Why the fine “art” of scheduling?
If it were a science then every project would be delivered on time!
This sadly is not the case. Overruns are so common that most people have no faith in project deadlines. In truth, the art of scheduling is based on experience and the more experience you have, the more accurate your schedule will be. However, you can still produce a good schedule by following some simple rules.
One useful tool available to project managers is a Gantt chart. This is simply a visual representation of a schedule. In a Gantt chart, time is represented along a horizontal axis and tasks listed down the left-hand side. The duration of a task is then represented in the body of the graph by a horizontal bar. Milestones are usually represented by single points or diamonds.
Dependencies between tasks are also shown as linked arrows. An arrow indicates the necessary order of completion for each task and therefore the progress of the project (including the critical path).
In the above diagram you can also note that “Production Phase 1” has been broken down into three sub phases. Delivery of the “core database”, “account screens” and “sales module” have been estimated separately. Together they form the overall estimate for the first production phase and delivery of the Alpha version milestone. Note that either different people are working on the “core database” and “account screens” (since they are happening in parallel) or someone is working overtime!
While this visualisation can be a great help in organising a schedule it should be remembered that the Gantt chart is only a tool. The project manager who constructs the most elaborate and pleasing Gantt chart is not necessarily the one who will complete his project on time. Far too often project managers are lured into the intricacies of artefacts like Gantt charts and spend more time constructing them than managing the project. A Gantt chart helps you design, monitor or communicate a schedule. If it does none of these — then it is simply a useless but pretty toy.
Nick Jenkins is an IT manager with 10 years experience in software development, project management and software testing. He’s worked in various fields of IT development in Australia, Britain and the USA and occasionally he learned something along the way. Now he lives on the banks of the Swan River in Perth, Western Australia, and he publishes the odd guide to help aspiring IT professionals. Nick’s website can be found at www.nickjenkins.net.