While planning may be viewed as an art and scheduling as a science, it’s the way art and science meet that enables a high level of certainty in project delivery.
And though planning and scheduling have many similarities, they are distinctly different functions in project management.
Planning as Art
Project planning is a team effort, involving many stakeholders at distinct times of the planning process providing a variety of inputs.
Initial planning may involve skilled executives to determine the worthiness of an investment and the planned benefits this investment will realise. Design planning may involve solution architects that provide solution options for teams to consider. Requirements gathering may involve a number of specialists, skilled in their ability to understand what the key business stakeholders require.
Decision-making is key to effective planning. The team needs to determine an overall delivery strategy, that lends itself to effective control and performance management in areas as diverse as scope, risk, communications, cost, quality and time.
The art is in bringing together these key people and their areas of expertise to develop a robust plan for successful project delivery.
Scheduling as Science
Project scheduling however can be best described as a science focused on time management.
A project scheduler takes the output and decisions from the various planning processes and uses this as input to scheduling processes. For instance, the project scope will have deliverables with defined activities set in a particular sequence.
Each of the activities will require certain resources to do the work. The type of resource will determine the number of work periods required to complete the work and provide the basis for developing baseline, and as-built schedule models.
So what tools and techniques does a project manager have at their disposal to integrate planning art with scheduling science?
The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and WBS Dictionary
In simple terms, the work breakdown structure (WBS) describes the project scope as a set of deliverables arranged in a hierarchy. The WBS Dictionary describes each of the deliverables in greater detail.
These details would typically include a WBS Level, WBS Code, Definition, schedule activities, resources, resource estimations, planned duration to complete the deliverable, and a deliverable owner.
Armed with this information, a project scheduler has information at an appropriate level that reflects the degree of certainty the project team has at a particular point in time.
The team may be only able to describe next phase deliverables with a high level of certainty. For future deliverables, the level of certainty will improve over time, as better information becomes available, providing the basis for replanning the work remaining, updating the WBS dictionary, and modifying the project schedule.
The net benefit of balancing the art and science
Effective planning sets the overall direction of the project. Robust schedules then provide clear direction, so teams work on the right activities at the right time and are focused on what’s required to achieve the outcomes for on-time delivery.
By providing a project structure and environment where planning and scheduling co-exist it promotes good project delivery and enables the stakeholders to objectively measure cost and delivery performance.
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