hand or from dashboards.
The Simplified Schedule can be a linked plan that has high-level summary tasks. The simplified schedule is a small part of the size of the overall integrated schedule. The simplified schedule may be used if an intermediate product between the high-level schedule and integrated schedule are required.
The Integrated Schedule is a logically linked plan that contains all project-level activities and dependencies. It is used for tracking progress and forecasting completion of the project. The Integrated Schedule should be the engine for project planning.
Last, detailed schedules or work plans exist at sub-projects or work packages below the integrated schedule level. They would contain detailed tasks to accomplish the individual deliverables.
Good scheduling practices – Integrated Schedules
Integrated Schedules should be set up for readability, easy updating, forecasting, and risk management. There is a whole body of knowledge to good scheduling, but here are 10 best practices for building good integrated schedules:
- Plan the plan: Start with the work breakdown structure to each project deliverable.
- Add supporting activities to accomplish the deliverables
- Add links: Logically link each activity, starting with the project start milestone and ending with the project close milestone. Each activity should have at least one predecessor and successor except the first and last tasks. This also means that minimizing tasks with calendar constraints, since their dates should be set by the logic!
- Use Finish-to-start links wherever possible. Start-to-Start or Finish-to-Finish links can be used, but sparingly.
- Avoid using lags, such as “Start-to-Start minus 20 days”. Instead, think about what other activity is occurring in the period or what other work should be represented with regular FS links.
- Add durations: Durations should be “Expected” durations gained from project team interviews or previous project data. Also ask for and record the optimistic durations and pessimistic durations for each activity in other duration columns – especially for long-lead or uncertain risky items!
- Avoid putting links on Summary tasks. These links may “make sense” at the time but will later make finding a critical path and tracing activities difficult.
- Include sections for out-of-plan dependencies to your plan. Call them “Receivers” and represent them with milestones or activity durations (if you need to account for their uncertainty).
- Project setup: Have each task be automatically scheduled. Block out non-working days in your project calendar.
- Updates: Set a baseline once the plan is reasonably complete. Update with actual start and finish dates during updates. Change durations if plan updates are needed, then re-baseline the plan.
If you do these things, then your schedule will:
- Be Readable: others will able to follow the logic of the schedule and understand the work relationships.
- Be a forecast tool: It will allow you to plan for the future, not just calendar dates.
- Give visibility into risk: The logic will allow use of schedule modeling tools to determine the schedule confidence level and how much buffer you need.
These functions are needed to measure how a project is progressing and to forecast what will happen in the future.
Turnabout is fair play
If you receive a schedule that isn’t linked properly, then you know you won’t be able to forecast changes with it. You know the schedule creator won’t be able to properly manage risk with it. At best, you can treat it like a calendar plan for keeping status against and assume that there will be unpleasant schedule surprises coming your way.
It’s all about confidence
A good schedule hierarchy supported by a solid integrated schedule will give you and your project teams the confidence you need in planning. The schedule will point out areas of risk and help you avoid surprises. It will align the team on the work and areas of focus. And it will be a great communication tool to the project management team.
For project plan reviews and schedule analysis, contact us at PL Programs.