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Fundamentals of Project Planning, Scheduling, Monitoring and Control, 2nd March 2016

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The SWWE Branch was very pleased to have worked with the Planning Monitoring and Control, (PMC), SIG on this one day Seminar looking at the fundamentals of  planning, scheduling, monitoring and control.

The Concorde Room at BAWA was the venue for this event, with over 100 delegates enjoying a highly informative day.

SWWE Branch Chairman, Martin Gosden, opened the event and set out the agenda. The event was specifically designed to be at an introductory level to meet the needs of members who are new to the profession, as well as a refresher for the more experienced.

The event was structured around the APM’s comprehensive guide to project planning: “ Planning, Scheduling, Monitoring and Control – The Practical Project Management of Time, Cost and Risk” Guide, written by the PMC SIG, which captures recognised good practice and the in depth experience of the SIG Volunteers in an easy to read format. Following a review of the Guide, there were sessions on planning, scheduling, risk management, a case study highlighting how the elements come together, and project performance and reporting. The presentation for this element of the day can be viewed here.

Delegates were asked to note down five good practice ideas during the day, which have been captured and posted on the APM website along with a copy of the slides presented at the event.

Our first speaker, Paul Kidson, Taylor Woodrow, was the lead author for the new planning guide and he explained how the Guide was written and the underlying objectives.  The PMC SIG recognised that there was a lack of simple to understand guidance on the key project management disciplines of planning, scheduling, monitoring and control.  The SIG formed a subcommittee of volunteers in 2013 to create a practical guide that anyone can read and understand and that could be the basis for qualifications. Their intention was to raise the skills base of project managers.  The authors were drawn from experts across many industry sectors to ensure it is generic and widely applicable.  Paul explained that planning is an ‘art form’ involving team effort and experience. Scheduling is more of a ‘science’ which uses technical skills to present the plan effectively. Monitoring is about watching what is going on, using techniques and templates to report progress. Control uses pure project management skills and experience to adjust the plan keeping focussed on objectives. Pauls presentation can be seen here.

Our next speaker, Jenn Browne, MoD, looked at the fundamentals of planning. She emphasised that planning is not scheduling, it is all those activities that happen beforehand. Planning identifies the methods, resources, and activities necessary to deliver the project objectives. It is an art rather than a science. Planning always requires a number of iterations, and communication is the key to success. It starts with developing the business case: what we want to do, why, how and when.  The business case development has to involve all the stakeholders to ensure common understanding and agreement. The business case is a living document and its validity should be checked at each project stage. Jenn then discussed in detail the planning steps, techniques and approaches, including: scope management, requirements management, approaches to planning, including rolling wave, product breakdown structures (PBS), work breakdown structures (WBS), organisational breakdown structures (OBS), RACI, dependency management, cost and time estimating and forecasting.  Planning is an iterative process, needs excellent communication with and involvement of stakeholders that is agreed and documented. Projects often fail due to mistakes and short cuts in not planning correctly. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!.  The key is not to jump into scheduling before planning. The presentation given by Jen can be viewed here.
Our third speaker, Milla Mazilu, Network Rail, discussed the basics of activity networks and scheduling. She explained why scheduling is different from planning: “Scheduling takes the information from planning and converts it into a beautiful Gantt chart”. The aim of scheduling is to communicate the plan clearly to the stakeholders in a format that they can understand the dependencies, interactions, start and end dates and required sequence of activities.  Typically, scheduling uses time based techniques such as Gantt charts, but other techniques can be used to present other views of the data. Schedule design includes deciding on such things as the activity identifiers, activity types, time units to be used, calendar structure, coding of activities to cross reference the PBS, WBS, etc. Coding is essential to help understand the chart.  When building the schedule, thought has be given to the activity relationships, finish-to-finish, start-to-start or start-to-finish being common.  Milla discussed hard (mandated) and soft constraints, duration estimating and three point estimates, resourcing and dependencies. Dependencies, both internal and external, are becoming a more important topic which can only be understood though discussion with stakeholders.  Pert networks were discussed, and the point made clearly that it is too easy to rely on the software and not understand what is going on. Milla’s advice was to always draft the schedule by hand first: brown paper sheets, post it notes and pens work very well.  A schedule is simply a communication tool, which type you select will depend on the needs of stakeholders. This can include simple bar charts, Gantt charts, milestone charts and line or balance charts, or a combination of several types.  Software can make it easier to produce different views of the same data for different stakeholders. Scheduling is a team activity with key stakeholders to ensure common understanding of the project and how it is to be delivered. The presentation given by Milla can be seen here.

Our fourth speaker, Edwina Hayward, BMT Hi-Q Sigma, discussed the role of risk management as an enabler for project success.  She first defined a risk as an uncertain event, which is different from an issue which is an event with 100% probability that it has, or will occur. A risk may be a threat to the project, or an opportunity.  Risk management is the process of actively managing risks, and includes: initiate, identify, assess, plan responses, implement, manage and report. Initiation includes deciding on the appropriate approach to use, integration with other processes, appropriate tools and techniques, and roles and responsibilities.  It is also important to embed risk management into the culture of the project team and organisation.  Identify risks and opportunities which may threaten the project objectives or provide benefits.  Describing a risk is not easy, specific language is required. It is important to understand the root cause of a risk and the impact if it happens.  Identified risks are assessed and categorised for their probability and impact through discussions with stakeholders, experts and lessons learned from other projects. Planned responses can include transferring ownership, and mitigation activities to reduce the probability and or impact. Simulation techniques, such as Monte Carlo analysis can help identify key drivers where effort should be focussed. Mitigation activities should be included in the project schedule, together with revised three point estimates.. The effectiveness of risk management activities is monitored and reported to decision makers. Risk management is an iterative process which should be integrated with scheduling, monitoring and reporting to assist with decision making.Edwina's presentation can be seen here.

Our case study was presented by Ewan Glen, BMT Hi-Q Sigma, discussed a change programme case study to demonstrate how to implement the basics.  Change programmes usually more challenging to plan and schedule because they involve behaviour and cultural change. So what do you need: an active SRO (Senior Responsible Owner) who is accountable for delivery, strategic direction and guidance, a dedicated programme manager responsible for delivery and technical direction, a Governance structure, of steering board and programme board with key stakeholders represented, and resources in place, both people and funding.  The first step in planning is to establish a high level view of the case for change, which is typically symptom driven.   This will make the business case to establish definition projects which will define what exactly is needed to be done in the form of a detailed assessment of the case for change, usually cause driven, which will establish a clear view of the programme outputs and intended benefits. The definition stage defines the ‘blue print’ covering the current state and the future desired state and should involve the people who will deliver the programme and its projects.  In planning the programme it is important to recognise the differences between projects, the programme and the organisation’s portfolio, and to be clear about roles and responsibilities for each for controlling and reporting. Plans for each of the programme’s delivery projects are developed with their schedules, monitoring and control systems within the programme’s governance structures.  Typically change programmes will establish increasing maturity towards the blueprint end state progressively, putting in place the enablers, then the foundations, before full implementation and steady state management.  To ensure that the new behaviours and culture are embedded, it is essential to create and maintain demand, to ask for the new products and being seen to use them. The case study presentation can be viewed here.

Our final Speaker, Gary Mainwaring, General Dynamics, discussed project performance reporting. Performance reporting takes place in the execution phase of the project life cycle after planning had established the baseline plan.  The baseline defines the initial plan, against which progress and performance will be measured and reported throughout the project to close down. Project performance reporting looks at the past in terms of measured progress against the baseline and forecasts the future, looking at trends to get early warning of problems. The choice of metrics is important to monitor the critical aspects of project delivery. Consistency is essential to monitor trends and so reporting usually uses report templates.  Reporting frequency is driven by the cadence, or drum beat of the end of the month financial figures, senior stakeholder diaries and meeting room availability.  These all need to be planned and booked months in advance.  Report detail will be driven by stakeholder need, with seniors needing much less detail. It is important that each level of project reporting adds value. For efficiency all reports should be based on the same input data collected by the project controllers from the project managers and teams.  The project controllers need to be excellent relationships and trust to obtain the information needed.   Gary then described a number of report types from overviews with RAG status to risk reports and financial reports. He highlighted some lessons: reporting is usually only one way communication and so it is important to be clear, keep it simple, to the key issues, no surprises, with a 3-week lag before reaching senior stakeholders, it is important to ‘socialise’ any issues that arise in the mean time, avoid rabbit holes, RAG is useful, but it often needs some subjective information to explain it, and understand your audience, are they optimists or pessimists’?, don’t dwell on the past, watch for trends, integrate your tools, have data only input once, know what to measure, work with the drum beat rhythm, and avoid inconsistency. Gary's presentation can be seen here.

The day finished with a Q&A session.  Martin Gosden summed up the day and thanked the presenters for their excellent presentations.

The final business was the announcement of the winner of the prize draw. Edward Goodman was the lucky recipient of a copy of the Planning, Scheduling, Monitoring and Control guide.

The presentation slides and audience good practice notes are on the APM web site resources page and can be accessed within the news article.  The final survey can be viewed below.

Martin Gosden
SWWE Branch Chairman


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