Schedule analysis is a way to check that your project schedule is built flexibly and robustly. It’s a set of checks that help build confidence in the dates, dependencies and resource allocations required to deliver the work.
During a schedule analysis exercise, we’re looking for two things:
- How well is the schedule built? This relates to schedule construction.
- How well is the schedule being maintained? This relates to schedule execution.
We use appropriate national, international and government standards for schedule analysis, including the DCMA 14-point assessment. Let’s look at what it means to review construction and execution as part of schedule analysis.
At the beginning of a project, during the planning phases, schedule analysis focuses on how well the schedule is built. You might not yet have delivered very much, so the effort is on making sure the plan itself is accurate, robust and ready for the team to use on a daily basis.
The schedule should be built in a way that allows it to update dynamically in response to project activities. There should be a clear flow through of dependencies with tasks having predecessor and successor activities where relevant.
Adding that logic helps with dynamic updates if something should change, and reduces the risk of a task falling behind or being overlooked. It also reduces the chance of manual error, for example having to manually key in dates instead of them being auto-calculated by the tool. Try to minimize the number of activities with non-straightforward logic.
We always look for manually scheduled tasks, and those that use a dependency relationship that is not Finish-to-Start. Those are the tasks that are more complicated to schedule, so we look for ways to breakdown and structure the plan so we can bring simplicity to the work instead of relying on more complex data manipulation. Similarly, we try to reduce leads and lags because those also add a layer of schedule complexity that most projects are better without.
All the work should be included, in a structured, logical breakdown. There should be clear start and finish dates planned and any uncertainty should be adequately managed. The critical path should be clear, and full of only useful activities. Sometimes we see a critical path where a management activity forms part of the chain, and that doesn’t feel right. It’s always worth a manual review of the critical path tasks to ensure they are truly the activities that drive the completion date.
Construction goes beyond simply how the data is added into Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project. It relates to the assumptions and estimates that form the schedule data. The goal is to provide confidence that the schedule will reliably predict how the work is going to go, so the resource estimates need to be understood and robust.
When everyone is happy with the schedule, you can take a baseline. That makes it easier to manage delivery and monitor the work – and it helps with the next type of analysis.
If you are further along in the project, schedule analysis focuses more on reviewing how the schedule is being used as a daily work tool. As the project activities are completed, the schedule should be maintained in as near real-time as possible.
At this stage, analysis looks at who is doing the tracking (preferably skilled schedulers), how updates are incorporated into the software and when, and how work is progressing in comparison to the baseline data.
The actual progress should be recorded in the schedule. There are a number of ways to do this, including percent complete, and the method of tracking progress should have been documented prior to the project starting. Progress should be recorded in line with whatever tracking method has been agreed.
Variances should be documented with some narrative to describe what has happened and what the resolution plan is. If the variance is substantive, that might generate a change request if the resolution falls out of tolerance. Schedule analysis at this point makes sure all of these best practices are happening regularly and the right people are engaged. Everything should be documented to provide a complete audit trail.
While scheduling best practice training isn’t compulsory, we strongly recommend that the people updating the tool know as much as possible about the discipline of scheduling. One wrong task update can make a big difference to your client report.
We recommend schedules are updated at least monthly, preferably more often. The exact timetable for updates very much depends on your project, the duration of tasks and what stage the work is at. A project in the planning phases might be able to update the schedule monthly. A project in the middle of execution may benefit from weekly updates, or even daily updates. It very much depends on the project.
When we manage a client’s schedule, we set a timetable that suits both them and their client, and that may change throughout the life of the project. The exact date that a schedule is updated normally depends on their governance cycle and when they need to be preparing earned value analysis reports for the client.
Both types of schedule analysis – the ‘build’ and ‘maintain’ – are important. The first round of analysis helps the team construct a robust, reliable schedule. The second looks at how well the schedule is being used as a work tool to support delivery.
Both pieces of work are necessary to provide the confidence levels required to go into large and small projects knowing that what has been planned is realistic and achievable. We know there might be changes along the way, but when all the work is planned and controlled, those changes can be minimized.