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Where have the schedulers gone?

Patrick Weaver
September 4, 2014

Projects routinely finish late. While many have no effective schedule controls, a significant proportion do outlay significant amounts of money on scheduling software and people to operate the computer systems and still finish late. The simple fact is most schedulers have no effect on the management of the projects they are working on—they are either there to comply with client specifications or to gather data for the ‘inevitable’ claims or both.

The problem with scheduling and CPM is not the technology, it’s the people: virtually anyone can learn to use software in a few hours. But being able to push some buttons to make some use of the tool and understanding the basic fundamentals of scheduling are two very different things as demonstrated by this LinkedIn post:

LinkedIn question float

Given the cost of a set of P6 is typically around $3,000 to $5,000 per seat, employing a planner who has absolutely no concept of the way ‘float’ is calculated—the very basics of CPM scheduling—highlights a chronic problem. I don’t know of any other ‘professional discipline’ where people are employed to push buttons on software without having any concept of the objectives the software they are trained to use was created to achieve.

Real planning

The root cause of this problem is virtually no one is training planners and schedulers in the knowledge and skills they require to be effective:

  • A basic knowledge of CPM scheduling and other planning techniques; and
  • The skills of listening, effective communication, constructive questioning and creative thinking/problem solving.

Add a sheet of paper and a HB pencil and you can start developing useful schedules: the software is secondary (and you can always find a technician to push the buttons for you). The ability to model disparate concepts and ideas into a cohesive plan of action that is fully understood and agreed by all of the key players in the project has very little to do with technology and everything to do with stakeholder engagement skills.

Certainly a good planning team needs one or two technicians in support roles to make the software behave and help the real planners do their work with the project participants. Unfortunately the planning world has become dominated by—to use Doc Dochtermann’s term—‘power-fools’ focused on creating massive technical schedules in preference to useful information.

The question and challenge facing the management of projects is to work out how we can get planning re-focused on creating useful information that people actually use because they want to use the information to help make their projects successful.

One useful idea to resurface is planning by consensus (from an article by Dan Patterson). A useful book focused on a similar approach is the CIOB’s Guide to Good Practice in the Management of Time in Complex Projects (Wiley Blackwell). Find out more about these resources.

A good scheduler is hard to find

Similarly, requiring a demonstrated knowledge of basic planning and scheduling would be sensible. There are a range of certifications available including the PMI-SP, AACEi PSP, CIOB PTMC and the ‘Guild of Project Controls’ qualifications. To date, less than 5,000 people worldwide have bothered to become qualified despite the certifications being available for more than five years.

I would suggest the primary reason for this lack of interest is that employers are happy to employ software jockeys with the level of scheduling knowledge demonstrated by the LinkedIn question above. Qualifications are not the same as competency, but they do demonstrate the holder has some basic knowledge of the practice of scheduling.

Unfortunately, the fundamental conundrum remains that very few managers and clients have been exposed to ‘good planning and scheduling’, therefore they don’t know what they are missing and as a consequence are reluctant to invest in the right people with the skill set needed to develop useful schedules that contribute to project success.

This is compounded by the excessive focus by HR departments and job advertisements on ‘tools skills’ over planning and scheduling skills, meaning most people attracted into the discipline are interested in running complex computer software and have little or no interest or ability to engage effectively with people and build effective consensus driven schedules that people want to use.

What is the point in employing a person who can run a tool if they don’t understand its fundamental purpose and cannot engage effectively with stakeholders to create a useful schedule? As I’ve been saying for more then a decade, useful schedules are useful because they are used!

Resolving these conundrums will require a major effort. While this is underway in several different forums, the inertia of the status quo and embedded vested interests will make achieving meaningful change difficult at best.

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Patrick Weaver
Patrick Weaver is the managing director of Mosaic Project Services and the business manager of Stakeholder Management Pty Ltd. He has been a member of both PMI and AIPM since 1986 and is a member of the Asia Pacific Forum of the Chartered Institute of Building. In addition to his work on ISO 21500, he has contributed to a range of standards developments with PMI, CIOB and AIPM.
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2 thoughts on “Where have the schedulers gone?

  1. An excellent treatise on the state of decline in project planning. In my experience part of the problem is bid and project managers want to provide the client with a “pretty picture” and organisations/project teams don’t respect the skills and knowledge that an experienced planner can bring to the project: an Excel list will do! A good planner will be able to put together an understandable, manageable, update-able and logical schedule of tasks and hours that is aligned with the project deliverables, targets and available resources.
    I agree that professional project planners should seek to identify themselves and stand out from the crowd with professional certification. I for one will be making that my goal of 2015.

  2. I have just over 2 years scheduling/planning experience. I put both down becuase I have built/rebuilt several programmes as much as progressing them.

    I have had no formal training except a 2 day course on how to use P6 (a year after I started and I paid for it myself). I have also had limited mentoring.

    I am extremely curious and will look up forums regularly to answer questions I may have from time to time. I have a background in analytics and apply many analytical strategies to my programme to measure progress or performance etc. I am currently experimenting in Monte Carlo analysis as it seems fascinating.

    So with that background in mind, I have always assumed that the best schedule is the one that is followed. Pure and simple. I have met peers who focus more on technicality and develop these programmes that meet the correct “way” to do it, but they are so complex, I even struggle to get it. I also agree with the comment regarding managers who do not understand basic planning (questions about constraiing everything or deleting tasks that push out the end or milestone date)

    My question is, does certification help with developing ability? or are they wall candy to compare your member against others? I have met a PMO accredted inidivual who could talk it, but could not walk it.

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