The fundamentals of scheduling are to identify the tasks that need to be done on a granular level and place them in a logical sequence. This provides a basic flowchart - but the timeline will depend on the time required to do each task, the availability of resources, and dependencies among tasks (some may not begin until others are completed).
The primary resource affecting scheduling is personnel: people must act to accomplish a task, there are only so many hours in a working day, and they generally have responsibilities other than the project that will also consume their time.
The key factors in delivering a project "on time" seldom have to do with the project itself: key problems are that resources are not available when expected and the nature of the task changes. However, the most common cause of a late project is an unreasonable deadline.
Unreasonable deadlines may be inevitable (a specific event drives the need to have the project completed by a certain date), but they are often the result of poor management: announcing an arbitrary date of completion without consideration of the task, or setting an overly tight deadline as a way of motivating employees to work harder or longer hours, or being overly eager to reap the benefits of the project.
The author warns against feature-stripping, a common tactic to tighten up schedule. It often means that the project as a whole fails to deliver on expectations.
Various techniques are provided to help plan and schedule tasks and resources. The two most common are PERT and Gantt charts. A PERT chart is simply boxes and arrows that show the steps involved in a task, whereas a Gantt chart also considers resources available to accomplish them and can be used to show progress and changes. The author suggests using them both (PERT for planning, Gantt for tracking)
The author suggests that there is also PM software, but it has become bloated with unnecessary features and may be more difficult to use. Whether the PERT and Gantt charts are developed by a spiffy program or drawn by hand is of little consequence to the task of project management.
The author provides a handful of tips for scheduling:
- Rule of Thirds - Generally, a project can be broken into three parts: analysis and design, development, and testing. Generally speaking, each of these parts take an equal amount of time.
- Testing Takes Longer - The testing process takes a long time. It was a common practice to short testing to make an earlier deadline, but companies have learned the hard way that it is highly unwise to do so.
- Don't panic - Many projects are plagued by crisis situations. He counsels that "the urgency of these requests is often inversely related to their actual importance" -and that a PM should be prepared to run interference rather than letting such situations affect the project.
- Slippage Graph - A useful tool in dealing with scope creep is to graph the projected completion date (or days remaining) against the current date to identify and explain places where the project 'slipped"
- Avoid Partial Completion - Some PMs track whether a given task is "10% done" or "50% done" when in reality there are only two states - done and not done. Such estimates are generally very unreliable and do not help to better track a project.
- Concurrency - One (valid) way to tighten up on a schedule is to re-examine dependencies and identify where tasks can be done concurrently.
In all cases, the PM must use a combination of intuition and management skill.