Planning and Scheduling

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Most people who are not professional project managers, build plans without much rigor. For simple endeavors, this can be just enough structure to get to done.

We have already discussed in our Planning and Goals Post about defining what done looks like. In this post, we are going to talk about how to put a schedule together, and how to think about resourcing the plan. This is a conversation about When and Who.


Schedules and resources are inextricably linked together. Your ability to accomplish the What by When of a goal, is determined by the ability and availability of the Who. But the starting point of a schedule is a sequence. These activities in some order will get to done. The order is determined by dependencies. Dependencies are simply an inability to start some activity until some other activity is finished.

What are the benefits of building the schedule to achieve a goal?

  • to get buy in when people realize you already know how to get to “done”.
  • to get resources to commit when they can see how much and when they will need to be available to work.
  • it provides a benchmark that you can measure yourself against along the way to see if you are on schedule.
  • to build excitement for the “done” state by being able to measure progress is a good way.
  • to manage expectations by being able to measure progress and project where you might disappoint.
  • to figure out the impact to the overall plan when resources don’t/can’t meet their commitments.
  • to allow us to make decisions independent any aspect of the schedule by separating the activities from the resourcing from the sequencing

Follow these steps to create a schedule that can provide these benefits:

1) List ALL the activities first. — OK this is a complete fabrication – you don’t actually know all the activities first. It is really your first draft. List all the activities you can think of. Then as you go thought the following steps, continue to add activities.

2) Identify dependencies. – for all of the activities that you have listed, think through what needs to happen before you can start or finish these activities. I bet that you will not only identify dependencies, but additional activities that you didn’t think of in step 1. Add these activities into your list and note all dependencies.

3) Order the list. – so that no dependent activity is before the activity it is dependent on. Highlight the activities that other things are dependent on. What you will notice is that sometimes there are activities that can happen at the same time, and other times there can only be one activity happening. Call out these “only one activities” as your critical activities. Each activity gets a sequence number. Some activities that can be done at the same time will have the same sequence number.

4) Align resources. – understand the resources at your disposable, understand activities that can go “faster” with more resources. Assign all of the “able” resources to every activity that can go faster with more resources. Assign the “best” resource to activities that cannot. Look at the clusters of resources, and the sequence numbers where some resources are aligned with multiple activities. With an understanding of how much time your resources can give to you and who might be best suited to accomplish any activities within that sequence number, and carefully align the most suitable resources with each activity.

5) Assign a reasonable time frame. – to accomplish each activity. Different activities act differently in the way they take time. Some activities are event driven – meaning there are specific calendar events when the activity can happen – like Sunday service. Other events are resource driven – meaning that the more people you have, the faster they can be completed. Use your resource alignments to estimate time required. Still other activities are effort driven, meaning that they cannot be divided across people, and so it is really the availability of a specific resource that drives the rate at which it can be completed. This may cause you to adjust resource alignment. The last activities are consensus activities – where we need to get agreement from a group of people. You all know how long that can take, and how unpredictable it is. So since this is a plan, it represents what you know today. It is not a “commitment”, a “promise”, or a “sure thing”.

6) Summarize the duration. – take the longest frame from each sequence number group, and add them all up. That is the duration of the plan.

7) Determine when the plan will start. – decide how much ramp-up, socialization, commitment, fund-raising time will be required to get the project off the ground. Pick a start date based on that.

8) Formalize the schedule. – Assign the start dates and end dates to every activity based on the start date and the activity time frame.

Remember in step 1 when I said “you don’t actually know all the activities first”? You probably still don’t. Plans are living documents that should change as you learn. Plans are emergent – meaning that as you execute activities, details about those activities, future activities, and unknown activities can emerge. I always think of Donald Rumsfeld’s sound bite about “Unknown Unknowns” here. Decisions that had not been anticipated must be made. Smart leaders adjust the plan to account for new information as it emerges. General Helmuth Graf vVon Moltke famously said “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength”. While many people quote this as a way of saying that planning is a futile activity – von Moltke was a meticulous battle planner, often documenting as many as 4 or 5 contingency plans. I think for our purposes, simply having a plan, and adjusting it as information emerges is sufficient.

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