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By Eric Jenett – Consultant
Eric was one of the original PMPs and wrote this in 1994.
It’s still applicable today.
What makes a project scheduler successful? Ask any experienced Project Manager, and you’re likely to hear many of these:
- Dedication to project goals and priorities – not separate “scheduling” agendas.
- Thorough knowledge of scheduling techniques and ability to make a scheduling system – manual or computer-based – sit up and sing.
- Strong, constant recognition that any scheduling effort is not an end in itself. It’s a means to an end.
- Understanding of changes, major as well as subtle, that affect the project. Each change can impact resources required, project timeline, and the management role. The bottom line: The project manager has to plan, schedule, monitor, evaluate, and control the project. A great schedule keeps the “game plan” up to date.
- A focus on generating value in the project manager process. Remember, project managers view their roles as “value-add” experts.
- Constant recognition that most project participants act fundamentally like investors and treat scheduling as only one of the potential investments for their “portfolio of successful project (role) execution strategies.” Consequently, most stakeholders assess scheduling based on its “p/e (price to earnings) ratio.”
- Production of project intelligence not previously evident to the project’s participants. Scheduling generates real benefit (value added) only when it does more than regurgitate data obtained by the scheduler from others. Making a report pretty doesn’t add value. Project intelligence does.
- Sense of balance that results in consistently applying the “right” technique at the “right” level of detail to maximize value.
- Enthusiasm for the work of scheduling, a drive to perform and complete, and an ability to “look outside the box”.
- A knack for communicating with project players to identify their plans, contingencies, concerns, and perceived obstacles to progress. It’s also critical to find out needed conditions/prerequisites for performing the work efficiently and effectively.
You’ll see these 10 traits at work in great project scheduling. And, you’ll see caution. Successful project schedulers discern the “grey” areas in project management. “It’s on time.” “Yeah, that’s done.” Do you always believe everything a project stakeholder tells you?
1. You have P6.
2. You have access to the MCSI Blog.
3. Your team produces the best plans and schedules the world has ever seen.
Yet 1 + 2 + 3 do not equal marketing. There is a missing piece. To quote the old saying, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.”
Plan the details
When you use all the advanced features to develop a plan for your project, or update the schedule in a quick and efficient manner, who knows about it? The truth is: your clients, boss, or other stakeholders probably don’t care about how you use P6 or other project management tools. They only care that the job gets done. They would like it to be quick, correct, and economical, but details — they leave to you.
What does all this have to do with marketing? As a project professional, you need to make your stakeholders aware of the skills involved with development and production of the plan/schedule. This is done with marketing. It really doesn’t matter if you’re a one-person independent consultant, or the manager of a 10 or 20 person department. If you allow your clients to believe your function is to merely govern a computer program, even a program as useful and user-friendly as P6, it won’t be long before your consulting clients leave you for another consultant. Or, you become a victim of corporate downsizing. Or, worst of all, you find yourself being relegated to the status of the “kid in the mail room.”
Prove your worth
Your job, in addition to producing accurate, timely, and credible plans and schedules, is to educate your clients about your worth. If your clients perceive you as “one more layer of overhead” that costs twice as much as it’s worth, how long will your job last? On the other hand, if your client believes for every dollar he invests in you to create a plan or schedule, he gets two, or three, or even four dollars in return; then you can count on a long-term career. The purpose of the plan/schedule is to both establish a direction for the project and to communicate it to the team. It might be communication between the PM and the project team. It might be communication between one company and another or it might be between departments. You have different tools you can use to communicate. You can use the Internet, bar charts and tabular listings, logic diagrams, and resource graphs.
Part of your marketing plan should be to communicate more effectively. Managing customer expectations is vital. Ask project team members what their chief gripe is about the schedule. Almost unanimously, they’ll respond, “How can you make the reports more user-friendly?” I’d almost bet they will tell you there is too much detail. If there are 500 or 5,000 activities in your network, don’t give all the details to everyone. Try to figure out who needs what data. The PM will want different levels of reports than the head of a particular department.
Close the loop
Now that you’ve figured out how to provide something the project team wants, let everyone know what you’re doing. Keep everyone in the loop. Send out all the reports — the one with all the data and the summarized ones. Do this for a few reporting periods. Then ask if the reports are what they need. Most importantly, ask them what they don’t need. At the end of the process you have a customized report set for the whole team.
The final point in an individual’s professional development is to let people know what you’ve done. Maybe it’s putting a “CC:” to the boss or boss’ boss, or the head of the Project Managers. In each company it will be different, but the point is you have to let someone in power know you have done something valuable. You are not just pushing buttons on a computer. You are a member of the team and as such, have the ability to provide value to the team for the money they are paying. You have to keep driving toward that. Show value and you can count on a job for a long time. Do the best work in the company and don’t tell anyone about it, and you’ll soon be looking for a new position.
Do you know what DATA DATE is?
The P3 DATA DATE is the first available day to begin or continue work in your schedule.
If you haven’t started the schedule, the DATA DATE is the first workday of the schedule.
If your schedule is in progress, the DATA DATE is the next day work can begin (next workday) after your CLOSE OUT DATE.
Many people confuse DATA DATE with CLOSE OUT DATE. If you CLOSE OUT your schedule as of the last day of the month, your DATA DATE is the first day of the following month.
If you use a mixture of calendars, select the day after the CLOSE OUT DATE as your DATA DATE. If the DATA DATE is a non-work day on an individual calendar, the affected activity will begin work on the next day available on its work calendar.
To be a successful Project Manager, one must have the right skills. Below are top skills of a Project Manager who can make things happen.
1. Understands Level of Detail
A Project Manager should know enough about scheduling software not to ask for 60,000 activities on a single 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. A Project Manager simply says, “I want what I want” because he doesn’t take time to think about what he is asking.
2. Understands Software Capabilities
Some people may think: Since “it’s on the computer,” anything is possible. However, there are limits to what can be done in a given amount of time.
3. Budgets Time and Money
The best Project Managers believe in the investment of plans and schedules. The Project Manager needs to remember that, when he ‘low balls’ the hours to get the job, he limits the scheduler’s hours to do the detail required.
4. Team Player
Schedules need to be integrated to reflect all parts of a project. A common cry in construction projects is, “Develop a detailed schedule, but don’t bother the engineers; they are too busy to talk to you.” Everyone needs to be consulted. The best Project Managers are aware of that. Experienced schedulers are good at forecasting issues. Good Project Managers will utilize the warning instead of ignoring it.
5. Understands Benefits of a Schedule
The best Project Managers use a schedule to plan work, monitor progress, and analyze the impact of changes. It is not just pretty wallpaper to satisfy a contractual requirement or impress a client.
6. Doesn’t Kill the Messenger
A planner/scheduler merely reflects the situation in the field, but has no control over the actions of anyone project-related. Don’t kill the messenger because the schedule is not progressing as expected.
7. Communicates with the Team
If the Project Manager doesn’t talk to the team, tell them what he wants, what the scope of the project is, and what the client wants, he shouldn’t be surprised when no one does what he wants without being told. Planners/schedulers are not mind readers, although it would be helpful.