Time scheduling – The hammer of project management?

If you have only a hammer as a tool, you see a nail in every problem. Mark Twain is credited with the bon mot ” If you have only a hammer as a tool, you see a nail in every problem”. Even if it is not clear beyond doubt who is actually the author of this statement, it remains probably the most succinct formulation for “Maslow’s hammer

So what does this have to do with project management?

When it comes to project management software, I often observe that users try to achieve a wide variety of goals with just one tool, namely scheduling. You can’t blame them, because many project management tools tempt users to do just that.

In the process, schedules are created from hundreds or thousands of daily tasks. It is not uncommon for me to also encounter tasks in question form, such as “Specification released?”, “Customer presentation done?” and so on, provided with duration, deadline and task links.

Over-detailed planning takes its revenge in the project

The dilemma: Such plans are only pseudo precise, with many detailed deadlines calculated from activity links. Although everyone involved actually knows that in larger projects no activity is completed to the day. Nevertheless, everyone pretends that the plan is exactly right.

Also, the practice of managing resource utilization by linking all the tasks of a particular person one after the other only works well until you have to change the planning. Then the whole scheduling structure is no longer right. But the scheduling tool continues to calculate the dates mercilessly according to the network plan. The more detailed the plan is, the more time-consuming it is to make changes in the course of the project. You move one task and many others move with it – but unfortunately not in the way you would have expected. You no longer understand your own, overly complicated network plan and require a great deal of rescheduling effort for new fake precision. Some people leave the plan unchanged and start improvising instead

Use the entire toolbox

Here it is obvious to think of agile approaches as an alternative. But you don’t necessarily have to change your project management completely. Many experienced project managers say: “Agile is nothing new. With me, it’s just not a task board, but a good old open points list.” And that’s exactly the key. Plan only as precisely as necessary and as really useful. The motto here is: Better good rough planning than poor detailed planning. Even if the rough plan probably doesn’t come in as thought, it’s much easier to correct and makes the impact on the project more readily apparent.

For detailed issues, a list of open items (LOP) with clearly defined responsibilities is the tool of choice. And for anything you want to schedule in question form, checklists that are reviewed regularly as the project progresses are helpful. If not met, put an action on your LOP. And perhaps you record and monitor risks and define countermeasures to take timely and effective countermeasures. This usually puts you in a much better position for a successful project.

So: Only use the hammer for nails. For everything else, feel free to pick up pliers, screwdriver or wrench!

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