Schedule Analysis Principles

Schedule Analysis is the heart of Schedule Management. It tells project teams what they must do with the time and resources available to keep their commitments. A well-built, well maintained project is a prerequisite for conducting Schedule Analysis, but if the analysis does not adequately inform stakeholders of the project’s future, the entire effort is wasted.

Figure 1: Every new Schedule Analysis begins with statusing the schedule.

This article discusses how Schedule Analysis’s three vertices (Figure 1) rely on consistency and repeatability to build upon one another, and will set the stage for more in-depth discussions of Statusing, Reviewing and Reporting.

Schedule Analysis as a Process

Compared to Schedule Creation or Maintenance, effective Schedule Analysis hinges upon maintaining a consistent process. First, the schedule’s current and upcoming tasks must be statused with the latest progress updates. Any work not completed in the previous reporting cycle (e.g. the previous week) must be swept forward or rescheduled into the current cycle. Second, the Schedule Manager reviews the project schedule alone to check for errors or inconsistencies, then with Team Leads to reach consensus about current and future date projections. Finally, any necessary reports are completed, and the process begins again. 

Performing Schedule Analysis the same way and with the same inputs, insures a consistency and repeatability that establishes trust in both the process and its findings. That process starts with statusing the schedule. 

Statusing

Statusing is defined as the process by which schedules are updated with ground level reports of actual progress, and estimations of progress to come. If Analysis is the heart of Schedule Management, statusing is its lifeblood. Attempting any sort of schedule review or reporting without knowing the progress made to date is akin to planning a chess game’s next move without seeing the opponent’s pieces.

Figure 3: Kriegspiel is a variation of chess where opponent’s pieces are hidden from view.

Like the game underway in Figure 3, cautious or reactionary steps can be taken, but the project team has no real understanding of what is happening.1Graphic created using Chess Videos TV. https://www.chessvideos.tv/puzzle-maker.php

Statusing the schedule requires the cooperation of all team members (usually Managers or Team Leads) responsible for overseeing the completion of work on the project. In the case of very large projects and project schedules, statusing the schedule may require cooperation from all team members.

Statusing is a very focused activity. When statusing the schedule, Schedule Managers concentrate only on recognizing task progress, or lack thereof. Only after the entire project has been statused should the Schedule Manager turn their attention to adjusting dependencies, recovering lost time, and other schedule updates. Statusing a schedule may affect the schedule file in unintended ways, however these issues are usually cleaned up after all progress has been captured.

Reviewing

Once the schedule has been statused, the real work begins. The Schedule Manager should review the schedule in two stages – alone, then with Managers and Task Leads. Reviewing the schedule alone gives the Schedule Manager the opportunity to catch any errors or artificial delays. The Schedule Manager can also perform some routine health checks. Solitary reviews also allow the Schedule Manager to see how the previous cycle’s progress (or stagnation) has shifted the schedule. Remedies are far easier to identify when the Schedule Manager already knows what is causing key milestones to trend late, and how. In review meetings, Task Leads do not need to waste their time watching the Schedule Manager stumble down a rabbit hole of confusing schedule logic or make sense of date changes only after finding an obscure error in the file.

Reviewing the schedule with Task Leads is best done one-on-one or in small groups. If the schedule file is a prediction of the project’s future, review meetings allow Managers to change their fate. Effective schedule review meetings compel Managers to recognize the delays and bottlenecks impacting their project while affording them an opportunity do something about it. 

Confronting work that hasn’t gone according to plan is uncomfortable for Team Leads, especially if there is fear of punitive oversight. This is one reason why schedule reviews should not be done in large groups. Schedule reviews are not platforms for accusation or reprimand. They are meetings to uncover obstacles, identify opportunities to recover or mitigate delays, and come to consensus about upcoming completion dates and resource utilization. 

Another advantage to holding multiple small group or one-on-one schedule review meetings is that Task Leads do not waste time covering parts of the schedule that are not their concern. For example, suppose a large project schedule tracks the work of six different project teams. Assuming a schedule review takes twenty minutes for each team’s section, the Schedule Manager will spend two hours reviewing the schedule file. If the Schedule Manager reviews the entire schedule in one large meeting, each Team Lead will be actively engaged for only twenty minutes. The rest of the meeting would be spent watching other Managers discuss details outside their concern or control. 

Ideally, schedule review meetings are low stress and collaborative. However, the Team Leads must ultimately prove to the Schedule Manager that their plan to move ahead is plausible. The validity of a Manager’s plan directly impacts the reliability of the schedule reporting, as well as other Managers’ plans. If a Task Lead has a plan to get back on track after a two-week delay, they have to convince the Schedule Manager it will work. 

Reporting

Schedule reports are the end product of the entire Schedule Management process. The work invested into creating, maintaining and analyzing the schedule culminates in the regular reporting of progress to date and the path ahead.  

Schedule files, including schedule baselines, are fluid project documents that change over the project’s lifetime. Like a financial balance sheet, or a weather forecast, Schedule reports are a snapshot of where the project stands today and the combined prediction of where the project is headed. Since different stakeholders require different types of information, Schedule Managers commonly produce several types of reports.

Recent schedule status reports anticipate where a project is headed over the next several weeks. The reporting history chronicles project decisions and forms the basis of evidence behind long term trend analyses and projections. It is a shared experience amongst veteran Schedule Managers that regular reporting is disregarded until an emergency arises. During the crisis, every element of the project schedule is simultaneously questioned but also taken as gospel. Since project team members often attempt to see only what they want to see, Schedule Managers must guarantee that every schedule status report is complete, accurate, and verifiable. 

Repeating the Process

How often should the Schedule Analysis cycle be conducted? Reporting requirements and the types of reports that are needed often drive the cadence of the Analysis cycle. Earned Value reports are typically requested monthly, while tactical updates may be requested weekly or bi-weekly. Whatever the reporting requirements, industry standards recommend statusing and reviewing the schedule weekly. 

While statusing the schedule can be labor intensive, the weekly cadence obligates Managers and Team Leads to incorporate the chore into their weekly routine. Statusing and reviewing the schedule less often turns the exercise from a chore into an interruption. The reduced frequency also increases the labor of each individual review. 

What’s more, by statusing and reviewing the schedule more frequency, the importance of any single status update diminishes. Perhaps counterintuitively, the reduced importance of status updates benefits Team Leads and Schedule Managers alike. Every project is going to have things that go wrong, including maintaining the schedule. It is to be expected that team members will occasionally not be able to report how their work is progressing. For example, suppose that a Team Lead is unable to provide their regular progress updates to the Schedule Manager. If the Team Lead updates the schedule weekly, the missed update is only a minor concern. The Schedule Manager can make some educated guesses to forecast upcoming progress, and course correct with the Team Lead the following week. Missing a bi-weekly basis, causes a much greater blind spot. The errant Manager’s work ultimately goes an entire month without being reviewed. When a monthly update is missed, a desperate Schedule Manager may resort to chasing the wayward Team Lead down the halls with a net! In terms of project health, two months without a progress update is the next best thing to skipping a dentist visit.

Figure 3: A Manager forgets or doesn’t have time to update the schedule during the second month of a project.

Finally, as illustrated in Figure 3, consider the number of opportunities for course correction weekly schedule statusing provides compared to bi-weekly or monthly statusing. Projects carry inherent unpredictability and risk. Problems are far easier to handle when they are first noticed as small problems. The bi-weekly and monthly analysis cycles increase the likelihood that the problems will be large, numerous and unavoidable when they are finally identified. 

Ownership of the Process

Since Schedule Reporting is the final outcome of Schedule Analysis, all report content must trace directly back to data in the schedule file. Otherwise, both the schedule and the report will lack credibility. Whomever owns responsibility for producing schedule reports necessarily owns the project schedule. On a project with a dedicated Schedule Manager, the Schedule Manager must be the final authority regarding what goes into the schedule file and thus the reports. This is not unlike accounting where the project’s revenue and expenses are validated by a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or the project’s Financial Manager.

Sometimes schedules convey bad news. Allowing Managers to pretend that they are going to be on time does not actually make them on time. In fact, hiding or denying schedule variances often exacerbates delays by reducing response time, and multiplying the surprise’s eventual impact.2“For months you told me we were on schedule. What happened!” When the Schedule Manager controls the process, they have the ability and responsibility to help project teams recognize when things aren’t going as planned. Managers can only fix problems that they acknowledge.  

Next Steps

Understanding Schedule Analysis discussed how analyzing the schedule is the crux of Schedule Management and its role in the project management process. 

Having covered how the three vertices of Schedule Analysis should build comprehensively upon one another, Schedule Analysis Techniques will overview the practical considerations of a reliable and sustainable analytical process.