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Microsoft Project 2010 : Performing a Schedule Reality Check (part 1) - Looking for Logic Errors, Schedule Estimation Methods

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3/10/2015 9:00:20 PM

During the phase of planning, you created your program of task, defined the relations of task and the dependences, and assigned all the essential resources. Hopefully you have set most or all tasks to Auto-Scheduled mode.

Many organizations require that you capture a baseline of your schedule at the end of the planning phase. You should capture a baseline of the entire project after you are satisfied that your schedule is a realistic structure for work activities. The baseline enables you to later assess the performance of the project compared to the plan as you execute the details of the project. Make sure you check your organization’s policies to determine when a baseline capture is required.

Looking for Logic Errors

Logic errors in a project occur when, for example, you forget a task or summary task while setting up your project, or schedule your tasks in the wrong order. It can be difficult to judge your own schedule as the errors might be harder to notice because of how familiar you are with it.

However, you can do some initial logic checks by answering the following questions:

  • Is all required work included in the schedule? To answer this question, review your project scope statement and your Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) to ensure that your schedule captures the full scope of your project and all work has been included.

  • Does the organization of the schedule achieve the project’s Measure of Success? When starting up any project, you define the Measure of Success, which is your metric for what it really means for your project to have successfully achieved everything you planned for it to achieve. The tasks and milestones you have defined in your schedule must represent the Measure of Success you have defined.

  • Does the schedule include all and only necessary deliverables and tasks that achieve the work in the WBS? It is important to recognize all of the project deliverables that support the Measure of Success you have defined. It is also important to remember that a successful project schedule should not include extraneous deliverables that might seem like they are needed, but are really not part of your project scope. For example, you have a house remodeling project in which you set out to replace the floors throughout the entire house. The tasks to purchase the materials, to hire the contractors, and to replace the flooring in each room of the house are all part of your scope. But the natural human thinking may lead you to consider that while you are replacing the floors, you might as well replace the doors on the interior of the house, even though it is not part of the original plan. Following this way of thinking, you can end up remodeling your entire house, even though your initial intent was to only replace the flooring. This is called scope creep and can be a dangerous scenario for any project, because scope creep is often responsible for projects finishing over budget and behind schedule. Even though the example described here may be an exaggerated one, situations similar to this occur and can lead to serious problems.

  • Are the tasks scheduled to occur in the correct order? The order of tasks can be as essential as the tasks themselves. It is important to remember that not only should tasks occur in chronological order, but you should also allow for enough slack in tasks with the most risk. For example, adopting a new technology can be a risky task because you may encounter unforeseen problems, so scheduling those tasks earlier can be beneficial and can help you avoid delays later in the project. In addition, you must ensure that each task has all of its prerequisites met. For example, you would not schedule movers to come in and load the moving truck before you have packed your belongings. Similar logic should apply to all of the tasks in your project.

A good practice for determining logic errors is to have a trusted associate or your project team look at the project for you. Make sure the reviewer understands that he or she is just looking for your logic errors by reviewing your scope, tasks, task arrangement, and planning logic. It is possible your associate will want to change your schedule because he or she might have done things differently in another project. Everyone has his or her own way of doing things, and just like everything else in Microsoft Project, there is more than one way to achieve the same result. In this case, ask the people reviewing your schedule to concentrate on your logic without focusing on trying to improve your project using his or her own standards. However, be open to the criticism, too; that is one of the best ways to learn.

Schedule Estimation Methods

Schedule estimation errors are the second type of errors you need to check against when reviewing your project schedule. Estimation errors are caused by mistakes in setting your task durations, work, and budget. There are several ways to help you resolve estimation errors.

In order to discover estimation errors, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are tasks, work, and duration estimates viable? Make sure that your work and duration estimates are realistic for all tasks. Many people underestimate, which leads to additional work, time, and in turn budget increases. Similarly, overestimating the work and duration is also undesirable because you might not be able to meet your project requirements. Ideally, your estimates should attempt to reflect the reality as closely as possible.

  • Are budget estimates viable? Budget estimates are also an important aspect of project planning. Ensuring that the budget you have allocated for your project is met and not exceeded can be the deciding point between success and failure. Ensure that the initial budget estimates you have are realistic and meet your project requirements.

In order to better understand estimation errors, it is important to review the three main estimation methods—analogous, expert judgment, and parametric duration.

Analogous Estimation Method

Analogous duration estimates simply ask the question, “What was the duration the last time we did this?” If you have been following the project management best practice of recording lessons learned at the end of each project, you have proof, which increases in accuracy with every project you complete. You can use the past performance as an estimation comparison if your previous project is similar to your current scope.

The advantage to analogous estimates is that they focus on system-level activities, such as integration, documentation, configuration management, and others. They also require minimal project detail and are usually faster and easier to develop; plus your information is readily accessible in previous Microsoft Project schedules.

The downside to analogous duration estimates is that if you do not have any previous information, you have no detailed basis for justifying your estimates. Also, because it focuses on the system level, it can be hard to identify lower-level problems that can raise costs.

Expert Judgment Estimate Method (Using PERT)

Expert judgment is a great tool to use when hard data is scarce. Former versions of Microsoft Project included a Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) analysis tool. PERT uses a network diagram analysis technique to create three estimates: Optimistic, Expected, and Pessimistic. These three estimates are then combined to estimate an activity’s duration, using a weighted statistical average of the three values. The statistical technique considers: 1 part Optimistic, 4 parts Expected, and 1 part Pessimistic, all divided by 6 parts. This method yields a weighted average duration for a given task.

Unfortunately, with Project 2010, PERT analysis is supported only with a combination of custom fields and custom code or with third-party products.

Parametric Duration Estimation Method

Finally, the parametric duration estimates are simply mathematical models used when estimating task durations. If you had a machine that produced a product at a rate of 10 units per hour and you needed to make 200 units, you are looking at 20 hours. This process produces exact estimates, but your estimate can change if you add another machine, increase the productivity, or decrease the duration of the task. Many different industries already have standard calculations, devised from years of experience, that can be used for this type of estimating.

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