Brief Overview on Project Time Management Processes

In Project Management, Time Management comes in first place with the project definition. If you see the definition of the project –

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. [1]

Temporary” is the key word used to show the importance of Time Management in Project Management. Developing & managing schedule is always challenging for a Project Manager. All activities should be completed within stipulated time to come up with unique result or service. This is what PMBOK says –

“Project Time Management includes the processes required to accomplish timely completion of the project”

Let us review the Time Management processes briefly:

Project Time Management consists of 6 major processes. 5 of them are under Planning Process Group & 1 process comes under Monitoring & Control Process Group.

Activity Definition: Identifying & Defining all specific activities that is needed to produce project deliverables (Planning Process Group)

Activity Sequencing: Identifying dependencies between project activities and documenting the sequence in which they need to be executed to achieve the project output in time (Planning Process Group)

Activity Resource Estimating: Resources are men, materials and machines that are required to execute different project activities. Determining what different type of resource required, in what quantity and when each resource will be available to perform the activities is worked out in this process(Planning Process Group)

Time Management Processes

Time Management Processes

Activity Duration Estimating: In this process, estimation of required time is done to carry out a defined activity based on the scope & resource availability. Accuracy of this process leads to exact schedule development of whole project & cost estimation of resources (Planning Process Group)

Schedule Development: Coming up with planned start and end dates for every activity & also for the entire project happens in this process. This process uses activity sequences, duration estimation, resource estimation & project schedule constraints to arrive the project schedule. Few well established techniques are already available. Output of this process is approved and used as schedule baseline against which project progress is tracked (Planning Process Group)

Schedule Control: This process explains project status monitoring, finding changes in the schedule(early you find lesser the impact!) and controlling schedule changes to meet planned schedule. Communication is more important in this process (Monitoring & Controlling Process Group)

One can notice high interdependency between time management processes. It is not required that all these processes to be defined separately. In some cases like a project with smaller scope may have all time management processes combined in a single process.

[1]. PMBOK® Guide – 3rd edition

Resource Leveling

Development of schedule involves analyzing numerous options and applying different techniques to meet the project (imposed) delivery date. Various schedule network analysis techniques are used to generate project schedule. Some of them are Critical path method, critical chain method, what-if analysis and resource leveling. More than one technique can be applied on project schedule to come up with expected schedule.

Estimation of activity resource is a vital process which involves

* Determining what resources will be required (labor, equipment, material)
* What quantity for each resource will be required.
* When are resources available to perform project activities

Resource requirements by time period, often in the form of a resource histogram. Resource histogram is

* A bar chart showing the amount of time assigned to a resource for the time interval.
* Resource availability is depicted as a line for comparison purposes.
* Resources assigned more work than available hours are considered ‘over-allocated’.

If supply is sufficient to meet the demand, then projects does not have any resource allocation issues. But this may not be the case in real time scenario – Demand will exceed supply & resource scarcity arises. Project manager uses a technique called ‘Resource leveling’.

Resource Leveling is a project management technique used to examine a project for an unbalanced use of resources (usually people) over time, and smoothen distribution of resource usage by resolving over-allocations or conflicts. With this technique PM ensures resource demand does not exceed resource availability.

Resource leveling is used:-

* to address schedule activities that need to be performed to meet specified delivery dates
* to address a situation where shared or critical required resources are only available at certain times or are only available in limited quantities
* to keep selected resource usage at a constant level during specific time periods of the project work

Resource Leveling

Resource leveling is applied to a schedule model that has that has a critical path identified. In critical path method calculation, preliminary early start & late start schedule is calculated which may need more resources in different time line. After resource leveling schedule, projected start and finish dates(which may be longer than the preliminary dates) are calculated to reflect resource availability and even there could be a change in critical path. There are issues with using the simple bar chart for resource leveling as the interdependency between activities is not available in them, which may result incorrect schedule plan.

Generally, there are two approaches to leveling and smoothing the resources required:

* Time-constrained approach – In this case importance will be given on completing the project within a specified (imposed) date. This date will usually have been determined by network analysis. Changes in the duration of any activity, and the resources required at a given time, must be undertaken within the float (slack) available. Obviously there can be no adjustment of activities which are on the critical path.

* Resource-constrained approach – In this approach, the project must be completed with limited available resources even if this means extending the project duration. If the total resource demand exceeds the resource availability at any time then some of the activities must be delayed until there is sufficient resource availability.

For both of the above approaches, information regarding the earliest & the latest start times and slack will be used to level resources.

Few options that can be used in resource leveling are:

* Allocating scarce resources to critical path activities first can be used to develop a project schedule that reflects such constraints.
* Common way to bring the project back on track is resource reallocation from non-critical to critical activities. This may at least bring schedule as close as possible to its originally intended overall duration.
* Resources working extra hours , weekends, or multiple shifts by authorizing overtime to reduce the durations of critical activities.
* Adding or substituting resources of equal or greater productivity to shorten durations that have extended the preliminary project schedule.
* Last but not the least, delaying or extending critical path tasks/task duration. 😦

Other than impact in duration, some of the above options have impact on project cost & risk also.

Three-point estimates

As a manager, you are developing schedule for your project.

How do you specify time estimates for project activities?

From analysis,usually, single-point, most-likely estimates are used for activity duration estimating. But these estimates does not represent accurate information and it may lead to schedule overrun situation.

Project manager’s ultimate goal is to create a realistic project schedule that provides a basis for monitoring project progress for the time dimension of the project. Adapting better estimating technique is needed for project success.

Three-point estimating is one of the general estimating methods that helps project managers produce better estimates. Instead of providing discrete activity duration estimates like 3-weeks, 2-days, etc., the accuracy of it can be improved by considering the amount of risk in the original estimate.

Three-point estimates are based on determining three types of estimates: optimistic, most likely and pessimistic. (i.e. Optimistic – 2 weeks, Most Likely – 4 weeks, Pessimistic – 6 weeks)

* Most likely(approx. realistic scenario): The duration of the schedule activity, given the resources likely to be assigned, their productivity, realistic expectations of availability for the schedule activity, dependencies on other participants, and interruptions.

* Optimistic(best-case scenario): The activity duration is based on a best-case scenario of what is described in the most likely estimate.

* Pessimistic(worst-case scenario): The activity duration is based on a worst-case scenario of what is described in the most likely estimate.

An activity duration estimate can be constructed by using an average of the three estimated durations. Three-point estimates are needed for PERT estimates and Monte Carlo simulations.

The PERT is a more rudimentary approach to quantitative risk analysis. PERT applies a weighted average favoring the most likely outcome: (O + 4M + P)/6

Schedule Network Analysis

Though projects use certain charting techniques like Bar, Milestone, Gantt to represent project schedules, they lack visualization of inter dependencies between different activities.

By constructing schedule networks, we can get inter dependencies between activities and can develop master schedule plan that provides up-to date schedule information about the project. Schedule network analysis is a technique that generates the project schedule.

In short, Schedule Network Analysis is the technique of identifying early and late start dates, as well as early and late finish dates, for the uncompleted portions of project schedule activities. [1]

It employs a schedule model and various analytical techniques, such as critical path method, critical chain method, what-if analysis, and resource leveling to calculate various project schedule information.

Schedule network provides:

* dependencies between activities,

* project completion date,

* analysis of the early and late start and finish dates,

* analysis of what-if scenarios,

* analysis of cost trade-off by crashing the schedule,

* analysis of applying leads and lags,

* analysis of slippage in project schedule

* analysis of scheduled start and finish dates for the uncompleted portions of project schedule activities

* graphical representation of the whole project from start to finish (master schedule plan)

We need to make following considerations before applying any of the analytical techniques

* adjustment should be made on any loops or open ends in schedule network for accurate calculation

* some network paths may have points of path convergence or path divergence that can be identified and used in schedule compression analysis or other analyzes

[1]. PMBOK® Guide – 3rd edition

What-if Scenario Analysis

Let me start with a typical real-life example:

Your wife is asking you to take her out.

You are planning to go to the latest movie in a nearby movie theater.

First thing that come in your mind would be – “What do I do if all tickets are sold out before we reach the theater?”

Oh, no! It is going to be a big fight in the night then.

Now, jump into preparing mitigation plan.

In case tickets are not available, shall I take her to a park or mall? will that make her happy?

Like the one mentioned above, every day, for every activity which we perform, we have this proactive question – “What if the situation represented by scenario ‘X’ happens?” This What-If Scenario Analysis(shortly WISA) becomes our part of life and we ask this question till the end of life. Businesses use what-if scenarios to determine the effect different costs or investments have on profit and other financial indicators.

In businesses and projects, unanticipated adversities makes the business or project unstable and proactive handling of these uncertainties is required. With what-if scenario analysis, Project Manager & Project management team

* can evaluate the feasibility of completing the project under unfavorable conditions,

* prepare contingency and response plans to avoid or overcome the worst scenario,

* mitigate the impact of uncertain or unexpected situations

WISA (sometimes referred as deterministic simulation) used mainly in project analysis and schedule development. A schedule network analysis is performed using the schedule model to compute the different scenarios like delayed delivery of a major deliverable, impact of external factors such as a strike or change in the shipping procedures & processes, extending duration of certain specific activity under certain circumstances.

With different sets of activity assumptions, dozens of project schedule can be prepared through simulation.The most common simulation technique is Monte Carlo Analysis, in which a distribution of possible activity durations is defined for each schedule activity and used to calculate a distribution of possible outcomes for the total project. Early start/early finish, late start/late finish dates can be simulated.

To simulate what-if scenario analysis, number of tools are available in Excel. Following are the few links to them

1. Markham, I. S. and S.W. Palocsay (2006), “Scenario Analysis in Spreadsheets with Excel’s Scenario Tool,” INFORMS Transactions on Education, Vol. 6, No 2,

2. Using scenario manager to evaluate what-if questions-

3. Add Muscle to “What-If” Analyses BY JAMES A. WEISEL –

Rolling Wave Planning Technique

Have you ever done night trekking?

Few years back, I did night trekking along with my friends. It was a 5-km journey in a small hilly jungle. We started around 10 pm. It was a dark night. I had a torch with me. With the light, we could identify our way just about 10 steps. After moving that small distance, again we were able to get light for next few steps.

Why do I mention this sequence of events at the first place under this topic?

There is an analogy exists between above journey and rolling wave planning.

In trekking,

* there exists a route, but not completely visible at the start;

* the way is visible only for few steps;

* we need to wait for much information about rest of the path;

* after few steps, next few steps become visible

In projects,

* there exists high-level scope & scope granularity is not defined at the work package level;

* scope detailing of deliverables is done for certain short period (say 60 days) to the work package level;

* towards the end of each period, the detailing of scope is done for a corresponding amount of time

This is called as “Rolling Wave Planning”(shortly RWP).

RWP is a technique used in different processes of a project like project management planning, activity definition and WBS creation.

Rolling wave planning is a form of progressive elaboration planning where the work to be accomplished in the near term is planned in detail at a low level of the WBS. Future work is planned for WBS components that are at a relatively high level of the WBS.

So, in RWP, WBS components may exist in different level of detail in the structure. RWP is particularly useful in projects of high uncertainty like “High-tech” projects, R&D. It is an excellent project development approach for inventive work, where the project goal is known, but the exact deliverable is not. So, it is detailed in time-phased manner.

In some cases, decomposition may not be possible for a deliverable as it will be finished in future. This makes the Project Manager and its team to delay detailing other WBS components which depends on that earlier deliverable. This is also referred as “RWP”.

What is Decomposition technique in Project Management?

In 2004, during my PMP exam preparation, tutor told us that decomposition is a technique for WBS creation. Till that time, I have heard about decomposition when I was in school only in subjects like biology and chemistry.

Biology says – Decomposition refers to the reduction of organic materials into simpler forms of matter.

Chemistry says – Decomposition is the dividing a chemical compound into elements.

From above, we can generalize the definition of decomposition – it is dividing a large piece into smaller and simpler pieces.

Now, it is turn of Project Management on decomposition. Decomposition is an important technique used in WBS creation (Scope Management) and definition of activities (Time Management).

Decomposition in Project Management

In scope management, project deliverables are subdivided into smaller and more manageable components until the work and deliverables are defined to the work package level. This is called as decomposition.

Decomposition of project scope generally involves the following activities:

* Gather information on major project deliverables and analyze related tasks

* Start development of work breakdown structure(WBS) at the highest level

* Decompose the upper WBS levels into lower level detailed components

* Identify each work package & WBS components with unique code, and

* Verify if the degree of decomposition of the work is necessary and sufficient

* No. of Levels of WBS need not be same for all deliverables

But excessive decomposition may lead to more work without much value for the time spent. It can also leads to inefficient use of resources, and decreased work efficiency. So, knowing few basics about work package helps us in deciding the level of decomposition. Few of them are:

* Work package is the lowest level of WBS

* Usually, a work package is the quantum of work which is assigned to a single resource as a whole and produces a verifiable outcome

* Project’s cost and schedule estimation is done at work package level

* The accuracy of these estimations depends on the level of detailed work package that is defined

* The level to which work packages need to be detailed vary from project to project

In Time Management, each work package within the WBS is decomposed into the activities required to produce the work package deliverables.

Take this scenario:

You are a software developer. You need to solve a customer bug. What do you? You will:

First, identify the activities you need to execute to reproduce the customer issue.

Then, modify the software code to rectify the issue.

Lastly, deploy the fix at customer end.

Congrats! you have performed decomposition & activity sequencing successfully.

Your list may contain more activities than what I listed above. Here, we subdivided a work package into smaller and manageable components of activities. This is often performed by the project team members responsible for the work package. Activities are vital input in performing a work. Correct level of decomposition in time management can produce accurate estimate of schedule & timely completion of project.

Always remember, next level of decomposition is possible only when we have clear understanding of deliverables at a particular level.