Over and over again we are called to review project schedules and the one common theme in nearly 90% of cases is a lack of schedule quality. Whether it is a lack of understanding on the basic principles and rules of planning and scheduling or just the 'time-poor' factor, there does not appear to be a quality control check prior to submission of a program, which adds risk to the execution of a program.

The US Defence Contract Management Agency (DCMA) attempted to formalise 14 points of quality control measures specifically for schedule quality in 2005, which has now resulted in the availability of a suite of off-the-shelf software solutions designed to assess a project plan against these metrics. Whilst these products allow a quick review to occur, they do not entirely mitigate the risk of poor schedule quality, and it is at this point that we need to remember the intent of the 14 point assessment.

After all, a software package does not understand the project scope and therefore should not be soley relied on during a review.

The DCMA assessment may be a US based protocol, but it's principles are very relevant to any schedule regardless of location. From our point of view, the assessment is designed to increase awareness around schedule quality, it certainly does not fix your schedule!

The 14 points of assessment are as follows:

  • Logic - The number of activities that are missing a predecessor, a successor or both should not exceed 5% of the activities within the schedule.
  • Leads - This check identifies activities that are carrying a lead (also known as a negative lag). The DCMA require no leads (0%)
  • Lags - Total number of activities with lags should not exceed 5% of the activities within the schedule
  • Relationship Types - Total number of activities with Finish to Start (FS) logic links >90%. Non-typical tasks limited to < 10% of total tasks
  • Hard Constraints - Number of activities with hard or two-way constraints should not exceed 5%
  • Large Float - Number of activities with total float greater than 2 months (44 working days) should not exceed 5%
  • Negative Float - No activities that are incomplete should have total float that is less than 0 working days.
  • High Duration - The total number of activities that have a duration longer than 2 months (44 working days) should not exceed 5%
  • Invalid Dates - There should not be any invalid dates in the schedule defined as activities with planned work in the past or actual work in the future indicated by all actual dates being prior to the data date and all forecast dates being on or later than this date.
  • Resources - All incomplete tasks should have resources (hours/$) assigned. This check verifies that all tasks with durations of 1 or more days have $ or resources assigned
  • Missed Activities - Number of activities that have slipped from their baseline dates should not exceed 5%. Identifies tasks that are supposed to have been completed (prior to the status date) with actual or forecast finishes after the baseline date, OR have a finish variance greater than zero
  • Critical Path Check - This check evaluates the project’s network logic, particularly for the critical path and is a ‘what-if’ test performed directly on the schedule. Its intent is to identify a current critical path activity, to grossly extend its remaining duration, and note if a corresponding extension occurs to the project completion date
  • Critical Path Length Index (CPLI) - Calculation of the Critical Path Length Index (CPLI) verifies that the critical path makes sense and that the critical path is "believable" Ratio of critical path length + total float to the critical path length should = 1 (>1 favourable)
  • Baseline Execution Index (BEI) - Calculation of the Baseline Execution Index (BEI). BEI is the ratio of the number of tasks completed to the number that should have been completed by the status date. BEI should be > .95 (>1 favourable; <1 unfavourable)

In order to follow the protocol, the total number of activities must be defined. This formally excludes the following task types:

  • Level of Effort / Hammocks
  • WBS Summaries
  • Milestones (0 day tasks)
  • Tasks that are Complete

As well as these 14 points of validation, there are other schedule protocols out there which can provide additional checks such as:

  • Merge Points - having too many predecessors can increase the risk of an activity starting on time
  • Diverge Points - having too many successor activities means a certain task could be of high risk to others
  • Merge Hot-spots - where activities have a high number of predecessors and successors
  • Redundant Relationships - redundant relationships create confusion when interrogating a network and if removed, should not affect an activity's end date
  • Out-of-sequence Progress - tasks executed in a manner where actual progress conflicts the relationships to and from it
  • Resources on Summary Tasks - applies to Microsoft Project mainly; resources should be applied at the detail level
  • Relationships on Summary Tasks - applies to Microsoft Project mainly; relationships should be at the detailed level (child tasks) to ensure progress and forecast dates are correct

It is important to remember that the intent of these assessment points is to promote a culture of best practice scheduling, the benefits of which not only include an increased accuracy through a higher quality of plan, but an increase ins confidence for the delivery of the project. By implementing a standard set of measures, the process of gating a schedule can almost become repeatable and measurable.

There are several tools/software packages available on the market to perform these assessments:

- Acumen Fuse 
- Schedule Analyzer for the Enterprise
- Schedule Detective
- Project Analyzer
- Schedule Cracker
- Schedule Checker (With P6 EPPM) (http://www.projwebsite.com/publications/TechTip_Running_the_Check_Schedule_Feature_with_P6_EPPM.pdf)
- Open Plan

But of course, if you have time and the skills required, the majority of these check points can be analysed using a simple data dump into Excel.

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