Have you got questions about Integrated Master Schedules (IMS)? You’re in the right place! We’re going to answer all your IMS questions.
Understanding the IMS is critical if you want to set up and run earned value services in your organisation. It’s also useful if you simply want a big picture view of all the projects within a program.
Ready? Let’s get started!
What is an Integrated Master Schedule?
An Integrated Master Schedule is a way of showing the tasks in a program. It’s very useful in providing a big picture view of what’s going on.
As the name suggests, it’s a schedule that integrates all the sub-schedules. It can include a master list of milestones, for example, across multiple projects.
Because the IMS could turn out to be huge, it’s important to get it set up efficiently using enterprise project management tools and skilled individuals who understand how the IMS links with the earned value management system.
What is the purpose of an integrated master schedule?
The point of having an integrated master schedule is so that everyone on the team has one single, consistent tool for executing the work and seeing progress against the schedule. The IMS exists to show that the schedule is structured and realistic.
If you’ve ever tried to reconcile project report information from the first month of the project with the same data points at the end of the project you might know what it feels like to have to justify why the numbers don’t look the same! An IMS gets rid of all that. You’ll be able to take an auditor through the project from kick off to close and the numbers will stay consistent with an IMS.
The data in the IMS feeds your earned value management system. For example, the critical path through the IMS and the resource assignments within it become the Performance Measurement Baseline. That’s what progress is measured against as the projects within the program move forward.
The IMS is a great communication tool and can be incorporated into project reporting (or at least, key data points can – it would be overkill to include the whole document). Stakeholders who sit at program level and above appreciate having the big picture view that the integrated master schedule offers.
What is an IMS based on?
The IMS derives from the work breakdown structure (WBS) for your program. You should be able to trace the tasks in the IMS back to the WBS items. The way the WBS is set up is often reflected in how the IMS is built.
The IMS may also refer back to the Integrated Master Plan if you use that terminology.
How is the IMS different from an Integrated Master Plan (IMP)?
If you have come across the term Integrated Master Plan (IMP) then you might be working on contracts for the US government. The IMP is a term used by the DoD, but its use isn’t widespread outside of government contracting.
An IMP is an event-driven plan. It documents events such as the completion of a particular project phase, or the delivery of an element of a project. It talks about success criteria to be met for each deliverable. You shouldn’t have calendar dates in an IMP.
On the other hand, the IMS is date-driven. It’s a tool for execution instead of planning. You can use the IMS to track progress based on calendar dates, because it’s set up to do that.
The IMS is, of course, linked to the IMP. You can’t have a schedule without the plan that sits behind it.
How is an IMS used for Earned Value?
Set up correctly, an IMS is pivotal for your earned value management system. The structure of the IMS ends up being how the earned value management system reports, so it pays to take your time and bring in some expert help to support your schedulers in getting it set up correctly from the beginning.
Ultimately, the data in the IMS becomes the status reported via your earned value management tools. You know the saying… garbage in, garbage out.
Does the IMS manage program costs?
The IMS is a scheduling tool. It’s a way of tracking project progression and seeing where you are in the delivery in terms of time. It’s not set up or designed to be a cost tracking or cost collection tool.
Who needs to be involved in creating the IMS?
As with any project planning and scheduling, you need to identify the relevant stakeholders so they can support the creation and management of the IMS. Beyond the program management team, also consider stakeholders like:
- Individual project managers and teams who may not have had experience of working in a structure with an IMS before
- User groups or client representatives
- Finance managers
- Individuals or departments who will use the earned value reports for decision making.
Involve as many stakeholders as you need to. Remember that it isn’t just project deliverables that need to be on the IMS. The whole project lifecycle should be considered and that extends out your stakeholder group to support activities at the start and end of the program.
Finally, don’t forget to engage with project schedulers. While they might be doing much of the scheduling, setting up an IMS isn’t a typical Microsoft Project task. They might not be aware of what earned value management means for project schedules if they have not worked in a company that uses earned value in the past. There is some configuration that needs to be done to ensure project reporting can take into account task dependencies, constraints and so on.
What tool do I need to use to create an IMS?
Any scheduling tool that fits within your earned value management system will do, as long as it’s enterprise-grade. We typically support people using Microsoft Project.
What are the benefits of an IMS?
The benefits are huge! Consistent reporting, a single view of the truth and compliance with ANSI 748 standards are some of them. Ultimately, an IMS supports the work you do with your client. Your client might require you to have and use an IMS.
An IMS is a systematic way to track program progress. It provides consistency with how you manage activities and a way of seeing resource utilization across a program.
If you are serious about earned value, you need to be serious about investing the time in setting up your IMS properly.