Create a Short-Term Schedule to Guide the Definition and Planning Processes

The process of creating the Project Charter, schedule and budget may take a long time and may be very complicated. Therefore, the work should not be left unorganized, for the same reasons that you are building the schedule for the project to begin with. Immediately after being assigned, the project manager should create a short-term schedule to plan and guide the initial activities. This initial schedule should cover the length of time needed to create the Project Charter and schedule. If this is a two-week process, the project manager should create an interim schedule of at least two weeks – probably three. If the time to create the final Project Charter and schedule is four weeks, this initial schedule should cover at least four, if not five or six weeks. This preliminary schedule covers all of the organizing and up-front planning activities until the formal project schedule is completed to guide the remainder of the project.

This up-front schedule should be defined at an organizational level so that all projects use the same schedule template to define and plan the work.

Determine if You Will Capture Actual Effort Hours

A very early decision needs to be made as to whether you will capture actual effort hours on the schedule. For instance, let’s say you estimated an activity to have 40 hours of effort and ten days duration. It is easy to know when the activity is complete so you can compare estimated duration against actual duration. However, are you going to keep track of whether the effort was actually 40 hours? Capturing actual effort hours requires much more diligence on behalf of the project team to keep track of their time per activity and report it back accurately. There is a lot of value associated with capturing actual effort hours, including helping make future estimates more accurate. However, many organizations do not capture the actual effort hours. If your organization does not capture actual effort hours, it will be difficult for a project manager to enforce this discipline on one specific project. Collecting actual effort hours is usually something that is required (or not required) on an organization-wide basis.

Be Cautious About Having too Much Slack in the Schedule

There is only one path through the schedule that does not have any slack or float. This is the critical path and it will drive the end-date. Although every other path in the schedule has some slack, there might be some concern if there is too much slack. “Too much slack” means that the other paths have many long gaps when no work needs to be done. This can lead to a long “skinny” network diagram. Of course there may not be a problem with this occurrence. However, the potential implication of having too much slack in the schedule is as follows:

Many resources are coming and going in and out of the project, and this can cause potential problems making sure everyone is available when needed and for as long as needed.

On a similar note, if you use the same resources off the critical path, you may have to mix in non-project work for them when they do not have project work to do. You may assign them a few weeks of project work, then find other work for them during the slack time, and then make sure they are available for you again when they have more project work assigned.

There may be a lack of urgency on the part of all resources that are not on the critical path. In other words, you have one or more resources working hard on critical path activities and end-dates, while everyone else has a lot of slack in his schedule. This can be de-motivating to the resources on the critical path.

Be Cautious About Having too Little Slack in the Schedule

Just as there is risk with having too much slack, there is also some risk associated with not having very much slack. If this happens, minor schedule slippages off the critical path could force these paths critical as well. It would be better if the project schedule could be built in such a way that the non-critical paths were “full but not too full” so that a group of resources could be utilized more efficiently on the project.

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