Sunday, September 24, 2006

Scheduling As An Art

This weekend I had the opportunity to crack open my PMI resources.  Generally I keep quite about it, but some time ago in years gone by I held a PMP certification after extensive training.  After learning and practicing I found most of my work held a more technical slant than that found purely in the project manager space.  The funny part is that the blokes I'm currently working with seem to think they wrote the book on the subject even as we flounder with something as simple as a project plan.  Not that a project plan is ever really simple.

Of course if you have too many cooks, the menu is under debate and no recipes in sight even for the dishes you can agree on, expectations for gastronomic delight are minimal at best.

Keeping a friendly face on the stewing brew was sufficient cause for me to brush off my books for a surface scan on the subject of scheduling.  It really does take skill and will to pull a proper plan together.  Then again so does life.  In the words of Samuel Butler...
Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.
My two step formula for creating a clear, defensible, precise plan that can easily be tracked, is straight-forward to modify, and is concise enough to explain?
  1. Turn on automatic leveling.
  2. Lay out the titles and durations of each task.
  3. Link tasks to their predecessors.
  4. Assign resources.
  5. Stop screwing with it.
It's not incredible sexy but I've used it hundreds of times and it works.  Start adding steps, and you are sure to take a wrong one.

The point I make by the above over-simplification is that laying out the plan shouldn't be a grueling ordeal of creativity and algebra.  A clear organization of fundamental data points will usually yield way more value than lots of groups, custom fields and extended analysis.

Having said all that, once you have to start tracking work, all bets are off.  The skills are different, the tools can be different, and personal style is a huge factor in the success of your choices.  Which is why I tend to be very simple when figuring out what needs to be done, how long it will take, and how many resources are required.  Because once you start executing, all the rules are changed, the race has begun and you need all the energy you can afford.  Plan simply, so you can simply succeed.