How To Control Your Project Schedule

Control ScheduleControlling Schedule is the project management activity in which progress on project activities is compared against Schedule baseline to understand whether project is ahead of the schedule or behind. Based on the deviation you can plan on corrective or preventive actions and manage changes to baseline. This process helps thus reduces the risk of delivery slippage when managed well.

From 5th edition PMBOK focuses on Agile approach as well. In case your project follows Agile methodology here is what this process should do –

  • Determine current status of project based on completed deliverables against planned iteration
  • At the end of each iteration conduct retrospective review meetings to identify improvement areas
  • Adjust project backlog based on outcome of retrospective review meetings
  • Find out iteration velocity (number of features implemented per fixed duration of iteration (such as 2 wks)
  • If all this needs schedule to change, manage the changes and baseline it again

What goes into this activity?

Project management plan

Schedule management plan and Schedule baselines from Project management plan are used as inputs for this process.
Schedule management plan recommends methods and tools to use, such as Earned Value Management (EVM) and Schedule Variance (SV). Schedule baseline is the reference to compare current project progress against.
In essence, controlling activity is about comparing current project progress information against the baseline. That explains the next couple of inputs.

Exam Pointer > Usually, if work performance data is an input, work performance information will be an output. This is because when data is analyzed in a specific context such as what a process provides, it turns into information!

Project schedule

The recent baselined schedule.

Work performance data

Indicates project data such as activities that have started, activities that have completed, remaining duration and so on. These are all numbers. Raw data.

Project calendars

Considering multiple project calendars to allow considering different possible work periods to get better forecast.

Schedule data

Schedule data such as activities, dependencies, activity attributes, resource histogram and schedule network diagrams are looked at and updated if necessary.

Organizational process assets

Schedule control policies, tools and monitoring methods recommended by your company should be considered as inputs.

How it is done?

Performance reviews

In Develop Schedule process, we saw the different tools that can be used to measure project performance such as Critical path method or Critical chain method. There could also be additional methods such as Earned Value Management- EVM (we’ll see in Control Costs process) and Trend analysis used to measure and analyze project performance.

If you used Critical Path method to develop schedule, then look at activities on critical path or near critical path, for slippage. If any of these activities slip then project completion date will be impacted and hence these activities need to be closely monitored.

If Critical Chain method was used to develop schedule, then watch the remaining buffer on critical chain activities or feeding chain activities for slippage indication. This is done by comparing planned buffer versus remaining buffer.

Feeding Chain buffer is the schedule buffer allocated at the end of all activities on a network path that lead into Critical Chain. Develop Schedule process talks about about Critical Chain (or Critical Path) method.

If Earned Value Management (EVM) methodology is used then schedule variance (SV) and schedule performance index (SPI) are utilized to measure how the project is doing against schedule.

Trend analysis helps you visually observe project performance over a period of time to determine whether it has been improving or degrading.

Project management software

Software (such as MS Project) can be used to accurately measure schedule variation. Usage of software will also help us change certain activity related parameters and see their impact on critical path and project completion dates.

Resource optimization techniques, Modeling techniques, Leads and lags, Schedule compression, Scheduling tool

These techniques are very useful and we have already used in Develop Schedule process.

What’s the outcome?

Work performance information

Most of the processes in Monitoring and Controlling process group will have this output, which are the project performance indicators such as SV and SPI measurements for work packages.

Schedule forecasts

When you have current work performance data analyzed in within context they become work performance information, and this can be used to forecast future performance of project schedule. Earned value management indicators such as Estimate At Completion (EAC) are used.

Change requests

Again, Monitoring and Controlling processes may very well discover deviations (such as change to baselines and project manager will have to raise change requests. Change requests must go through Perform Integrated Change Control process before becoming actionable.

Project management plan updates

We used Schedule management plan and Schedule baseline from Project management plan as inputs. Both of these stand a chance to be updated based on changes done during this process. Based on the schedule changes even cost of the project may change hence Cost baseline might be updated as well.

Project document updates

If schedule variance is found, new schedule network diagrams might need to be developed based on the corrective actions planned. Other schedule outputs such as Milestone charts, resource histograms might change, and even alternate schedules may need to be drawn. Hence, both schedule data and schedule stand to be updated due to this process. There could be other project documents such as risk register that you may update based on what you discover while executing this process.

Organizational process assets updates

Findings such as identified reasons for variation, corrective and preventive actions selected along with their reasons are documented. Schedule data, project schedule and even risk register are some of the documents that may get updated, and there could be others to be updated based on what you discover while executing this process.

Control Schedule Process is pretty similar to Develop Schedule Process. In terms of preparing for the exam this process is easier to negotiate if you have studied Control Schedule process. But in terms of actually performing the process, control schedule activities are a different ball game. When things are to be brought back on track you will be pressed for time to perform preventive or corrective schedule changes.

To refer one of my experiences, we were trying to provide a detailed schedule right at the proposal stage of a new sub-project for an existing customer. We tried to compress schedule (using crashing and fast tracking) in order to satisfy our demanding customer. Scheduling exercise took two of us two weeks of time with 12-14 hours every day spent on it, and we presented updated schedule about 4 times. Customer’s undue focus on reducing detailed schedule (worthless exercise since requirements were not detailed) ended up in considerable lost time. Finally, we realized this and settled for high-level estimates with suitable documented assumptions, and got project timelines approved.

Lesson learned?

Do not attempt to give detailed schedule at proposal stage, unless every small details of scope are worked out. You might end up spending too much time modifying schedule, which anyway changes later when you enter planning phase to work out a detailed schedule.

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