December 2015 saw the release of the U.S. Government Accountability Office's (GAO) "Schedule Assessment Guide: Best Practices for Project Schedules" which can be downloaded from the GAO Website. In the U.S., GAO is responsible for assisting Congress in overseeing the federal government's stewardship of public funds. This guideline aims to assist in achieving this objective. Afterall the ability to control expenditure is primarily driven from tight project control of scope and time.

The Guideline

Like most guidelines the document covers some of the fundamental concepts in scheduling to ensure a well formed program of works is developed, maintained and fit for the purpose of controlling a project's execution. These include:

  1. Capturing All Activities
  2. Sequencing All Activities
  3. Assigning Resources to All Activities
  4. Establishing the Duration of All Activities
  5. Verfying that the Schedule can be Traced Horizontally and Vertically
  6. Confirming That the Critical Path is Valid
  7. Ensuring Reasonable Total Float
  8. Conduction a Schedule Risk Analysis
  9. Updating the Schedule Using Actual Progress and Logic
  10. Maintaining a Baseline Schedule

These ten items are what you could consider high-level blanket statements for a project team to consider when developing a schedule. The content in each section summates what schedulers should consider in the development of a good schedule, however leaves enough 'wriggle-room' to make the guideline applicable in different situations.

Its not about software

Furthermore it is a guideline that doesn't take software into consideration and rightly so. There are numerous arguements as to which software is the better tool for scheduling and that debate should not be settled via a guide. Nor should the arguements associated with how best a planning package should be used.

It is not a Policy

As we know, a guideline is merely a general rule, principal or piece of advice. A guideline typically infers that deviation is acceptable. A policy however is not. The chatter I've noted in online forums tends to bash this document from page one without any consideration that guidelines are malleable and scalable.

It goes without saying that because organisations differ from one an other, one set of rules (a policy) won't necessarily apply to every organsation in the world. Therefore a high-level set of 'friendly pointers' may be the best solution to drive conformancy. Thus guidelines can contain 'blanket statements' to assist in driving a more detailed set of scheduling rules on a company-by-company basis.

Where to now?

If you look online for a "planning and scheduling guideline" your browser is suddenly overloaded with results. It appears that our world is flooded with similar documents written and published by varying bodies to achieve different objectives. 

The concern I have with this guideline is not it's content but more so its applicability in the World arena. Because this is called a "guideline" people often form the opinion that it is mandatory, but this document clearly states on page one that it is designed to assist U.S. departmental reviews. It is therefore applicable in that particular arena.

So this raises several questions:

  1. Does this mean that it should be applied to Australian government?
  2. Should this guideline be applied outside of government (eg, mining, oil & gas)?
  3. Is GAO the deciding body on what is / is not scheduling best practice?
  4. Does anyone really care?

Point (4) is one question that I really enjoy raising as it stirs the pot. This guideline has good content but so too do other guidelines. Furthermore, if this guideline is geared for a U.S. department and is not applicable in our own project world then why do we care?

In 30 years of business we have reviewed numerous project schedules and over the course of those three decades it is quite apparent that nothing has changed in terms of schedule quality. Despite the numerous guidelines that have been written, the many certification programs available and the suite of software tools available to review schedule quality, projects continue to make the same mistakes by ignoring best practice.

Solutions

But this rant of mine is not so much about the problems but moreso the solutions. 2016 is yet another year but it is also our 30th year in business. In the last 5 years there has been substantial investment in the further development of the scheduling area of project management.

We are now starting to notice that there is a broader acknowledgement within organisations that a quality schedule is a mandatory requirement. This can be attributed to the emergence of accreitations, and the advancement of software solutions to assist in project analysis - but they are costly.

To many however, the gantt chart is simply "another contract document" and there is a failure to realise that it is a project management tool. Like most tools in the shed if the tool is not used with utmost quality, the workmanship will be poor!

To therefore enable change we do not need another guideline but rather we need to look at the specific areas that appear to require further attention:

  • Better 'on the job' training - simply putting an engineer through a P6, MS Project or "How to" course on scheduling will not enable that person to be a good planner. People must apply theory to real world situations to enable faster learning. 
    apply the guidelines to the real world situations

  • Enagement of SME's with experience - whilst an SME may appear costly they are the best upfront investment a project can make. SME's can also then be utilised to mentor junior schedulers and upskill team members.
    engage the services of individuals who can help enforce the guidelines

  • Mandatory contract requirements for planning - major contracts should not only demand quality scheduling practices but need to recognise the requirement for the engagement of experienced schedulers and avoid simply putting a junior graduate engineer in charge of the program and reporting. This is unfortunately all too common place especially in today's cost driven economy
    demand that the guidelines be enforced through people who actually know what they are supposed to do

  • Certification - there should be one world-recognised competency based certification for scheduling and it should be enforced.
    proof that the individual can apply the guideline to a real world situation

In our new economic world, value for money is perhaps becoming the new hot focus. Experienced project controls professionals understand the correlation between a poorly defined/managed schedule and cost blow outs and therefore engaging those SME's to enforce guidelines is critical for our new market conditions.

What do you think?

 

 

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