Manage the Schedule / Techniques

Investigate Further When ‘Completed’ Deliverables Are Not Really Completed

Sometimes a team member says that a deliverable is complete when in reality it is not quite done. This can happen if a deliverable is ’completed’ by the team member but not approved. The team member may say the work is complete, but when the deliverable is checked it is discovered that it is incomplete or needs additional follow-up work.

To avoid this, make sure that there is an approval process for all major deliverables. It should be clear that when a deliverable is completed it means that the deliverable has been approved. The schedule should include time for the creation of the deliverable, any revisions and for the approval process itself. Then will ensure that there is no gray area about the completion of a deliverable since it has either been formally approved or it hasn’t.

Use the Concept of Triple Constraint to Manage Cost, Schedule and Scope

At the end of the Definition and Planning process you should have an agreement with your sponsor on the work that will be completed and the cost (time) and duration that are needed to complete the work. These three items then form a concept called the “triple constraint”. If one of the three items change, at least one, if not both, of the other items need to change as well.

This is more than an academic discussion. The concept actually has great relevance to the management of the project. The triple constraint makes logical sense and can be easily explained to your clients as well. Here are two examples.

If the scope of work increases, the cost and / or deadline must increase as well. This makes sense. If you have more work to do, it will take more cost (effort) and perhaps a longer duration. Likewise if you reduce the scope of work, the cost (effort) and / or the deadline should decrease as well.

If you are asked to accelerate the project and complete it earlier than scheduled, it would also be logical to ask for less work. However, if you are asked to deliver the same work for less duration, the third leg of the triple constraint must increase to maintain the balance. You will need to increase costs (effort), perhaps by working overtime hours or perhaps by bringing in more resources to complete the same amount of work earlier.

Once the project manager really recognizes this relationship in the triple constraint, he will immediately recognize when one leg changes and instantly look for ways that the other legs will change to maintain the triple constraint balance.

Manage Action Items in Your Schedule

An action item is work that requires follow-up execution. By their nature, action items normally cannot be planned for in advance. They arise on an ad-hoc basis during meetings or as a by-product of working on something else. An action item is assigned because there is not enough knowledge, expertise or time to resolve the item at the time it originally surfaced.

In many cases, action items are trivial in nature, but in other cases they can require substantial work to complete. Action items need to be assigned, worked on later and completed. (If they are not going to be completed, they should not be called action items. Instead, simply note that the item will not be followed up on.) Examples of action items include forwarding specific information to someone, arranging a meeting and providing a quick estimate on a piece of work.

Sometimes an action item is established to investigate an area where there may be a potential problem. Because of this, action items are sometimes mixed in with issues. However, this is not right; an action item should not be confused with an issue. An issue is a problem which will have a detrimental impact on the project if left unresolved. An action item may lead to the discovery of an issue or a risk (a potential issue in the future) but the action item itself is not an issue.

The best approach to managing action items is to add non-trivial items as activities in the project schedule. A resource and end-date are assigned as well, and the activity is then managed and tracked as any normal activity. In general, this is the better approach to follow, because it keeps the work items in one place and allows the project manager to enforce the discipline of knowing ‘if it’s not on the schedule, it will not be worked on.’ This approach also allows the project manager to see the impact of the action items on the schedule. For instance, you may have a small action item that is three hours of work. If you assign this action item to a person on the critical path, you will see the resulting delay to your project. This may result in you assigning the action item to someone else instead.

Many action items are, in fact, trivial in time and duration. For these action items, you can create a section on your meeting minutes for action items. Action items can be placed here if they are trivial (less than two hours) and they are scheduled to be completed by the next meeting. If you use this technique you can start each meeting with a review of the prior action items to validate that they are completed and then cross them off the list. If the action item came from a forum other than a meeting, it can be added and tracked on an action item log.


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