by John Reeve
Asset Management System (AMS) Implementation
AMS implementations are usually quite involved. Software is installed and configured, processes are documented and improved, and roles and responsibilities are clarified. The project team will identify as-is and to-be processes. More importantly, the project manager must facilitate these workshops, coordinate resources and communicate change. With so much at stake, why aren't AMS project managers making full use of the project management tools, such as scheduling software?
Table 1 - Different Schedule Types
|Daily Plan||A power plant's operation and maintenance (O&M) daily schedule of events and work|
|Weekly Schedule||Weekly maintenance schedule|
|Outage/Shutdown||Power plant's scheduled shutdown (4 to 8 weeks)|
|Major Modification||Major work (e.g., modification or overhaul; redesign|
|Software Implementation Projects||Large software projects that can last for months. Therein this type of project can benefit from activity and resource coordination.|
Schedules: Often Perceived as a Necessary Evil
Most software implementations have a high-level schedule at the start of the project. However, the creation of the schedule is commonly believed to be a one-time effort. Usually, this high-level schedule resides in non-scheduling tools (e.g., Microsoft Excel®) and is never expanded in detail or progressed. Unfortunately, this means many of the benefits of using a critical path methodology (CPM) tool are never realized. The project manager (PM) should welcome technology that forecasts activities and resources based on activity progress.
Rolling Wave Schedule
The software implementation may be a four-phase approach:
- Establish requirements,
Because of the many unknowns early in the project, there is often a hesitation to build a detailed schedule. I agree that there can be many unknowns. But the way around this is as follows: state your assumptions; outline the scope; build details where known; insert logic ties; and create a critical path. It is quite common to have a rolling-wave such that activities close to the data date (where progress is reported "as of") are more detailed and activities in the future are high-level.
What Defines Failure of a Project?
AMS implementations can fail before or after going live. But, a properly built implementation schedule can help prevent failure by providing visibility to problems before they occur. Table 2 defines symptoms encountered before and after the go-live.
Table 2 - Trouble Indicators
|Before Go-Live||After Go-Live|
The above issues won’t necessarily stop implementation, but when schedule and cost overruns occur this can introduce a negative connotation about the overall product.
A Common Fear
Clients and consultants seem to misinterpret the purpose and benefit of scheduling. Their primary concern is normally around the dates, in particular, what happens if a date is not met? Upper management may be influencing this thinking. At project initialization, their primary focus is often the overall finish date - and total cost. They may have said, "Make sure nothing changes!" Unfortunately, this type of guidance from upper management conveys the wrong message, meaning "no activities or dates should ever change." In the scheduling world, it is generally understood that a progressed schedule will have activities that move around and details added.
However, some see a project schedule as something that must exist only on day one and should not be updated. Perhaps the project manager made one because they needed it to win the job. It could have shown high-level activities, but otherwise has minimal value. In absence of day-to-day scheduling, the PM resorts to managing staff and actions from a punch list.
Progressing the Schedule
Anyone can build a schedule, but a lot fewer can successfully update one. This doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done. A special skill set is usually required. The scheduling role requires someone to bird-dog individuals for status updates. Typically, there is a weekly AMS status meeting. Although the scheduler may not be running the meeting, he or she must glean the necessary information during each update cycle to properly reset the schedule. This individual needs to know what work is completed, what work is underway (and when it will finish), if it’s on hold (and expected restart) and future starts. A schedule may have 1,000 activities, but the scheduler only has to focus on the work straddling the data date, which is a much smaller subset.
What to Do If the Project Finish Slips?
Note: the scheduling tools provide a baseline tool. This means it is possible to compare current schedule to a frozen baseline.
The project finish can and will move around each time updates are performed. Any unusual slips, however, should be evaluated. The recommended procedure is to go through a checklist of actions:
- Is the updated schedule correct? Did we get bad or missing input from a worker? Was the recent progress updated incorrectly?
- Ascertain what changed on the critical path. What was the main driver? (Note: Some activities can slip without impacting the critical path.)
- Reference your previously frozen schedule or baseline taken before the update.
- If all the data is valid, then ask the team how to manage the critical path to bring it back. Should we:
- Increase staff on current and subsequent tasks? Is that even possible?
- Change activities from working only on day shift to around-the-clock?
- Identify what is slowing them down and delaying the critical path? How can the impediment be removed?
Schedules Are Intended to be Refined
It is fully expected that any schedule will change. You may be expanding detail or you may be adding new scope. Using a rolling wave concept, it is quite common to expand details as the data date moves forward. These actions are usually combined with periodic status updates. The update frequency might occur weekly for a six-month software implementation, whereas a nuclear power plant outage lasting three to six weeks might gather progress daily. This updated information is intended to provide the entire team with accurate forecasts to aid in work coordination. Yes, the dates will change, but the focus should be on content, critical path and resource management. It should be noted that the only time you will ever have a perfect schedule is once a project is finished.
Benefits of Formal Scheduling
A detailed schedule should be your number one communication tool. A bar chart can show activities under a calendar strip, which means you can see other work being performed at the same time. This graphical display also provides visual reference to all departments showing upcoming activities and prerequisites. It tells management when they will need certain resources during the project and where they are overloaded. The scheduler could also perform what-if calculations to evaluate impacts by:
- Adding/subtracting resources;
- Changing activity calendars;
- Global edit durations (e.g., multiply by .90).
Once the schedule is flowed, it needs to be printed out so other team members can then comment or critique. Input from others is always welcomed to validate accuracy of the critical path. In summary, a properly built schedule helps to minimize mistakes and reduce risk.
Multiple schedules can be pulled together into a master schedule
Table 3 - One-sided comparison
|Benefits Comparison||Non-Scheduling Tool||Formal Scheduling Software|
A basic list of work - tabular listing
|Start and finish dates with automatic float calculations||X|
|Entry of predecessor and successor (logic ties)||X|
|Activity progressing against a data date (e.g., remaining duration = 4)||X|
Program evaluation review technique (PERT) chart graphically
displayed and printed; Ability to insert new activities in PERT mode
|Logic bar graphically displayed and printed||X|
|Critical path determination||X|
|Resource leveling, manual or automatic||X|
|Able to create a frozen baseline and make comparisons||X|
|Activity schedules can be linked to work breakdown structures||X|
|Activity schedules can be linked to AMS systems||X|
|Multiple schedules can be pulled together into a master schedule||X|
The spreadsheet tool may be made to appear like a schedule (e.g., bar chart display), but other than that, it lacks significant functionality. And a simple list tool also does not manage prerequisites or create date forecasts. The scheduling software, however, provides a list of prerequisites, critical path and cost forecasts. In some scheduling products, the user can follow the critical path backwards and quickly find the driver. A schedule can also be linked to a work breakdown structure (WBS), where scope and cost are closely managed. Tip: it is best to create the WBS before the schedule is created.
Figure 1: Even if a schedule is hand drawn, it is better than having no schedule at all
It’s Okay to Guess
Planning and scheduling as a profession is hard for some to wrap their head around. It is not an exact science. The planner/scheduler has to provide estimates, also called guessing. Sometimes, you have to state your assumptions to explain why certain activities were created. In the maintenance department, a planner must routinely estimate work that has not started in terms of task steps, duration, craft code, number of personnel, estimated hours, materials and tools. The planner could guess wrong, but what’s worse is to have no guess at all.
Schedules Help Reduce Risk
Scheduling is a form of communication. Wouldn't you rather know if the project finish is in trouble before the last minute? As a project manager, you have a lot of areas to manage, including scope creep, change management, resource management and regular updates to the stakeholders. The project manager is responsible for maintaining the master schedule. The schedule helps you to remember what, when and who. Ask the question: Which is better, a list of activities or a logic bar chart with critical path and projected finish? In the end, having a detailed schedule in place can help the team anticipate problems and, therefore, reduce the probability of failure.
Agile Implementations Need Detailed Schedules
Because agile strategies make use of cross-functional teams, including contractors/consultants, it is extremely important to have a detailed schedule that shows resource assignments and expected delivery dates. There is also a chance that intermediate milestones may overlap due to progress. The scheduling tool helps provide clarity and visibility.
Why Do Fears Remain Over Scheduling?
With all these benefits, why do fears remain? Most likely, the reason is as simple as training. Many believe they know the purpose of a scheduling tool, but they do not. Scheduling software is one of those products that may be quickly installed and self-taught, but more often the users are not aware of best practice techniques for managing/updating the schedule. Or, they may be missing conceptual knowledge relating to scope control, time management, cost, job quality and risk management. Here are some other points to remember:
- When updating a schedule, dates can and will change, not only on the activity being updated, but also on all downstream activities. Thus, the project finish date may move around.
- Even if the project manager doesn't want to show each update to the executive level, it is still to the benefit of the team to regularly update the schedule to get realistic dates.
- It is helpful to have a team member, usually the PM, perform the scheduling role. This requires that person to own the master schedule.
Bad things happen when a schedule is not properly utilized. Good project managers depend on this medium to manage the unknown. A master schedule helps staff to focus on the critical path. People often build small schedules on a whiteboard when they are talking. It is a natural way of communicating. The act of scheduling helps the entire team focus on the path forward and provides assurances that everything has been thought of. Forecasting the future is not easy, but it sure beats not having any forecast at all. And by managing the schedule, you increase the odds of success.
John Reeve is a seasoned professional and consultant with over 25 years of diverse industry experience, with expertise in work, asset and reliability management system design. Mr. Reeve obtained United States Patent 7421372 for maintenance scheduling involving unique order of fire routine in support of resource leveling.