A Schedule Complexity Model

In this blog, I am going to introduce you to the concept of a schedule complexity model.

Why did I write this blog?

The answer is simple… I wanted to change the belief that some project managers have regarding resource loaded schedules. In short, many project managers believe that we must capture and track resources and/or costs in our project schedules. This is known as resource loading.

The fact is that we don’t need to resource load our schedules for every project despite what you may have heard. We don’t need to track resources or costs in every project. We should track resources or costs if there is an actual need.

So without further ado, let’s introduce our schedule maturity model…

Introducing the Schedule Maturity Model

Our project schedule can be used to manage several different elements. These elements I am referring to are time, resources, and costs. The reality is that we don’t need to manage all of these in our project schedule. In other words, we don’t need to resource load our schedules in every situation.

I often hear project managers state that you must manage resources and costs in your schedule for it to be effective. This statement is simply not true! We can effectively manage a project without ever loading a single resource or cost into the schedule.

In fact, most of the projects I have worked on have not had resources or costs loaded into the schedule. These project environments just didn’t require that level of complexity. So let’s introduce the schedule complexity model and then we can dig deeper into each level…

Level 1: Time Management

First and foremost, we know that the schedule is going to be used to manage time. After all, that is what a schedule is about. Our schedule is intended to manage the element of time.

Our tasks will have task relationships, forecasted start dates, forecasted finish dates, and forecasted durations. We can use the schedule to forecast when key milestones will be achieved and we can even forecast when the project will be completed.

At Level 1, we will not assign any resources but we will assign responsibility for completion of the tasks. I typically do this with a custom text field that I rename as ‘Assigned To’. This could be the person or group doing the work or it could be the person responsible for overseeing the work.

It is important to note that this is not the same thing as assigning resources. We are simply assigning someone that is responsible for performance of the work and reporting task progress.

Once project execution begins, Level 1 requires a mechanism for updating task progress, also called statusing the schedule. No integration with labor management systems, supply systems, or cost/accounting systems is required at Level 1. We are not measuring work. We are not recording costs. We only managing time.

This is the easiest schedule complexity level available to us and I have used it successfully on many projects. Take a look at the below screen capture for an example of a schedule built at Level 1 complexity. Notice that we are simply tracking our dates, durations, and responsibility for each task.

Level 2: Resource Management

Once we have achieved Level 1 and we are successfully managing the element of time, we can then choose to add the element of resource management to our schedule. We do this by simply assigning resource usage forecasts to our tasks instead of assigning responsibility.

For this discussion we will categorize resources as time-based resources or usage/quantity-based resources.

  • Time-based resources can include personnel, specialized tools, or machinery that will perform work on an hourly basis or any other time-based unit of measure. We need to schedule the use of these resources taking into account when they are available. And we are looking to identify how many hours of work the person, tool, or machinery is required to complete the task.
  • Usage/quantity-based resources include materials or other items that are issued based on some required quantity. For these resources, we can estimate utilization requirements. We are looking to identify how many items we need to complete the task.

Do we need to do this for every resource? Not necessarily. At a minimum, we need to do this for our resources that need close monitoring. Maybe they are shared resources that are in high demand. Maybe they are controlled items that need to be tied to task control accounts.

The point is that at Level 2, we don’t need to track and manage every resource required for our project. But, we are going to track resources in our schedule. We just need to determine which resources we need to manage. It could be all of them. Or it could just be a portion of them.

And as we start to capture our resource utilization requirements, we should integrate our labor management system into our schedule so that we can capture actual hours worked by each resource. And we should also integrate our supply inventory system into our schedule so that we can capture actual material quantities issued and used.

If we are estimating resource utilization requirements, we absolutely should be tracking actual usage to see if our estimates were correct. Note that if you do not have a mechanism to capture actual usage rates, you will not be effectively managing resource utilization.

Simply forecasting what you think you will need is great, but we should be comparing these forecasts to actual usage data. If you can’t track resource utilization actuals then Level 1 is probably the right level of scheduling complexity for your organization.

See the below screen capture for an example of a Level 2 schedule. Notice that we built off of a Level 1 schedule and we are now tracking work values and resource assignments for each task.

Level 3: Cost Management

If we have successfully implemented Level 2, we are now ready to consider Level 3 if the need arises to track costs. We do this by simply assigning forecasted cost values to our resources and identifying other direct project forecasted costs.

We will identify forecasted labor costs by inputting an hourly rate per resource. We will identify material usage forecasted costs by inputting the forecasted cost per unit of issue or per item. We will account for other direct project forecasted costs such as travel funding requirements or other budgeted items.

As we do this, we should integrate our project schedule into our cost accounting systems. Once again, if we are estimating costs, we should have some mechanism in place to record actual costs so that they can be compared to our forecasts. If we can’t get actual cost data, then Level 2 may be the right level for your organization.

See the below screen capture for an example of a Level 3 schedule. Notice that we now added the element of cost to the schedule for each task.

Which Level is Right for my Project?

Now that we have been introduced to all three levels, lets bring this blog home by discussing which schedule complexity level is right for your project or for your organization.

Level 1 Considerations

We first need to accept that Level 1 is our starting point. That’s right. We first need to accept that we can successfully manage a project without tracking a single resource or single cost in our project schedule if the project environment supports this.

If we simply need to manage the element of time in our schedule, then we stay at Level 1. As I mentioned, I have successfully managed many projects at Level 1. So this is our starting point. This does not mean that we are not managing resources or costs. We can still manage resources and costs at the project level. We just won’t be doing this management in the schedule.

Level 2 Considerations

If we do need to manage resources at the task level, we can then consider Level 2. We should consider Level 2 if we have scarce resources that we are sharing with other projects or if there are materials that we need to manage.

Sure we want to manage resources and materials on our project, but at Level 2 we are going to be managing resource utilization requirements at the task level. And then we will be tracking the actual utilization of these resources at the task level. This is drastically different than managing resources at the project level.

If we need to manage some or all of our resources at the task level, not at the project level, then Level 2 is for you. Determine which resources you need to manage and start tracking them in your schedule.

Level 3 Considerations

Finally, if we are managing resources, we then need to determine if we need to track costs for these resources on a per task basis.

Once again, every project manager wants to track project costs in general. But at Level 3, we are talking about tracking costs at the task level. If we need to manage our costs at the task level, then Level 3 is for you. If you are fine tracking costs at the project level, then stay with Level 2.

Conclusion

This schedule complexity model establishes a framework that we can use to help us determine what element we desire to track in our schedules. We see that we can track time, resources, or costs in our schedule. We need to pick the level of schedule complexity that fits our project and our organization. You may find that Level 1 fits your needs on most projects.

In closing, pick the level of schedule complexity based on the needs of the project. Don’t just jump into a Level 2 or Level 3 simply because we know we can. That results in a lot of wasted time and energy. There should be a real need to track resources or costs at the task level. Level 2 or Level 3 should not be implemented simply because of a want.

Want to learn more? Check out our e-learning site at https://training.baselineachieved.com or email us at support@bl-ach.com

About the Author: Jason Grabowski

Jason Grabowski

Jason Grabowski is the Managing Director and a Professional Consultant for Baseline Achieved, a company dedicated to improving scheduling practices in organizations. Jason is an experienced senior project scheduler and schedule analyst. He is currently the Lead Scheduler for the $6.5 billion AT&T FirstNet program. Jason is also the author of the powerful Microsoft Project add-in Project X-Ray.

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