The project scheduling conundrum

The project scheduling conundrum is simple:

We know effective scheduling makes a significant difference to project success and we know what effective scheduling looks like but in most projects, the schedule is ignored, bad scheduling practice is the norm and most projects finish late.

These are indeed ‘interesting times’: the business of scheduling and its underpinning concepts and theories underwent a revolution in the 1960s with the introduction of critical path scheduling but, since then, all that really changed until recently is the scheduling tools and the hardware they run on.

This is now changing. In the last few years new ideas have emerged, including the effective application of the Theory of Constraints (Critical Chain), Location Based Scheduling, Momentology and the Relationship Diagramming Method variation of the Critical Path Method (RD-CPM).

There has also been recognition of the need to develop an effective community of practice for schedulers including training, credentialing and a career path, supported by effective advocacy at all levels.

The planning and scheduling profession

The two major groups worldwide focused on providing a ‘home’ for planners and schedulers are Planning Planet ( and the Project Management Institute (PMI) Scheduling Community of Practice. Planning Planet is free to join; you have to be a PMI member to join the PMI Scheduling CoP.

Other resources include the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) Project Control Special Interest Groups in Melbourne and Canberra that are open to all interested professionals (not just AIPM members) and a host of LinkedIn groups. This list is far from complete but indicates the degree of interest planners and schedulers have in belonging to a group that meets their requirements. Planning Planet alone has more than 30,000 members and a significant level of daily activity on its website.

The current state of training and certification of planners and schedulers is nowhere near as healthy. PMI has offered the Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP) credential for the last four years and AACEi (Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering International) has offered the Planning and Scheduling Professional (PSP) credential for around eight years. The combined worldwide uptake is less than 2,000 qualified practitioners.

My feeling is that both of these credentials are aimed at senior schedulers with five to eight years’ experience and have essentially ‘missed the market’. The PMI-SP credential focuses on the skills needed to manager planners and schedulers—typically a PMO manager. The PSP focuses on heavy construction scheduling and is almost a pre-requisite for experts offering scheduling forensic analysis in the USA court system. For the rest of us, by the time you have a 5–8 year career track in scheduling your capabilities are known and the qualifications don’t help a lot.

What has been seriously missing is a way to train a junior scheduler in the art and practice of planning and scheduling; this is a distinctly different skill set to learning how to make a software tool work!

Certainly, the scheduling software industry have provided excellent tools based training for decades but knowing how to make a tool work is not the same as knowing why you need the tool or the ultimate objective of using the tool. It may be a surprise to many, but the objective of scheduling is NOT to create an accurate schedule! The ultimate objective of scheduling is to help the project team deliver the project on time.

There are two current initiatives focused on creating a career path for schedulers and developing a basic training framework for teaching scheduling.

The first is the creation of The International Guild of Project Planning, Controls & Delivery (The Guild) within the overall Planning Planet community. The objectives of The Guild are:

For the profession

  • To align global and industry variations in planning standards, methods and norms
  • To have regional Centres of Excellence, run transparently by the community
  • To have a globally recognised suite of best practices or standards
  • To support the ongoing efforts of existing professional bodies and organisations

For planners

  • To have their skills independently assessed and publically recognised
  • To have employers be able to validate that their skills are proven
  • To have their colleagues recognise their level of capability
  • To have the opportunity for continued professional development/career path
  • To have the opportunity to seek technical/training scholarships/mentoring

For employers

  • To have a pool of proven and graded professionals from which to employ
  • To have means of confidentially benchmarking the company planning or project team
  • To have a reference to complement internal corporate competence systems/standards

This is a huge ongoing effort that should over time create an integrated framework for the planning and scheduling profession. It is a volunteer-driven process and assistance is welcome.

Scheduling credentials

The second key initiative, driven by the recognition that planning and scheduling skills in the construction industry are severely lacking, is the development of a credential framework by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB). The CIOB has completed the publication of the Guide to Good Practice in the Management of Time in Complex Projects (The Guide) and is now working on a series of planning and scheduling credentials.

The Guide was developed as a scheduling reference document capable of wide application. It is a practical treatise on the processes to be followed and standards to be achieved in effective management of time. It can be used in any jurisdiction, under any form of contract, with any type of project and should be identified as the required standard for the preparation and updating of contract programs, progress reporting and time management.

With this foundation in place, CIOB is working to develop new contracts that encourage the proactive management of time and will launch the first of a three-level series of credentials in 2012.

The CIOB Project Time Management Certificate (PTMC) is an examination-based credential with no prerequisites where training courses are optional. The knowledge to be tested is schedule development and analysis based on a PDM network and The Guide. The examination will be in an online multiple choice format.

It’s early days, but I believe over the next couple of years planning and scheduling will start to emerge as a structured profession within the overall ambit of project management. This will be aided if the current willingness of the different organisations involved in the development of the profession to work collaboratively continues into the future.

The only way to solve the ‘scheduling conundrum’ is for the profession to collectively develop effective people through training and accreditation, and from this foundation develop a strong voice that can be heard by general management and project management.

Pat Weaver is the author of a series of articles that draws together these emerging developments and provides readers with useful information to help in this process.

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