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Practical project schedule monitoring and control. What are some of the causes of project schedule failures?

Our discussion this week focuses on project schedule management and why schedules fail.

Significant contributors to common project schedule failures include poor planning, scheduling & progress monitoring. Skilled schedulers are difficult to find, and usually expensive. The tendency is to use under-qualified/inexperienced project schedulers.

Other reasons include the difficulty to interpret schedule data and convert into management information relevant for decision making. Schedule “discipline” is usually weak – with no formal schedule change control. Schedules are often too summarized or too detailed. Project deliverable relationships become meaningless. Project progress reporting (% complete) is usually highly subjective, especially for design. Collecting the progress from the team is a nightmare!!

What do we mean by project schedule control and what does controlling involve? Here are some descriptions. In simple terms it is about measuring progress versus the plan, identifying variances in time and cost performance and then re-planning or re-scheduling as necessary.

The PMBoK Guide definition is ‘Comparing actual performance with planned performance, analyzing variances, assessing trends to effect process improvements, evaluating possible alternatives and recommending appropriate corrective action as needed.’

In the project context we need to establish processes of checking the progress of work, the quality of deliverable and also to warn of problems or acknowledge success. Some people view CONTROL as an autocratic environment with lots of red tape that slows you down. That is not what we want on a project.  A project requires an empowered environment that supports delegation of authority and individuals apply their own controls. We also need a common way of monitoring and measuring so that it is simple and quick to roll up progress information from an individual to the project’s performance within the program. That means we MUST PLAN our controls. N.B. Work includes activity or task and its output (product or deliverable)

Controlling the project schedule is concerned with: Determining current status; influencing factors that create schedule changes; Determining that schedule has changed; Managing changes as they occur. If agile approach is used in delivery, then concerned with: Determining current status by comparing completed and accepted work with estimates of work for elapsed time cycle; Conducting retrospective reviews; Reprioritising remaining work (backlog); Determining the rate of work completion (velocity) per iteration; Determining that the schedule has changed; Managing changes as they occur.

The Project manager updates schedule to get insight into the status and progress of project. A schedule should contain what was planned (baseline start, finish, duration, work, cost) actual start, finish, duration, work and cost information future estimated time and cost information

During the project execution, the “actuals” are entered into the schedule and compared with the corresponding planned values. Project manager gets scheduling information from team members and suppliers (regular updates) anyone who wants to make changes to scheduled activity. Ask the right questions! Don’t ask how far the team member is. As they’re usually 90% complete! Rather ask: How much more work is required? When will it be 100% complete?

Earned Value Management can also used

Decide up front what rule to use for reporting progress, e.g.:

50-50 rule

Get ‘”credited” with 50% on starting a task and 50% on completion

0-100 percent rule

Receive no “credit” until 100% complete

What about progress reports? When do you produce project progress reports? The frequency and format of progress reports need to agreed and documented in the project plan during the planning phase, therefore should also be scheduled in advance. Progress reporting need to be formalized and in consultation with key stakeholders in the project.

This article was written by Dr Laban Mwansa, MSP®, PMP®, PRINCE2® Practitioner, Agile®, Laban is a consultant and trainer in project management and specifically trainer/coach in PMP®, PRINCE2® Practitioner, and PRINCE2 Agile® in Zambia, South Africa and Europe for many years. He was in the executive committee of ICTAZ as technical chair. He is also the managing partner of Betaways Innovation Systems and can be reached at:, +260975280392 or WhatsApp +27817029669.

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