VIE WPOIN TS
VOICES ON PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Project managers need to save scheduling from extinction—and save some
projects from failing in the process. BY DAN PATTERSON, PhD, PMP
I’ve noticed a surprising trend during the economic downturn: Fewer capital expenditure projects were being sanctioned and funded, but the need for third-party assistance with schedule analysis and
risk assessments actually increased dramatically. This
phenomenon indicates a threat to the field of project
management—the gradual extinction of the savvy project scheduler.
Available software tools are more powerful than ever.
Although this software provides collaborative, web-based,
multi-user capabilities, project managers still struggle to
bring projects in successfully under the triple constraint of
cost, time and scope.
Project management boils down to “planning the
work” and “working the plan.”
Critical path method (CPM) scheduling is the de facto
standard for scheduling projects. Estimating durations,
sequencing work and assigning resources are all common
steps. Yet all too often, project managers who follow this
method wind up with a plan that is either unachievable
A major mistake is to jump straight into the development of the planned work rather than adopt a more formal, top-down approach that better establishes the work
breakdown structure (WBS). Project managers should
only detail out the work once they have defined the project
objectives, elaborated the scope definition and expanded
The WBS of a well-developed schedule should show the
entire scope of the project, with the underlying required
work encapsulated as activities. Project plans often omit
this formal structure, and that oversight inevitably leads to
not only forecasted completion dates, but also confidence
levels for the probability that the completion date will be
The term risk analysis tends to convey the influence
of circumstances such as inclement weather or mechanical failure. In my experience, I have discovered that 75
percent of the risk exposure within projects actually comes
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Historically, scheduling has been a deterministic science in
which activities have definitive durations and single-point
cost estimates. This approach is being replaced by estimates that, combined with risk-analysis techniques, give
Turning good intentions into positive outcomes—
that’s what project managers do, said former U.S.
President Bill Clinton at PMI Global Congress 2010—
North America in October. Go to the blog to read
more about his speech and the specific challenges
facing project managers in the modern world.