Creating a complete schedule is one of the most difficult tasks that a project manager has to face.
Precisely for this reason, we want to speak about this subject again in order to better clarify some points that concern the level of detail of the time schedule or, in other words, how deep we must go into details in order to predict the timing of the project.
The preparation of a time schedule should be carried out within a formal structure, in which clear lines of authority and responsibility should be established. Let’s start by seeing what the steps are.
5 basic steps for preparing a time schedule
There is a commonly used five-step process for preparing the time schedule. It looks like that:
- Definition of the activity: involves the identification and definition of those activities that must be carried out to achieve the goals.
- Sequencing of activities: involves the accurate identification of the constraints and relations between activities and establishes the order in which these will be carried out.
- Estimate of the duration of the activity: determination of the time required to complete the activities that make up the program.
- Development planning: involves the development of realistic start and end dates for each activity.
- Control planning: identify program changes and manage actual changes to the program.
The time schedule is therefore fundamental for the correct execution of the planning and control functions of the project management.
Moreover, during this phase, a series of integrated programs are developed at multiple levels that link all the activities of the time schedule, showing their logical relationships and possible constraints.
The level of detail developed for these programs depends on the scope and risk of the project.
This process provides a hierarchy of functional and layered programs that can be useful for monitoring the progress of the project.
The details of a time schedule
So let’s see what are the different levels of detail that a schedule can present.
Level 1: The Project Master Schedule (PMS).
This is usually reported in one single page, in which the main activities of the project are highlighted, the milestones, and the key results for the entire project.
It is used to summarize project planning in reports and other documents when more detailed planning is not required.
Frequently developed by the “client” as part of his first feasibility studies for the project and then maintained by the contractor; it can be used to assist in decision making.
Level 2: Summary Master Schedule (SMS).
It describes the overall project divided into main components by area and is used for higher level management reports.
It will include Level 1 information, but in more details in order to show the activities by area.
It should demonstrate the guiding path for the structures and the main process systems based on the purpose of the project.
The relevant public of this type of program includes – but is not limited to – general managers, sponsors, and project managers.
Level 3: Project Coordination Schedule (PCS)
This program is a summary of planning activities and is generally developed by the main contractor or project team during the initial planning stages.
Level 3 planning covers the entire project and is used to support the monthly report.
This includes all the major milestones, the main design, procurement, construction, verification, and start-up elements.
During the project execution phase, this planning defines the general critical path and is the main coordination tool for the project as a whole.
Level 4: Project Working Level Schedule
Level 4 presents the detailed plan of the work that needs to be done, where each part is an expansion of a part of the Level 3 program.
This is the program that shows the activities that must be performed by the project team.
The dates generated by the activities included in this program represent the expected start and completion of the project.
The level 4 program can cover the entire project or part of the project, depending on the size and complexity of the project.
A critical factor is to keep this type of planning in such a dimension that can be easily managed, updated, and validated.
The recipients of this type of program are mainly project managers with their teams.
Level 5: Detail Schedule
This program presents the further subdivision of the activities included in Level 4.
In short, this is a program used to map the detailed activities necessary to coordinate daily work in specific areas.
Level 5 schedules are developed by workforce supervisors to plan and coordinate their work in detail.
These level 5 programs are generally replaced every 1 or 2 weeks, depending on the complexity of the job.
Important notes on the level of detail in a time schedule
- Level 1 and 2 programs are normally developed as part of the project’s pre-feasibility studies.
- Only in the case of very complex projects, there will be a complete planning of Level 1 and Level 2. Generally, less complex projects have just level 2 planning.
- If the project is relatively small, the level 3 program is expanded into a level 4 program to coordinate the execution of the work. In large projects with multiple Level 4 schedules, Level 3 planning is maintained as overall project planning.
- Each project requires a level 4 program to coordinate the project work day by day. However, the overall size of this program must be “manageable” and focused on work in a single area. Therefore, Level 3 planning becomes essential for the overall coordination of the project.
In conclusion, each level of a time schedule has its specific function, also based on the complexity that a project presents.
It is important for a project manager to be able to “navigate” between the different levels and to be at the right level of detail in order to bring a project to its success. To do this, it is essential that a project management software such as TWproject is available with which to manage each time program level.
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