Project scheduling tools and techniques used in develop schedule process are not just important only for the PMP exam. But also very important for every project manager to understand these concepts and implement these project scheduling tools and techniques in their projects.
In this post we will discuss about critical path method as one of the tools, and hence just in case if you are not familiar with this topic, please read through my detailed blog post on critical path method (CPM).
Project Scheduling Tools And Techniques
Following are the project scheduling tools and techniques used in developing schedule process.
- Critical path method (CPM)
- Critical chain method
- Schedule compression techniques
- Fast tracking
- Resource optimization techniques
- Leveling the resource across the project – Resource leveling
- Balancing the resource demand vs supply – Resource smoothing
- Modelling techniques
- What-if analysis
- Simulation (Monte Carlo analysis)
- Leads and Lags
- Scheduling Tool
- Schedule network analysis
Critical Path Method (CPM)
Critical path is the longest duration path in the project schedule network diagram. And the method to find the critical path is called critical path method (CPM). If any of the activities in the critical path delays, that will delay the whole project. Critical path is mainly used to find out
- Activities which are at high risk in the project
- Float of each activity, which is not on critical path
- What is the project’s end date
Please read through the detailed blog post on critical path method (CPM) in order to familiar with the critical path concept, which is very important for the PMP exam.
The critical path method is one of most important project scheduling tools and techniques used for developing project schedule.
Critical Chain Method
Critical path method (CPM) only considers the dependencies in the project. It assumes that resources are available across the project duration for use. However practically you may see resource constraints on the projects.
Also while getting the activity durations from the project team, the team may provide the activity durations by considering implicit buffers for every activity. Adding buffers to every task or activity is
unethical, as it increases the project cost.
On the other hand, critical chain method considers resource constraints as well as dependencies. Also critical chain method assumed no buffer at activity level, and assumes buffer only at critical milestones of the project or towards the end of the project to deal with any uncertainties in the project.
Once important point to remember in critical chain method is that, the project team does not know about the buffer, as the buffer is not at the activity level. Hence project team still targets the completion of activities according to the activity duration (without any implicit/explicit buffer), thus overcoming the student syndrome. Student syndrome in project management is a term that refers to the practice of people not starting majority of their work until the last possible minute.
Schedule compression techniques
In short, fast tracking and crashing are the schedule compression techniques used, when the project schedule or some of the activities in the schedule has chances of slippages.
A detailed blog post is created on what is schedule compression techniques and how are they used in project?
As part of project scheduling tools and techniques, schedule compression techniques are very handy for the project manager to shorten the schedule.
Crashing is a schedule compression technique which will add more resources to the activities to shorten the schedule.
On the other hand, fast tracking is about identifying the activities that can run in parallel to the portion or extent of the schedule.
Resource optimization techniques
When scheduling the project initially, we only focus on the sequence of activities and their dependencies. This may result in unrealistic resource requirements. By applying resource optimization techniques we can make sure that the planning of resource utilization across schedule is done in a realistic manner, usually according to the organization policies. There are two resource optimization techniques available. They are
- Resource Leveling
- Resource Smoothing
Leveling the resource across project – Resource Leveling
Eventually resource leveling is the first resource optimization technique used in developing the project schedule process. Resource leveling apply the resource constraints on project activities to adjust the start date or end date of the activities depending on the availability and Predefined threshold set for the resource usage.
For example, considering the dependency of the activities, they are sequenced and some of the resources are planned to working more than 45 hours a week. However organization policy is to work only 8 hours a day for a 5 day week, then the project manager has to apply resource leveling technique to adjust the project activities and may be the schedule to consider this limit of 40 hours a week usage for every resource.
Balancing the resources demand vs supply – Resource smoothing
After the resource leveling is done on the project, still you may see some resources are overly used during some portion of the project schedule. Although the overall threshold limits are met after applying the resource leveling, the resource demands might not be balanced with respect to the supply of the resources.
Eventually resource smoothing is to ensure that the resource demand is balanced over a period of time, considering the resource supply.
Meaning that If a resource is plan to work more hours in the early phase of the project, and less in the later phase of the project, resource smoothing will try to balance the resource usage for the whole duration of the project, where possible.
Again for the purpose of resource smoothing, project schedules must not change in the normal circumstances. Hence the project manager needs to see the available floats or slacks across the activities and accordingly the resource smoothing technique must apply without impacting the project schdules.
There are primarily two modelling techniques to model the uncertainties in the project. They are
- what if analysis
Sometimes it make sense to think about all possible problems in the project, by predicting what and all can go wrong in the project. What if analysis is a popular technique, that determines all the possible uncertainties in the project. This techniques is about thinking about everything that may go wrong in the project. This technique will use a questionnaire with the format of question as “What if something goes wrong?”.
For example what if resource is not available for during a specific activity. This way you can figure out the ways to deal with such problem occurrences.
What-If analysis is a very popular technique during the risk management of the project.
Simulation (Monte Carlo analysis)
The same what if analysis or risk analysis done using a computer algorithm to model the uncertainties in the project. In this method, you assume different project durations and assumptions to consider the uncertainty in the project.
While this is not a commonly used technique in project management, some project managers use this method as an extremely useful one.
Leads and Lags
We have seen leads and lags in previous blog post on dependencies in project management. These are useful techniques while developing schedule of the project.
In short, lag is introducing a delay on the success activity, with respect to its predecessor activity.
On the contrary a lead is a certain amount of time, a successor activity can advance with respect to its predecessor activity.
Eventually a scheduling tool helps you to
- chart out the activities in the projects
- Mark the relationships or dependencies among activities
- Apply leads, lags, schedule compression and resource leveling techniques
- Specify duration with which the tool calculates automatically the schedule of the project
- Automatic updates to the project schedule when any of these parameters change or adjust.
Many of us know and use some or the other project scheduling tools such MS project, and Open Project, etc.
Schedule network analysis
Schedule network analysis about what we have learned so far on how to analyze the project schedule activities using various methods that includes
- Creating the network diagram
- Figuring out the critical path using critical path method (CPM)
- Finding the float using the critical path
- Finding out the early start, early finish, late start and late finish
To conclude with, we have seen several project scheduling tools and techniques used in develop project schedule process as part of time management knowledge area.
We have touched some important project scheduling tools and techniques such as fast tracking and crashing. These project scheduling tools and techniques are very handy for the project manager to shorten the schedule.
Also we have seen how project manager uses project scheduling tools and techniques such as resource optimization techniques such as resource leveling and resource smoothing to balance the resource demand versus supply.
Finally we have concluded by understanding the other tools in developing the project schedule such as modelling tools, leads and lags, schedule tool, schedule network analysis, critical path method (CPM) and critical chain method (CCM).