Risk-Averse Schedule for Project Management

December 18, 2015

Is your project schedule ready to pass the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) “litmus test”? Not sure? Well, the Project Management Team at ProPharma Group is here to lend a helping hand. Below are some pointers on ensuring your project schedule is risk-averse…well, as risk-averse as any project or schedule can be.

The first step is to empower yourself with the knowledge of what a schedule that is able to take on risk-mitigation looks like.

  1. The schedule makes sense.  Ask yourself, “Is this schedule logical? Does it make sense and is it easy to follow?”
  2. The schedule reflects the goals of the project. Ask yourself, “Is it doing the work it needs to be doing to complete the project?”
  3. The schedule has no constraints.  However, since we are living in the real world, as Project Managers, we want to ensure that the schedule has as few constraints as possible.
  4. The schedule has appropriate leads and lags. As a Project Manager, ensure no work is scheduled during lags and ensure that leads are appropriate and do not cause additional risk or constraints (think “resources”).

Knowing what risk-averse looks like is the first step. The second step is understanding why the above mentioned themes are so important to ensuring our project schedule is risk-ready. Items #1 and #2 do not require a lot of our focus. They are self-explanatory, and they just make sense. You don’t need a PMP certificate to know and to understand that your schedule has to make sense, and it is a tool that helps to meet the goal of your project. The impact of items #3 and #4 need a bit more information.

In Project Management, a constraint is any restriction that defines a project’s limitations. Examples of project constraints are resources, risk, cost, time, quality and scope. The three most significant constraints are time, cost, and scope. The impact of these and all constraints are significant – that is why we strive for few or no constraints. If constraints do exist, as a Project Manager, we attempt to understand the constraint, why it is there, and how we can remove the constraint. The best way to mitigate constraints is by truly understanding them and why they exist. An example is, if resources are a constraint but schedule is not, consider shifting the project during a time when the resources are not constrained. Additionally, if budget is not a constraint, consider crashing your schedule with consultant or contractors in order to ease the resource constraint.

As defined by PMI and the PMBOK, leads and lags are types of float. Leads and lags are embedded in tasks or activities; they are not separate tasks/activities. A lead is the start of a second task before a predecessor task is completed. This is great news to Project Managers and generally means that the project schedule is moving right along – it may even be fast-tracking. Leads will not be discussed here in great detail because, for the most part, leads have a positive impact on a project schedule…..for the most part. Please be cautioned that leads may have an impact on your human resources. A lag is a time period, between tasks, that is a purposeful delay or waiting period. Approval periods are perfect examples of lag times in a project schedule. For example, consider the approval of a Validation Report. The actual review and approval may take only 2 hours, but lag time is built in for 3 days to ensure all approvers have adequate time to get to this task, complete the review, and therefore, complete the approval. The caution with lag times, as associated with project schedules, comes with not scheduling work during this lag time. A lag is indirect work that is required therefore other work, directly associated with the particular task, can not be scheduled. Work can not be “hidden” during these lag times and lag times can not be removed or overlooked in a project schedule. By not specifying this lag time, necessary for certain tasks, risk is introduced to your task and therefore to your schedule.

In order to have your project schedule pass the PMI litmus test, remember to ensure your schedule reflects the work it is intended to guide, it is logical, and is free of or limited in the number of constraints. And finally, ensure your leads and lags are appropriately scheduled to complete the task, the schedule, and the project. For this and other topics, PMI is a great resource for Project Managers.

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