The Fine Art of Scheduling

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to force the pace of a project. I do this by imposing tighter deadlines, even down to the hour, for completion of tasks. A higher level of control, however, implies a higher level of attention. If I do this, I know it has implications for my workload as well. On a tighter schedule I need to pay closer attention to individual tasks to ensure their completion.

Rule #5 : Schedule for the unexpected.
Project management is the art of handling the unknown. Often, unforseen events and circumstances can interrupt the flow of your project. It is important to prepare for delays and be able to cope with them should they arise. Scheduling is particularly important in this respect since, if you do not anticipate a particular course of events, you may not have the resources to deal with it. If experience tells you that a certain type of task almost always overruns, then anticipate it, pad it with some contingency, and make sure you have the adequate resources to handle it.

The Myth of Completion
A commonly held myth about tasks is that "tasks can be partially complete," that is, a task can be 10 or 20 percent done. The purpose of such estimates is to estimate scheduling dates remaining in the lifecycle. But as most have experienced, "percent done" has little relationship with amount of time to estimate in the schedule. Another hazard is vague goals. If a goal is vague or imprecise, such as "write instructional documentation," then technically it is complete after the first written instruction. Be sure goals are spelled out.

On the other hand, if the task is well defined and has a measurable deliverable, then the goal is not achieved until it is delivered. For example: "complete a users guide and a technical manual." This task definition is much more useful because it has a clear measure of success. The only time the task is complete is when the documents are written, have been reviewed, edited, and are ready for publication. You are finished when there are no more changes to be made and you are ready to move on.

A danger in believing that tasks can be partially completed is that it gives you a false sense of security. Because half of a task can be a hard thing to define, people will tell you they have completed 50 percent of the task when they are 50 percent of the way through the time allocated to it. It might be the case that 90 percent of the task remains.

The people who behave as though time were elastic particularly entertain a misconception: that you can cram any amount of work into a particular length of time. Unfortunately, it is just these kind of people who you may find on your project team. These are the people who will tell you one of two things. After working ten days on a twenty-day task they announce that they have done only 10 percent. They insist they can make up the time. This is despite the fact that they fought tooth-and-nail in the first place to get twenty days allocated to the task. In this case their estimate is inaccurate. They won't hit their deadline and neither will you.

The second case is that team members report consistent and rapid progress all the way through the first eleven months of a one-year project. But then their progress slows down. On successive weeks they go from 95 to 96 percent complete. They will almost certainly overrun and claim three weeks later that the last 1 percent is

About the author

Nick Jenkins's picture Nick Jenkins

Nick Jenkins has spent ten years in IT development with an emphasis on quality assurance and testing. He has worked in the UK, the US, and Australia, and is now based in Sydney.

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