LearnShareProsper logo Boosting Business_Performance Adele Sommers
by Adele Sommers, Ph.D.
 www.LearnShareProsper.com Adele@LearnShareProsper.com 
In This Issue

October 2020
Volume 16, Issue 10

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Below find this month’s newsletter, hot off the press!

  • Feature Article: A Simple Project Scheduling Technique That Can Boost Your Chances of Finishing On Time

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Note from the Author

What’s Your Scheduling IQ (Insight Quotient)?

Using one's imaginationSeveral months ago, I wrote a two-part article series entitled, “Estimating Is an Incredible Mind Game.” In Part 1 of that series, I explored some of the most challenging reasons why I still fall into estimating traps at times, such as when I’m trying to determine how much effort a given project will take.

If I had a crystal ball that could help me predict in advance, for example, whether my estimates will allow enough time to fulfill the project goals, it would be enormously helpful!

But since crystal balls seem to be in short supply these days, we all need to depend on other types of tools, tips, tricks, and techniques to guide us like a laser beam to an accurate set of figures, forecasts, and timetables.

That’s why I thought it would be particularly fitting to devote this issue to the topic of scheduling — not because we can tame the trek of time, but because we can find ways of working with it so that it won’t trample all over us.

I hope you enjoy this month’s features, and please be sure to share your thoughts on this topic on my Facebook page!

Here’s to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, Ph.D., business improvement specialist, author, educator, and award-winning instructional designer

P.S. If you missed any previous issue, please visit the newsletter archive!

Special Message

Are You Battling a Bottleneck?

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we bite off more than we can chew — or find that a mundane flow of project activities is suddenly backlogged and threatens to derail our ability to complete the project on time.

If your progress reports show too much work to accomplish in the time available, try to assess where the bottlenecks (constraints) exist in the workflow. The theory of constraints tells us that in any workflow, there’s always a pinching point somewhere. Whether you discover the blockade through simple observation or via sophisticated computer modeling, you can brainstorm a variety of ways to relieve it.

Possible bottleneck in the workflowFor instance, you could focus all attention on supplying resources to the bottleneck. You could possibly accelerate the flow of the work by relieving some performers of time-consuming tasks. Consider whether some jobs that generalists perform could occur in assembly line mode, where specialists step in to handle some of the workload.

For example, let’s say that highly skilled designers (generalists) would normally do a large amount of editing and formatting as part of their roles. Yet they can easily become bogged down in those painstaking tasks.

So you might investigate whether using specialized editors and formatters could remove that burden from the generalists’ shoulders, leaving them to concentrate on the remainder of what they do best. Shifting the workload around in this way could reduce pressure, speed up the work, and potentially save the day for the project!

Feature Article

A Simple Project Scheduling Technique That Can
Boost Your Chances of Finishing On Time

by Adele Sommers

Must scheduling a project be a complex conundrum? Certainly, there’s a science to the process and a method to the madness, particularly for large endeavors. But for smaller efforts, it needn’t be a scary exercise that requires sophisticated software.

Planning a project schedule can involve a fun, down-to-earth, low-tech approach that anyone can do. You start by identifying activities and milestones that your project will require. Then you put the activities and milestones into some kind of sequence.

This article describes a team-oriented technique that will help you plan out your schedule requirements. By working with basic materials, you and your team can roll up your sleeves and create a timeline mural that shows exactly where your project activities and milestones will occur. And by creating this timeline both backwards and forwards, you’ll be “meeting yourselves in the middle” with a realistic plan.

A Few Definitions Before We Get Started...

Constructing a project scheduleActivities are components of work performed during the project to produce and deliver the products, services, or results. They usually include the tasks associated with planning, analyzing requirements, designing, developing, testing, implementation, rollout, and so forth. Those activities might occur in a serial fashion, but more than likely, some will overlap and run in parallel with others.

Activities are typically derived from a work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS can organize and define the scope of a project by subdividing the project deliverables and effort into smaller, more manageable chunks. Even if your project won’t be using a WBS, your team can brainstorm the activities that should occur using the exercises below.

Milestones have no time duration themselves, but they symbolically synchronize the events on the project. Milestones can serve as gates to ensure that all of the required activities occur before moving to the next stage. Milestones that you might want to recognize on the schedule include contractual dates, events, meetings, reviews, the completion of deliverables, decision points, vendor deliveries, approval dates, project deliveries, and so on.

Planning a Schedule with Activities, Milestones, and Dates

Use this fun and fruitful exercise to get everyone’s input on scheduling, and ensure that there’s complete consensus and buy-in!

Pencil iconStep 1: Brainstorm activities and milestones

Instructions: Invite the project team, management, and anyone else who’s involved in the planning process to participate. To get the ball rolling, start by taping a long piece of butcher paper (or several flip chart sheets) to the wall. Then...

1) Brainstorm the activities to be performed, followed by the related milestones, as explained in the definitions above. (You could do this in multiple passes, if desired).

2) Record these ideas on sticky notes using two different colors, one for activities and the other for milestones.

3) Place them randomly on the paper in two unsorted groups to begin with.

Brainstorming activities and milestones 

Pencil iconStep 2: Sequence the activities

Instructions: As a group, gather around the sticky-note collection and:

1) Begin to place the activities in some kind of logical sequence. In the first pass, you could do this quickly and silently, or discuss the process as you go. Keep looking for and filling in any gaps in the activity sequence.

2) In subsequent passes, you can move the activities into more specific workflows, some of which will logically run in parallel with others. For example, parallel activities appear below in an example of preparing for a trade show.

3) Determine where the activity dependencies exist in the workflows, also depicted in the example below. (A dependency is a logical relationship between two or more activities, where one activity must start or finish before another activity can start or finish.) For instance:

  • You’ll need to design the packaging for the product in parallel with developing the product, so the packaging will be ready in time.
  • You’ll need to complete the advertising campaign and design the exhibit before you can set everything up at the trade show.

Sequencing the activities 

Pencil iconStep 3: Add milestones and fine-tune the sequence

Instructions: As a group, continue working with the sticky-note collection, and:

1) Begin to place milestones in appropriate places, refining the flow as needed. The milestones in the example below might include internal review meetings and trade show application deadlines, for instance.

2) In subsequent passes, begin identifying all the fixed and flexible milestone dates. For example, a trade show has a fixed date from which you would work backward. Defining the project’s duration should consider historical data, task estimates, and expert opinion; and potentially build in contingency buffers at strategic points to help ease any lead-time risks.

Adding milestones and fine-tuning the sequence

Pencil iconStep 4: Consider the schedule both backwards and forwards

Note that assigning milestone dates in the exercise above might occur because you are doing forward scheduling — which will give you some idea of how soon you can start various activities.

In contrast, backward scheduling determines the latest time that you must start activities to avoid pushing out the completion date.

With regard to backward scheduling, events such as trade shows are good examples of fixed points that require reverse preparation. As shown in the prior examples, a trade show could be the strategic venue for a new product unveiling, a customer feedback occasion, or a new marketing campaign.

Two oncoming trains ready to collide

In conclusion, this simple, hands-on exercise can help project teams look at forward and backward scheduling like two oncoming trains. At some point, an open-ended, forward schedule needs to brake and begin readying for the train speeding in from the opposite direction!

Copyright 2020 Adele Sommers

The Author Recommends

A Riveting Explanation of Project Scheduling

"Critical Chain" by Eli GoldrattIn Critical Chain, one of Eli Goldratt’s highly compelling business novels, the characters jointly explore, debate, and ultimately discover why projects frequently run late and over budget, or often fail to complete everything that was originally specified. The story covers many important issues that affect project schedules.

For example, the book teaches companies how to cut project development times and even finish early, within budget and without compromising quality or specifications.

By concentrating resources on bottleneck areas and carefully managing buffer time, the characters discover through a series of experiments and revelations how to focus their efforts and prevent their attention from being divided ineffectively among too many tasks and resources. It’s another engaging, “must-read” resource for your project library!

About the Author

"Straight Talk" Special Report
"Straight Talk" Workbook

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of “Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance” — an award-winning Special Report and Workbook program.

If you liked today’s issue, you’ll love this down-to-earth overview of how 12 potent business-boosting strategies can reenergize the morale and productivity of your enterprise, tame unruly projects, and attract loyal, satisfied customers. It’s accompanied by a step-by-step workbook designed to help you easily create your own success action plan. Browse the table of contents and reader reviews on the description page.

Adele also offers no-cost articles and resources to help small businesses and large organizations accelerate productivity and increase profitability. Learn more at LearnShareProsper.com.

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