Summary: When I learned Project Management in Undergraduate and Graduate studies, I remember scheduling taking a center stage. We were taught everything about scheduling, its models, relationships, PERT, CPM, PDM, dependencies, etc. Today, most projects are succeeding or failing, for reasons other than how “perfect” or “imperfect” the project schedule is. Furthermore, I feel that the love that engineers have to the scheduling and its intricacies has counterproductive effect on the project. This is why the role of scheduling and its value needs serious and brave reconsideration.
When I teach project management for PMP candidates, you can immediately see how engineers and programmers love the part related to scheduling; it is common sense to them, and puts them in their comfort zone: 1+1=2. However, in the context of the project management knowledge, scheduling techniques are taking less and less percentage over the years. The domains of knowledge of project management are being enriched in the areas of stakeholders management, soft skills, leadership, risk management, etc, and less attention is given to scheduling. This is important as project management is about value, people, and interactions, beyond what a scheduling model can describe. In Project Management, one of the most detrimental things a manager could do to the project is to assume that the project models, including the schedule, to be the absolute truth. Models are there to help us comprehend reality, not to replace reality. So, to rely completely on analytic models in project management is like fooling oneself that everything in project management is as simple as a formula to calculate the forward pass. Understanding the way of thinking of your key stakeholder, or making sure they can imagine the value the project will deliver might be more important than any schedule or cost baseline. Also, a market that is stalling, or a cash-flow that is dwindling due to external factors, might not show on your schedule or cost forecast if you do not stay alert to what the world is telling you about the project and its environment. GIGO my professor used to tell me about models: Garbage In Garbage Out. What we put in the model, and what we know about what the model cannot represent might be more important than the model itself. KISS another professor used to tell us: Keep IT Simple (lets skip the last S), and definitely this is more relevant today than any other time. if we start complicating models, then changing them will be become very hard, especially in the fast paced world of today’s projects. So, what is a project manager to do? in addition to the above advice, it is important to stay close to the stakeholders, get used to working in a grey zone of “mushy” information that is not a product of a cast in stone analytic model. This includes “feeling” the vibes from the stakeholder, learning to build decisions on bet available information, not just data. Also, keep your toughest critics close, so they help you improve on your plans.