Time is part of the Project Management Golden Triangle. I have blogged about the Golden Triangle before, but the concept is that you have Time, Scope and Quality, as three sides to a triangle and they all impact each other. If you extend one side of the triangle, one or both of the other two sides will be impacted.
Time is an important aspect of Project Management. People who understand scheduling will understand how simple and how complicated time planning can be. On larger projects, the project plan will be controlling many different work streams in parallel and the Project Manager needs to understand the impact of time on each of the work streams and resources.
Some projects are time critical, such as running the Olympics in 2012. This had a defined milestone, the Start Date of the Games. This becomes the End Date of the project, as everything had to be complete before this time. This is an example of a project where the Time cannot be moved.
In some other projects, the Time might not be so important. It might be that the project can be slightly delayed, but the quality must be 100%. An example of this would be a NASA space project, where the quality is of utmost importance, but the budget and time constraints maybe be flexible, to ensure Quality.
Project Plans, such as Gantt chart, set time expectations. They are estimates of when tasks will be performed and resources that are required to perform each task. The Gantt chart shows the interdependencies of the tasks and graphically shows the timeline for the project. Every Project Manager will know that the Gantt chart can never be fixed and requires room for flexing. A baseline Gantt chart can be confirmed at the beginning of the project and changes can be tracked to show progress against the plan.
The Gantt chart is based on estimates. Estimates can impact costs and resource allocations. If a resource was due to start on a particular date, but the preceding dependant task is not complete, then there will be a delay in the resource requirement, which can impact on costs due to idle time.
Some items that impact time in the real world are easily forgotten and are rarely planned. Humans are difficult to control, as many Project Managers will understand. Project Managers need to ensure their plans include additional time within the project for the events that are often overlooked, such as sickness, meetings, quality, rework, other high priority projects taking resources, reporting and communicating. All of these examples take up resource time and are difficult to estimate.
Time planning is a challenge, but it can be simplified by following a simple rule of thumb. Before I plan anything, I define the scope. This is to ensure that I know WHAT the plan will achieve. Next, I need to understand the time constraints, or the WHEN of the plan. It might be that the start date has to be after a certain date, or that the project must finish before a certain date. The final stage of preparation is the WHO. I need to know what resources, be it a machine or a human, will perform the tasks. Once you understand all three of these constraints, the What, When and Who, you can start planning the project.
As soon as you start creating the Gantt chart, stakeholders can start to visualise the project and understand the resource capacity. You can find the bottlenecks and see the critical path, or produce a Network diagram. Once you start seeing when tasks are expected to be completed, you will add the milestones and start to produce a high level account to communicate to your management, or Project Steering Group. The Gantt chart can be used to define the details and ensure your team leaders can see their own work packages and resource requirements.
The beginning of the project, usually this planning stage, is my favourite time within the project life-cycle. I enjoy understanding the Project Requirements and then working out who and how the project will be completed.