So What if the Scope is Credible

Paul had been pushing a boulder uphill from the start. He joined the cybersecurity project in the midst of a confused schedule rebuild six months after the project slid off the rails, but only four months after anyone realized it. Through August and September, he met with team members to cobble a “new” schedule together from roadmap charts, discussions, and remnants of the old schedule. This schedule suffered from the usual horizontal and vertical traceability problems found in patchwork schedules.1Horizontal traceability is the traceability of the schedule through the schedule’s dependency chains from beginning to end, especially the completeness of the critical path. Vertical traceability describe’s the consistency of the schedule’s organization or outline structure from one major section to the next. (i.e. Similar work such as testing events should be modeled using similar tasks and activities.) Major milestones lacked connections to the low-level tasks supporting them. Teams had no sense of where their work fit in the broader picture or whether they had everything they needed to get started. 

On the last Friday in September, Paul got an urgent note from his client. “Get the schedule to me by the end of the day today. I’ll review it over the weekend, and we can get send it to the head office on Tuesday.”

Short on options, Paul reached out to his internal auditor for guidance. “Keith, I don’t have time to get everything done. Can you take a quick look and tell me the top three things that I should focus on?”

Keith had reviewed the schedule a week earlier. This week, the schedule still had all of the same problems, and Paul had added 600 new lines to the schedule, increasing its size by half. This new work was dated to start two months ago, and no progress had been recorded. This was a serious problem.

Gantt Chart showing a section of the new project schedule. None of the work prior to the October 1st status date is marked as having completed or started.

Keith met with Paul an hour later. “Paul, I noticed that you added a bunch of new work to the schedule. What’s your level of confidence that the new work is accurate?”

“I feel pretty good about it,” Paul replied. “Taylor is the team lead for the section I added. He has been giving me a lot of help and he knows Schedule Management really well.” 

“Okay so let’s take a look at the first of these new tasks (See Figure 1). Are these dates accurate? Did this work really start in August?”

Paul hesitated. “Well, no. We haven’t statused the schedule yet. We’re just working on getting everything in. And these new Authorization to Operate documents aren’t on the critical path.”

“Okay so this work hasn’t started, and you’re not planning to do it right now…”

“Well,” Paul interjected, “That’s not quite true. Some of the ATO work started. But we think that we have to start over. And we may start it soon.”

“Why?” Keith asked.

“I’m not entirely sure why the team wants to start on the ATO soon. I think it will take a while to get.”

“Undoubtedly it will take a while,” Keith responded. “But what hinges on ATO starting ‘now’ or finishing in February? You have two do-or-die events coming up before the end of the year. I know it sounds like a good idea to restart the ATO process. But the reality is someone will spend a day looking at the forms then race back to preparing for the Critical Design Review.”

“Look,” Paul said, “We just want to get the full schedule done and approved so that we start statusing it and working towards the Critical Design Review. Where should I be spending my time?”

“Well, that depends,” answered Keith. “How credible are the dates in your schedule?”

“The scope is credible.”

Questions to Consider

  • Paul indicates that the client wants to approve the “full” schedule before Critical Design Review work begins in earnest. In one word, what is the difference between a work breakdown structure and a schedule? How would each document best serve Paul’s client right now? 

  • What is the perceived and actual value of adding the Authorization to Operate work to the schedule now? When should the ATO work be added to the schedule? 

  • Rule number one in Schedule Management is to reflect reality. Paul is violating this law by using bad dates for the ATO work. How and when is this likely to come back to haunt the project?

  • Paul can’t fix the schedule in six hours, but his client expects to see something by close of business. How should Paul spend his remaining daylight? What should Paul focus on next week?