The Project Schedule Part 2 – Schedule Tools

Planning

For anything but very small projects, you will need a tool to record and track your schedule. The most common tools used for this are Microsoft Project and Excel. They are not the only ones available but they are the ones I will discuss here.

Microsoft Project is a very robust scheduling tool with many features. You enter tasks and sub-tasks, assign resources (you can do this with varying percentages of availability), identify the effort needed for this task (in days or hours), and link the task to dependent tasks. The software automatically creates a schedule from this information.

Often on the first cut at creating a schedule, the project end date is beyond the desired target date. The sequence of tasks that directly connects to this end date is called the “Critical Path”. It is the longest path of dependent tasks in the project. This path of tasks are your top priority to monitor because slippage in any one of these tasks will increase the length of your project.

You must look for opportunities to bring the target date in line with expectations. You can do things like add more resources, bring in more skilled resources, look for opportunities to do tasks in parallel, and/or start some tasks earlier. Be mindful of budget, risk and quality implications when you use these techniques.

Excel can be used for small and some medium sized projects where you just need a list of key activities and the start and end dates. Unlike MS Project, Excel cannot create the schedule for you. It is used strictly for tracking and communication. It is much more convenient than Project when you don’t need all of the scheduling features.

I advise you not to create a schedule with so many tasks that it eats up your valuable project management time just maintaining the schedule. Create the schedule at a level sufficient enough to track the Critical Path and communicate status to key stakeholders. Keep in mind your Project Plan has all the activity details so there is no need to duplicate all of that information in the schedule.

Note: Much more detail on creating a Project Schedule can be found in my Kindle book “Project Management For The Real World”, available at

https://www.amazon.com/author/lettera

The Project Schedule Part 1: Overview

Planning

Now that you have a Project Charter, a Project Management Plan and a Project Plan, you can construct a detailed schedule. As mentioned in an earlier post, many refer to the Project Schedule as “The Project Plan”. Since the schedule does not detail how and where tasks are going to be accomplished, it is not “the plan” but is a component of the complete plan. That is why we have a separate document for the Project Plan.

In the upcoming posts I will present the following topics related to constructing a Project Schedule:

  • Part 2: Schedule Tools
  • Part 3: Work Breakdown Structure
  • Part 4: Resource Assignments and Estimates
  • Part 5: Dependencies
  • Part 6: The Critical Path
  • Part 7: Schedule Adjustments (Crashing and Fast-Tracking)

The Project Plan Part 9 – The In-Project Support Plan

Planning

The In-project Support Plan is needed if all or part of the solution is to be supported by a vendor or 3rd party. It addresses support needed during the project which includes the post-implementation stabilization period.

Here is a list of some things to consider (this is not necessarily the complete list of considerations; your project may have more):

  • Scope – describe the conditions in which this support is triggered.
  • Contact information – phone #’s, email, website, customer access id
  • Service Level Agreements (listed in order of severity, commits to how fast you can expect a response to a reported issue)
  • Problem and Status Reporting – what tools will be used, roles, responsibilities
  • Escalation Procedure if issues are not addressed in a timely or effective manner
  • Change Requests – for changes that are not bugs, define the request procedure & labor rate

This topic concludes the series on “The Project Plan”. In the next series of blog posts, I will address development of the Project Schedule.

The Project Plan Part 8 – The Post-Live Support Plan

Planning

The Support Plan describes how the solution will be supported once operational. This includes a description of the support personnel and their roles as well as the processes to resolve problems arising within the solution boundaries.

Implementing a Support Plan is an important piece of Project close-out. The operational Stakeholders must be self-sufficient once the solution is live and no longer dependent on the Project Manager. Lack of a Support Plan is the primary cause of Project Managers being attached to projects for a long period of time after go-live.

Here is a list of some things to consider when building your Support Plan (this is not necessarily the complete list of considerations; your project may have more):

  • Support Resources, Roles, Responsibilities
  • Support model – define who will function as level 1, 2 & 3 support, how they will be contacted, and their staffing needs
  • Service Level Agreements (e.g. system availability, up-time, response time, etc)
  • Help Desk support
  • Vendor Support (support that will be purchased from the vendor) including naming the Stakeholders that will be the vendor support point of contact
  • Specialists (describe circumstances in which in-depth knowledge of the solution requires engaging specialists)
  • Product Updates – Who is responsible? Software vendors typically release updates multiple times a year. How often do we plan to apply them? How will it be tested? What is the roll-back plan? Who will monitor changes in platform support?
  • Include both one-time and ongoing costs for the items listed above

The Project Plan Part 7 – The Deployment Plan

Planning

The Deployment Plan describes the factors necessary for a smooth deployment and transition to ongoing operations. It encompasses the processes of preparing, installing, training, stabilizing, and transferring the solution to operations. For some projects, deployment can be very complex. For these types of projects it pays to start deployment planning as early as possible to manage the risk of delays due to deployment difficulties.

Here is a list of some things to consider for your deployment plan (this is not necessarily the complete list of considerations; your project may have more):

  • Scope
    • Stakeholders (those affected by the solution)
    • New and changed Business Processes
    • Licensing considerations
    • Approx. # components per platform
  • Deployment strategy & schedule (e.g. phased, site-by-site, push vs. pull, dept. by dept, etc)
  • Organizational Change Management
  • Implications of new and old system and processes in production at the same time
  • Deployment Resources
  • Help Desk Preparation
  • Desktops/Servers Affected
  • End User Training (High level business process and detail usage)
  • Installation Process
  • Installation Validation
  • Support during Stabilization
  • Hand-off to Support and Operations
  • Activation of Monitoring (for computer systems and business processes)

The Project Plan Part 6 – The Pilot Plan

Planning

Some organizations define a solution “pilot” as a “limited deployment” for the purpose of managing risk. That can be covered in a Risk Management Plan in lieu of a Pilot Plan. The definition we will use in this post is to use a Pilot to gather information about the solution that can only be discovered by “going live”. The intent of the Pilot is to obtain the information and then pull the solution out of the live environment for additional work.

The Pilot Plan describes what aspect of the solution will be delivered as a pilot and provides the details necessary to conduct the pilot successfully. This includes details on how to evaluate the pilot, the results of which will facilitate a decision whether or not to move the solution to production. Projects often create one or more “pilot” solutions for the purpose of proving the feasibility of solution approaches, experimenting with different solutions, and obtaining user feedback and acceptance on proposed solutions. Pilot solutions usually implement only those subsets or segments of requirements or functional specifications necessary to validate a solution.

The Pilot Plan provides the means to validate business requirements and technical specifications prior to deploying the solution into production. Planning the details of the pilot ensures that the participating project teams identify their roles and responsibilities and resource requirements specific to pilot development, testing, and deployment activities.

A pilot can provide key information on development processes, end-user validation, and production environment usage. It also provides feedback to stakeholders regarding the success of the solution once it is formally released.

Note that Pilot Plans are not just for IT projects. For example, fast food chains will often test new menu items for a limited time in a small number of locations to gauge consumer interest and test the store’s ability to deliver the product successfully.

Here is a list of some things to consider documenting as part of the Pilot Plan (this is not necessarily the complete list of considerations; your project may have more):

  • Overview – Scope (what part of the solution will be demonstrated as part of the pilot, and the target user profile used to select which users will participate)
  • Success Criteria and Metrics – The success criteria may fall into the following categories:
    • System performance
    • Operations cost
    • Stability –down time
    • User performance
    • User satisfaction
    • Business goals
  • User Preparation and training
  • Marketing Plan – how users will become aware of the pilot and the value to them
  • Conditions for adding additional users
  • Rollback – conditions for rolling back the pilot to pre-deployment state
  • Pilot Evaluation – describes how the pilot results will be evaluated

The Project Plan Part 5 – The Migration Plan

Planning

The Migration Plan describes the migration from existing systems or applications to the new solution. This plan is needed whenever you have to salvage anything (data, artifacts, physical objects, etc) from the old environment to the new one. In some projects this can be very challenging and the source of a lot of effort so plan early and carefully.

It is important to have an understanding from your sponsor of the Business Objectives driving the migration. Keep in mind each objective will have associated costs and risks. Examples of these are:

  • Minimize Business Disruption
  • Stay in full compliance with laws and regulations
  • Keep migration costs as low as possible
  • Choose acceptable alternatives that avoid risk to the target implementation date

Here is a list of some things to consider (this is not necessarily the complete list of considerations; your project may have more):

  • Migration Strategies (alternatives, including tools and implications for each)
  • Migration process (how, when and by whom the migration will be performed)
  • Test Environment (Setup, timing, hardware, people)
  • Preparation (Everything needed to be ready to execute the Migration Plan)
  • Decommissioning of replaced resources (timing, disposal)
  • Back-out plan (what to do if something goes wrong with the migration)

The Project Plan Part 4 – The Test Plan

Planning

The Test Plan applies primarily to projects that include new and changed software and/or business processes. Doing this planning in advance is key to meeting the target schedule as testing is typically the most time consuming portion of a project. Unfortunately, when many projects are in schedule trouble, testing is usually the first target for cutting the planned effort. Having a solid Test Plan will help mitigate that risk.

There are multiple aspects to the test plan:

Determine the Test Plan Objectives by Identifying…

  • …the activities required to prepare for and conduct testing
  • …the test scope, strategy and methodology to be used for the test
  • …the financial control tests (if applicable)
  • … the configuration controls and metrics
  • … the metrics and status reporting
  • … responsibilities for the tasks included in the plan
  • … test tools and the environment needed to conduct the test
  • … test interactions with other organizations
  • … test customers and deliverables
  • … the major testing milestones
  • … the sources of information used to prepare the plan

Define the Test Approach:

Give a high-level description of the approach and activities to be followed in testing the solution. If you are using Agile methods, this is where you will plan the release/test cycles.

Identify the Major Test Responsibilities:

Identify teams and individuals who will be managing and executing the tests. It should also specify their responsibilities.

The Features and Functionality to Test:

This is a high-level description (not the detailed test cases). You should consider the following:

  • Specific features to be tested
  • The types of error testing to be performed
  • The types of stress/load testing to be performed
  • The type of usability testing to be performed
  • The type of reliability testing to be performed
  • The type of recovery testing to be performed
  • The type of compatibility/migration testing to be performed
  • The type of security testing to be performed
  • The types of software and hardware to be employed if testing is to be performed over multiple software and hardware configurations (configuration testing)

Document your thoughts on the test process:

You should consider the following:

  • How you will define the acceptance criteria
  • Deliverables – materials that must be made available or created in order to conduct the tests and that will be developed from the tests to describe the test results.
  • Test Documentation – itemize the documentation you will require in regards to recording the test procedures and results.
  • Test Data – Where will it come from? How will it be created? Are regular refreshes needed?
  • Support Organizations – identify all interfacing organizations (Technology Services, Vendors, etc) that are needed to support the testing. Describe what will be needed.
  • Test Setup, Procedures and Walk-thru – general description of the steps the test will go thru to ensure quality tests.
  • Tracking and Reporting Status – Define the information test team members will communicate during the testing process. This should include the bug reporting tools and methods as well as a bug classification strategy

The Project Plan Part 3d – The Organizational Change Management Plan – Reinforcing Change

Planning

Change reinforcement is, in my experience, the most neglected aspect of Change Management. Usually after a project is successfully implemented, the project team “high fives”, celebrates success and then moves on to the next project. A year later, when it is discovered people are not following processes and policies or not using a system as it was intended, management will scratch their heads and wonder “where did we go wrong?”.

The answer to that is that no one was monitoring the change and reinforcing it as a part of a continuing activity both during and after the project. It is the Project Manager’s responsibility to ensure that a Change Reinforcement Plan is in place with defined roles, responsibilities and processes.

Reinforcing change includes assessing the results of change management activities, conducting compliance audits and implementing corrective action. Plan to actively seek out and celebrate early successes. Transfer ownership from the change management team to the Sponsoring Organization. The Organization assumes the role of reinforcing change and rewarding ongoing performance.

Understanding how the people are embracing the change and the effect on the results of the project will be addressed during project close and audit phases of the project. During the project you may want to build in activities to assess the effectiveness of your change management, communication and training plans. This can include:

  • Surveys or employee feedback on their understanding of the change, desire to change, knowledge acquisition, skills assessment, and the employees perception
  • Testing to ensure employees understand the new systems and processes
  • Use of metrics. Several metrics can be put in place post implementation to measure if the people change efforts were successful. These may include: System usage, performance reports, how often is the “old way of doing things” still used.

Based on these forms of evaluation of the effectiveness of the change strategies, modifications can be made to the plans. This may include: re-training, additional communication, one on one coaching, etc.

The Project Plan Part 3c – The Organizational Change Management Plan: Managing Change

Planning

Managing Change includes the design of Organizational Change Management Plans and individual change management activities. This is the “what you are going to do” to manage the change. Here are the components of the plan to manage change:

Communication Plan – Communication is a key component of explaining what is changing and why to the organization. Be sure to include the “WIFM” (What’s in it for me?) message. These communications should promote awareness of the project, the timeline, and how the changes will impact each affected group.

Training Plan – This plan will not only focus on training for a new system but also new processes. It will provide the specifics of what is changing for each user group. Also, included in the training is reiteration of why we are embarking on the change initiative.

Coaching Plan – Your coaching plan defines how you will support managers and supervisors during the change and how they will interact with front-line employees. The objective is to fully enable these managers and supervisors to:

• Sponsor the change

• Support their employees during the change

• Support their employees in the new, changed environment

The steps to developing a coaching plan:

1. Enable supervisors and managers to be effective change management coaches

Prepare a change management program and deliver this program to supervisors. Several key areas should be addressed with supervisors:

• Why is supervisor involvement important in change management?

• How do I talk with my employees about change?

• How do I coach my group through a change?

• Identifying different ways that people deal with change and how to coach them through it.

• How do I coach individual employees through change?

• What are the expectations for coaching in this project (frequency, timelines, agendas, etc.)?

2. Develop group coaching activities and timeline

Supervisors should prepare for and meet with their groups to discuss the change. Key messages should be provided by the change management team.

Group coaching during a change is an effective medium for distributing information and gathering feedback. It can help to build support for change and ease concern and resistance.

3. Develop individual coaching activities and timeline

Individual coaching sessions are one-on-one opportunities for supervisors and managers to work on change with specific employees. The face-to-face messages received are important as employees work through the change and try to perform in the changed environment. You should develop a matrix with the following components: Coaching Activity, Purpose, Timing, and Audience.

Workforce Transition Plan – A Workforce Transition Plan is a detailed plan to address changes in roles, responsibilities and organization structure. You need to plan how individuals will transition as a result of change and ensure they are transitioned according to organizational values and policies. You should develop a matrix with the following components: Individual or Group, Supervisor, Describe the transition, New Skills Required, Resolution, Communication Needs, Comments.

Resistance Management Plan – A resistance management plan is a proactive approach to managing resistance. During the assessment you identified potential resistance points. As your project implementation progresses, additional areas of resistance may surface. Below are action steps to creating your resistance management plan and the template:

1. Review areas of resistance from the assessment and define what resistance may look like for your change and how it may be identified.

o Brainstorm with the change management team and project team

o Brainstorm with the stakeholders and sponsors

2. For each level with the impacted organization, define a strategy for managing resistance to the change.

o Brainstorm strategies to address the key areas of resistance. This may be changes in functionality, new skills required or certain departments that may be resistant to the change. Some examples of possible strategies include:

• Communication about why we are making the change, benefits to the organization, and WIFM (What’s in it for me?)

• Training or job aids to assist in the transition

• Pairing up certain areas of the organization that will be the most affected by the change with positive change agents or project team members

• Engage with managers, supervisors and coaches to help these individuals along in the change