There are many career paths you can use to Become a Project Manager and start a professional career. Project management offers career potential to men and women. The average salary for certified project managers topped $110,000 in the past year. Project management is also a skill demanded worldwide. The demand for project managers has remained strong despite economic ups and downs. In fact, in bad economic times organizations in the private and public sectors need to have projects to improve performance, cut costs or cope with diminished availability of resources. That gives project managers a lot of opportunities to change employers, geographic locations, as well as industries and the type of projects they manage. Project management is now seen as a separate skill from the technical knowledge of information systems or construction or manufacturing. For many projects, particularly large ones, the project manager does not have to be a technical expert in the actual work of the project. Many organizations are coming to realize that what the project manager needs to be expert in is managing projects, teams, stakeholders, schedules and budgets. Project Management Careers Main Page
Become a Project Manager – Three Paths
Here are career three paths or situations we’ll explore:
a recent college graduate
a craftsperson who has worked their way up in the trades
a professional, like a systems analyst, accountant or operations manager, wanting to move into project management.
Become a Project Manager – Recent College Graduate
These days it’s difficult to find a job after you graduate from college, particularly if you don’t have a degree that is in demand. If you’re a person who pays attention to detail and is good on follow-through, a good option is getting a job as a project coordinator or assistant project manager. Usually no experience is required for these entry-level project management positions. Regardless of the title, the work will involve assisting a project manager on a large effort. Your work could include assisting with scheduling the project work, updating the schedule to show the team’s actual performance, documenting information to support change requests and expediting work on tasks by team members, outside contractors and vendors. Good performance in the entry-level position can earn you an opportunity to manage a small project on your own. That’s the first step up in your project manager career.
Become a Project Manager – Working Your Way Up in the Trades
Many project managers gain their first experience out of high school working in the trades or as a line employee. Good performance lets them move up to the supervisor or foreman level and many make the jump to project management at that point. They have a great deal of practical experience to offer. However, they must learn the basics of planning, scheduling, tracking and reporting so they can apply the best practices in project management to their years of practical experience. Usually their first project management assignment is assisting an experienced project manager and learning the ropes from them. Obviously training in the basics of project management is a big help in making this transition from the trades into the professional project manager ranks.
Become a Project Manager – Moving From Another Profession
Still other people begin their career in one profession, such as information systems, civil/electrical/mechanical engineering, medicine/nursing or general management. After several years, they decide that project management is a better fit for their skills and long-term career opportunities. They equip themselves to make the move to project management by getting some basic training in the best practices. Then they market themselves using the combination of their current professional skills and their knowledge of managing projects.
Become a Project Manager- Summary
Each of these paths for getting into project management is possible because the demand for project managers is high. Few organizations have enough people who are able to consistently manage projects to produce results on time and within budget. All of the paths require one thing; that you know the best practices and can use the basic skills of project management. You can learn them in our project management basics courses. Take a look at the course in your industry specialty.
A critical part of your project plan is the work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS for Business & Operations Projects is a lot more than a long list of tasks. It comes from a definition of the project scope which is the business benefit that the project will deliver. The project scope is stated as a metric, an acceptance criteria, and so is every component of the work breakdown structure. Those components are the deliverables, everything that’s required to deliver the business benefit. The aim of the WBS is to give crystal-clear assignments to people working on projects and give management clear checkpoints on progress. Every successful business and operations project also includes process changes in their organization. The WBS has to include the training that will increase the capability of the users. Finally, the WBS is structured with the particular methodology that the project will employ (waterfall, agile, iterative). Main WBS – Work Breakdown Structure – Page
WBS Work Breakdown Structure
WBS – Business and Operations Projects: Step One
The WBS is a decomposition of the project scope. You start by breaking down the scope into 4 to 7 major deliverables. Then you break down each of those major deliverables into smaller deliverables. You continue the process all the way down to tasks you will assign to the team members. To do this decomposition, you must define every task in the work breakdown structure with acceptance criteria. Those are the specific measures the customer or user will apply when deciding whether to accept the deliverable. An example of an acceptance criteria in a project for improving efficiency might be, “Project team members can complete their weekly timesheet in less than two minutes 90% of the time.” That defines a specific end result that you, as the project manager, will use in specifying user requirements and measuring team member performance.
WBS – Business and Operations Projects: Step Two
The WBS – Business & Operations Projects will show the methodology you will use on the project to produce the required deliverables. If you and the project sponsor have decided to use an agile methodology, the WBS will include multiple iterations in the creation of each deliverable. It would include time for the user to assess the result and change the specifications after each iteration. On the other hand, the classic waterfall project plan would include very detailed front end planning followed by execution of the plan.
WBS – Business and Operations Projects: Step Three
The WBS needs to specify the acceptance criteria for quality control and testing. Some testing tasks should include the number of transactions or samples that you will test. That ensures adequate time is estimated for the complete testing procedure. That includes any external testing of the deliverables during development or prior to acceptance. They should appear in the work breakdown structure to ensure enough hours of work for adequate testing and quality control are included in the schedule.
WBS – Business and Operations Projects: Step Four
Finally, if you know which team members will be doing the work on your project, it is a good practice to give them an opportunity to talk about the acceptance criteria for the deliverables they will be producing. Allowing team members to take part in defining the WBS entries and their acceptance criteria gives you two benefits. First, it sets up the estimating process so your team members become familiar with the tasks they’ll be asked to estimate. Second, their participation also gives you the benefit of the team members’ experience with similar projects. That’s an opportunity for you and the team members to identify problems very early in the process.
WBS – Business and Operations Projects: Summary
The aim of the WBS is to
give team members clear assignments that are deliverables
communicate the project methodology you’ll use to produce the deliverables
specify the acceptance criteria for quality control and testing
provide management with checkpoints on progress.
This sample lecture is from our online Project Management Basics course. It focuses on creating the work breakdown structure for small business projects. The focus is on creating a project plan and work breakdown structure that are tools for making clear, measurable assignments and tracking the team’s progress on those deliverables.
To learn more about designing a good WBS for Business & Operations projects, consider taking one of our online project management courses. You’ll learn at your pace with an expert project manager as your coach.
A key part of a good construction project plan is the work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS – Construction Projects specifies the work assignment for every crew member, subcontractor, architect, and outside consulting engineer working on the project. It also specifies the deliverables the customer will get. That definition is in the form of an objective measure like, “maintain 72° degrees temperature during operating hours.”
WBS – Construction Projects: Step One
You begin by defining the scope and major deliverables of the project. Then you breakdown each of those deliverables into smaller deliverables until you get to the level of an individual assignment to a crew member or subcontractor. As you work through this breakdown process, you are specifying the end result you want from each assignment, not what you want them to do.
WBS Work Breakdown Structure
As an example, you wouldn’t describe everything that a framing contractor is supposed to do. Instead, the WBS would specify that the subcontractor is to frame the project according to plan and pass the local municipality’s rough framing inspection. The acceptance criteria of that deliverable is crystal-clear. With every assignment in the construction project WBS specified as a deliverable, you have clearly defined the work assignment for everyone working on the project. The assignments or tasks in the WBS define exactly what a “good job” is for each of those work assignments and how it will be measured. WBS Work Breakdown Structure Main Page
WBS – Construction Projects: Step Two
Second, the work breakdown structure is also based on the construction methodology that will be used on the project. As an example, the WBS of a waterfall construction project will be very different from a project that uses a design-build methodology. In a waterfall methodology project, all the planning is completed before you start construction work. In a design-build methodology project, you begin construction work before all the plans are finished. And an agile methodology project will look very different from the first two types. Here you complete the components iteratively with a great deal of customer interaction and input at each step.
WBS – Construction Projects: Step Three
Third, the construction project WBS has to specify the testing and quality control procedures and acceptance criteria you will use at various checkpoints in the project. Some of these checkpoints may be the testing of materials, other checkpoints may be the governmental comparison of what you have built to the approved plan.
WBS – Construction Projects: Summary
The aim of the WBS is to
give crews and subcontractors clear assignments that are deliverables
communicate the construction methodology you’ll use to produce the deliverables
specify the acceptance criteria for quality control and testing
provide checkpoints on progress.
This sample construction project lecture is from our Construction Project Basics course. It covers how to develop the work breakdown structure (WBS) for smaller commercial and residential construction projects. The focus is on creating a project plan and work breakdown structure that are tools for making clear, measurable assignments and tracking the progress of crews and subcontractors on those deliverables. It also provides a good basis for you, the project manager, to track project progress and do variance analysis.
To learn more about designing a good WBS for construction projects, consider taking one of our online construction project management courses. You’ll learn at your pace with an expert construction project manager as your coach.
The work breakdown structure is the heart of a successful WBS – Information Technology project plan. The work breakdown structure (WBS) defines the deliverables in objectively measurable terms, like retrieve 6 months of customer history in 4 seconds. It fits the systems developmental methodology you will use in the project, like Agile, Waterfall, Iterative, etc. It defines the users’ expectations about exactly what business result(s) they will get. The WBS must cover the three components of successful implementation. It covers not only 1.)what the analysts and programmers will do but also 2.) the users’ process changes and 3.) the user training.
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Step One
First, the WBS tells everyone what’s expected of them. You and the users start by breaking down the project scope into 4 to 7 major deliverables. Then you break down each of those major deliverables into smaller deliverables. You continue the process all the way down to tasks you will assign to the team members, information system staff and user staff. Yes, it includes assignments for the development staff and the users because both groups will complete tasks to deliver the project scope. To do this decomposition, you define every task in the work breakdown structure with acceptance criteria that is usually a metric. Those are the specific measures the user will apply when deciding whether to accept the deliverable. The WBS allows the sponsor and user management to track the progress of the project because every entry in the WBS is unambiguous; they are measurable. WBS Work Breakdown Structure Main Page
WBS Work Breakdown Structure
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Step Two
Second, on an IT project the WBS also communicates the systems development methodology you’ll use on the project to produce the required deliverables. If you and the project sponsor have decided to use an Agile methodology, the WBS will include multiple iterations of each deliverable. It will include time for the user to evaluate the result and change the specifications after each iteration. On the other hand, the classic Waterfall project development would include very detailed front end planning followed by execution of the plan. So an IT project WBS done with a Waterfall methodology is very different from a WBS for an Agile systems development effort or any of the other IT methodologies.
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Step Three
Third, regardless of the methodology, a correctly developed WBS is not a list of activities or “to dos.” It is a list of acceptance criteria that define what a good job is on each of the WBS entries. As an example, if one or more programmers will write the code for a payroll data entry screen, you might define the acceptance criteria for that effort with a WBS entry like, “Payroll clerks can create new employee payroll records using the new GUI in less than three minutes 90% of the time.” That tells both the programmers and the users involved what they’re going to get from this new GUI. When you define your WBS entries this way, you have the discussion and debate about the deliverable’s acceptance criteria before you even start work.
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Step Four
Fourth, the WBS needs to specify the acceptance criteria for quality control and testing. Some testing tasks should include the number of transactions that you will test. That ensures that adequate time is estimated for the complete testing procedure. That includes any external testing of the software during its development or prior to acceptance. The tasks should also appear in the WBS so enough hours of work are allocated to the process and the resulting schedule for adequate testing and quality control.
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Step Five
Fifth, if you know which team members will be doing the work on your project, it is a good practice to give them an opportunity to talk about the acceptance criteria for the deliverables they will be producing. Allowing team members to take part in defining the WBS entries and their acceptance criteria gives you two benefits. First, it sets up the estimating process so your team members become familiar with the tasks they’ll be asked to estimate. Second, this participation also gives you, the project manager, the benefit of the team members’ experience with similar projects. That’s an opportunity for you to identify problems very early in the planning process.
WBS – Information Technology Projects: Summary
The aim of the WBS is to
give clear assignments to system analysts, programmers and users
communicate the systems development methodology you’ll use to produce the deliverables
state the acceptance criteria on each of the deliverables and provide checkpoints on progress
specify the acceptance criteria for quality control and testing
set up the estimating and early problem solving processes
This sample IT project lecture from our IT Project Basics course focuses on developing the work breakdown structure for IT systems development projects. The focus is on creating a project plan and work breakdown structure that are tools for making clear, measurable assignments and tracking the progress of the deliverables.
To learn more about designing a good WBS for IT projects, consider our project management courses. You learn with an expert project manager as your coach.
Managing project risks is a touchy subject with project sponsors. The majority of executives who sponsor projects are hesitant to authorize risk management efforts. This is because in the past many executives have gotten burned by risk management efforts that cost a great deal of time and money and produced little or no results. So it’s hard to get the sponsor’s approval to do risk management. Often executives will say, “Start work and we will put out fires when they occur.” But firefighting is not the way to succeed on projects. Project Risk Management Main Page
There is an unfortunate emphasis in many organizations on firefighting as opposed to careful planning. This includes planning for the risks the project faces. Many project sponsors like the idea of not committing to highly detailed project plans. They think, and rightly so, that this limits their ability to “be flexible” and make changes whenever they want. Project managers who buy into this thinking have happy sponsors in the beginning of the project because they can start work fast. In this situation, the team puts little effort into project planning and there certainly is no project risk management. Unfortunately, the same project managers are routinely surprised by risk events that easily could have been anticipated during the planning phase. Because there was no risk management, the team has to stop work and figure out what to do about the risk(s) that smacked them in the face.
Managing Project Risks The Wrong Way
Let’s think about what happens when a project manager and team rely on firefighting instead of having a well thought out risk response plan. Let’s talk about a specific example. A project manager is relying on an outside contractor to produce a “super tech” deliverable that is required by three major project deliverables. In other words the super tech is an input to three other deliverables. There had been discussion among the project team and the organization’s legal staff about the contract with this vendor. But the team had worked with him before and assumed the super tech deliverable would be exactly what they need.
The project has started fairly quickly because no detail plan is being formulated. Over the first month everything goes well but then the vendor calls and says, “Super tech is going to be delayed because four of my best people have just walked off the job to go to work for a competitor in California. I don’t know where the heck I’m going to find people to do your super tech work. But I’ll get to work on it right now and keep you posted.” The project manager tries to find out how much of a delay they’re facing and the vendor says there’s no way to tell at this point.” The project manager also reminds the vendor that there’s a contract requirement to deliver super tech by the end of June. The vendor says, “That’s a long way away. I’m sure we’ll get it worked out by then.”
The project team is stuck because they gave no thought to the possibility of the vendor being unable to produce the deliverable by the end of June. They had done no risk analysis or planning about this critical project deliverable. There was no contingency plan and no money to pay for hiring another contractor to do the work. They also hadn’t planned for the option of buying a pre-built or “canned” deliverable as a substitute for super tech. So the project team must stop work on other project activities while they and the project manager try to find other options for super tech. Even if they find a substitute, the project will be significantly late because of the delay.
This type of risk event occurs all the time. People who try to respond to this type of risk with firefighting fail to recognize one thing. All the thinking that they’re going to do in this firefight should have been done as part of the risk management process. Then they would have had a contingency plan approved by the sponsor which they could implement the moment the contractor called with bad news.
When the project is late and over budget because of a couple of these risk events the sponsor’s not happy. Project managers need to remind executives of these failed projects to “sell” them on the need for risk management on future projects. Presenting Your Risk Plan
Managing Project Risks The Right Way
A risk management process can pay big dividends, particularly when it is scaled to fit each project. In fact, the entire risk management effort for a small project can take place during lunch with the sponsor. The sponsor and project manager spend one hour to identify the risks, analyze them and plan ways to avoid or mitigate the significant ones. There are bare-bone risk management techniques that don’t require a lot of paper work. Small Project Risk Management
To learn more how to manage project risks, consider our online project management courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.
The critical path is the longest sequence of tasks in a project. The tasks on the critical path control the duration of the entire project. Any increase in duration of a critical path task will always cause the project’s duration to increase. The Critical Path is a great tool to help you shorten the duration of your project and plan corrective action. It lets you focus your attention on the tasks where adding resources will allow the project to finish early. Most project management software automatically calculates the critical path if you set up the schedule properly. That means you don’t enter start and finish dates. Instead, you use estimates of the amount of work and predecessor relationships between the tasks. This requires a little extra effort in the beginning but it gives you the critical path method for the life of the project. Project Schedule & Software Main Page
Use the Critical Path to Crash the Plan
You should use critical path analysis to optimize the project schedule. First you examine each of the tasks on the critical path, looking at the resources they are utilizing. You can shorten your critical path by adding resources to these critical path tasks. That’s called crashing the plan.
As you add these resources, the critical path can change. Although the critical path is the longest path, there are always several paths through the project. As you shorten your critical path, its duration will decrease. After you add resources, a different sequence of tasks often becomes the critical path. That’s why most project software is continually calculating the critical path. It identifies the tasks that are on it, usually by coloring them red. After your critical path has changed, you examine those tasks for opportunities to add resources to shorten the tasks’ duration and, thus, the project’s duration. Remember that you gain nothing by adding resources to noncritical path tasks.
Use the Critical Path to Fast Track the Plan
You can also change the duration of the critical path by altering the predecessor relationships between the tasks. You look at the tasks on your critical path and focus on those that have a finish-to-start predecessor relationship. For example, task A and task B have a finish-to-start relationship if task A must finish before task B can start. Some tasks must have finish-to-start predecessors. If you are building a house, for example, the foundation (task A) must be dry before you can start building the walls (task B). But there are some tasks where you can alter the pure finish-to-start predecessor relationship. You can start the second task a few weeks earlier than the pure finish-to-start predecessor would allow. An example is a design task (task A) followed by a construction task (task B). You might be able to begin the construction task (task B) before the design task (task A) is totally complete. Once again, you would only do this on critical path tasks so that the fast tracking change will shorten the project’s critical path.
Use the Critical Path for Trade-offs
Whenever the project sponsor talks with you about finishing earlier (and that may happen weekly), you can use the critical path and your project software to model options. If the sponsor asks about finishing 10 days earlier, you would use your critical path and schedule software to calculate how many more resources you need to do that. You would examine your critical path tasks and focus on the longer ones because you want to gain 10 days of duration. If you found task #31 on the critical path and it was currently scheduled for a 20 day duration (4 weeks), you might look at it more closely. If that task had one engineer doing 160 hours of work, you might model an option of adding a second engineer and spreading the work between two people. That should come close to reducing the 20 day duration to 10 days or so. Then you could offer the sponsor a trade-off off by saying, “If you give me a second engineer for task #31 for two weeks, I can cut the duration by 10 days.”
Use the Critical Path for Change Requests
Every project manager has to deal with requests to change the project finish date, the budget or the scope. These “requests” come from people who outrank you or sign your paychecks. You can use the critical path method to assess the trade-offs between the various dimensions of the project. Then you can present options to the sponsor and stakeholders for changing the project’s scope, duration, cost or risk to better fit their requirements. It’s wise to go into meetings with options for those changes already modeled so you can present them when someone asks. You’ll have the data available to tell them what the scope change will cost in terms of increased budget and increased duration. The best technique is to use trade-offs between the project’s dimensions, the “4 corners” of scope, duration, cost and risk, to handle the change request and maintain the project’s feasibility.
Critical Path Requirements
You use trade-offs analysis between scope, duration, cost and risk during planning, during each week’s status meeting, and on all change requests/change orders. The critical path technique helps you calculate them. You can:
Decide which problems you have to solve and which you can safely ignore
Find the cheapest way to shorten the duration of the project
Assign your best people to the tasks that control the project’s duration.
So why don’t more project managers use the critical path methop? Because it requires you to use the following scheduling techniques:
You must base durations on availability and work (i.e., a task with 12 hours of work for a half-time person takes 3 days’ duration)
You must use predecessor relationships to control task sequencing (i.e., start-to-finish or finish-to-finish) rather than entering start and finish dates.
Those two techniques are the foundation for critical path analysis. They will save you hours of work because your schedule will dynamically update. That makes learning them worth learning. In the picture below, the tasks in red are on the critical path, the longest sequence of tasks. The tasks in blue are not on the critical path.
Critical Path in the Software
Notice how the sequence (or path) of red tasks takes longer than the other paths. Now look at the blue tasks that run from row #14 – Row #25. They finish almost a month before the red tasks on the critical path. How could you use that information? Remember that if any of those blue tasks finish a little bit later than planned, it’s not going to increase the overall duration of the project. So if you want to shorten the duration of the project, you could take resources off some of those blue tasks (which would make them take longer) and have them work on a critical path task. That’s one way to shorten the duration of your project and you should model that option in the software. An added bonus is that when you can identify that kind of opportunity, shortening the duration doesn’t increase the project’s costs.
Another way you can use the critical path is to decide how serious a problem is. As an example, if the person working on task #18 tells you they made an incorrect estimate and their task is going to take five days longer than planned, should you become hysterical? No. A quick look at the critical path information shows you that task #18 can finish weeks later than its current scheduled completion date without affecting the duration of the project. Consistently successful project managers have information that lets them decide which schedule variations they have to solve and which ones they can accept. That saves a lot of wear and tear on you and the project team.
Using these critical path techniques save you time and give you information to make better decisions about your projects. We cover these critical path tools and techniques in all our customized, personal online training courses. You will work individually with an expert PM and learn how to optimize schedules so the project finishes as soon as possible. You’ll also learn to present the project stakeholders with trade-off options based on your critical path analysis. You work privately, 1-to-1, with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.
Requests to shorten the project schedule and finish earlier are a regular part of managing a project. The first requests to shorten the schedule come almost immediately after you release the first draft of the schedule, when the project is still in the planning phase. The sponsor and stakeholders all come to you with reasons why the project needs to finish earlier. You need the correct techniques to address these requests or you will wind up promising durations that are impossible to deliver. Project Schedule & Software Main Page
The second batch of requests to shorten the project schedule come shortly after you launch the project. That’s when executives and other stakeholders begin to realize how your project may affect other projects in the organization. That’s when the new requests for an earlier finish date arrive on your desk. Again, you need to know the proper techniques. The objective is not to deny all of these requests to shorten the project duration. If you take that approach, your relationships with the stakeholders will go downhill fast. Plus you will usually get overruled. Project Status Reports
You need to focus on preserving the feasibility of the project in the face of these requests to finish earlier. There’s nothing wrong with shortening the duration of the project if you secure additional resources to do it or you can get approval to reduce the scope of the project to allow shortening of the duration. Finally, you can shorten the duration if you get additional budget to pay overtime or hire outside contractors.
Successful project managers don’t just promise to shorten the duration and figure out how to do it later. They develop the data to show the sponsor and stakeholders alternative ways of shortening the duration. These are never free. There are always trade-offs in the project scope, cost, duration or risk for shortening the duration. Let’s look at how you develop the data for trade-offs.
Project Due Date - Finish Earlier
Project Schedule: Critical Path to Model Changes
You use the critical path method to identify the most efficient way to shorten the project duration. The first step is to use your project software to calculate the duration of every path (sequence of tasks) in the project. The path or sequence of tasks with the longest duration is the critical path and controls the project duration. All the other paths have slack or float. That is, they can finish later than currently scheduled and not delay the overall project completion date. This is significant because when you need to shorten the project duration, you do so by shortening the critical path. Reducing the duration of tasks in the project that are not on the critical path will allow those tasks to finish sooner but will not shorten the overall project duration. Critical Path
Once the project software identifies the tasks that are on the critical path, you can consider various options for shortening the duration of that path. Those options would include “crashing” the project by adding resources to critical path tasks so they finish sooner. As you are adding resources to the critical path tasks, you need to check to see if the critical path has changed. As you add resources to the tasks on a given path, the duration of that path decreases. Once another path has the longest duration, it becomes the critical path. Adding more resources to any tasks not on the critical path will not affect the duration of the project.
Let’s summarize everything we’ve covered.
When Do You Use the Critical Path?
You use the critical path technique when you need to shorten the duration of the project. The most common situation is when the initial draft of the schedule takes longer than the sponsor wants. You also use it to develop solutions for variances and to handle change requests.
Why Do You Use the Critical Path?
You use the critical path technique because it identifies where to add resources to reduce the project duration. Adding resources to the critical path tasks, (the longest path in the project) is much cheaper than adding resources to all of the tasks. The reason is that the other paths have slack; they can finish later than scheduled without delaying the project completion. It’s always useful to identify the critical path as you near the end of your project scheduling process. By knowing the critical path and how much slack the other tasks in the project have, you can identify opportunities for shortening the duration.
Project Schedule: Finish Earlier Example
Let’s examine a project with three paths. Each task in the path is identified with an alphabetic letter so the path ABDE starts with task A, then goes to B, then to D and ends with E. Here are the durations of each of the three paths and the amount of slack they each have.
Path ABDE: 10 days duration, 4 days of slack
Path ACFE: 14 days duration, 0 days of slack
Path ADGE: 13 days duration, 1 day of slack
You see that path ACFE has the longest duration, which is 14 days. You also see that path ACFE has no slack. When the path has no slack, the tasks on it cannot finish later than the baseline schedule without increasing the duration of the project. When they have slack, they can increase their duration until they use up all of their slack. At that point, that path becomes the critical path.
Chris Pimbock was a new project manager in his organization and he was preparing the schedule to present to the project sponsor. The sponsor was very clear during the initial planning session that the project had to be finished within 45 days. When Chris checked the first draft of the schedule, the duration of the project was 50 days. Chris knew he had to shorten the project duration. Chris calculated the duration of each of the four paths through the project and found that the critical path was indeed 50 days long. However, the other three paths were all less than 40 days. Chris then examined the five tasks that were on the critical path and found that one task, the engineering work, had 20 day duration. That told Chris that the easiest place to shorten the project duration by 5 days was the task with the 20 day duration. Chris looked at the resources assigned to that task on the critical path and found that one engineer was assigned to do 160 hours of work.
Chris contacted the engineering department and asked if a second engineer might be available to help on the task. In discussing options with the manager, Chris also specified that if they added a second engineer, both engineers could be finished within 10 days rather than the original 20 day schedule. The engineering department manager agreed to supply a second engineer to the project and Chris rescheduled the whole project. The duration was now 40 days and that allowed Chris to present a schedule that had 5 days of slack. That meant that the critical path tasks could slip by 5 days and the project would still finish on time.
Chris Pimbock was able to meet the project sponsor’s requirement without promising a duration that was faster than he could deliver. The key here was using data to show the sponsor exactly what had to happen to shorten the duration. This wasn’t a matter of leadership or inspiration of the project team, it was a matter of mathematics.
You can learn all of those skills in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with a expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.
Project Management Software comes in many degrees of sophistication and prices range from $50 to $20,000 or more. The Project Management Software itself doesn’t make you more effective; it just makes you more efficient. The software doesn’t teach you how to define the scope, communicate with the project sponsor or make clear assignments to your team members. It just lets you do these and many other tasks more efficiently. Let’s talk about the types of Project Management Software available for the kind of projects you manage. This will let you pick a Project Management Software tool that’s right for you and the organizational setting in which you work. Project Schedule & Software Main Page
Why Use Project Management Software?
Picking the correct Project Management Software product to build your schedule is a key to consistently finishing your projects on time and within budget. The software lets you schedule the critical project management steps more efficiently than using a yellow notepad or an Excel spreadsheet. It allows you to quickly and efficiently complete these critical steps:
Spotting problems early, not after it’s too late to fix them
Optimizing the use of resources so you finish as early as possible
Updating the project schedule in a few minutes each week so you know where you are
Updating everyone’s schedule quickly when things change.
No matter what size your project is, you should use Project Management Software to save time and get the data you need. It is valuable on small projects and a necessity on larger projects. There are thousand of project management software packages on the web, in the cloud or that to you can install on your PC or Mac. Even the free Project Management Software products that are available are worth using. Software will save you hours making your plan and schedule and reporting actual progress to the boss. The time you save will allow you to manage the project team and anticipate/solve problems. That makes you a more effective and successful project manager. People who try to manage projects using a yellow note pad or spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel waste hundreds of hours, even on a small project.
How to Use Project Management Software
First, you will use Project Management Software to develop the schedule. You’ll enter data about the deliverables in the work breakdown structure (WBS) and the people who will be doing the work. This includes the hours of work each task requires and the availability of the team members assigned to teach task. With that data, the software can calculate the duration of the tasks and the entire project. It also produces a schedule for each team member. The schedules show the team members when they are supposed to start and finish each task.
You’ll also use Project Management Software to track progress on the plan that the project sponsor approved. The software compares how the project is actually doing versus the plan. To do this, the software uses the data you enter every week from the project team members’ status reports. It will automatically compare what’s actually happened to what should have happened. This lets you spot variances to the plan and take corrective action to fix the negative variances.
Project Management Software Survey
As project management has become more important in organizations, the number of Project Management Software products has increased. In our latest survey of Project Management Software products, we found over 500 legitimate products. (By the way, we don’t sell any software.) There were hundreds more products that didn’t meet the following minimum criteria:
Produce a Gantt chart that clearly communicates the start and finish date for each task and their sequence.
Calculate the duration for each task and the entire project from work and availability data
Generate graphics and data comparing actual performance to the baseline project schedule.
If those three criteria are all you need, there are plenty of Project Management Software packages costing $25 or less that will meet your needs. You could also spend thousands of dollars for packages that don’t do much more than those three features; they just do it fancier. Before buying any software, you need to decide what you want it to do for you. There are additional capabilities that even a new project manager starting out on a small project should get from their Project Management Software.
So let’s explore which of the following categories fits you best.
Project Management Software For Small Projects
Project managers in this category often plan and schedule with only durations, not estimates of work and resource capacity. Many times they don’t need to develop or track a project budget and status reports only track completion dates. At this level, the organization usually does not consolidate or “roll-up” all the projects into a project portfolio. It also doesn’t manage the total use of all the people who work on projects.
The low-end Project Management Software products are fine for project managers who want to automate the process of building plans, preparing occasional status reports and producing simple Gantt and PERT charts . There are plenty of packages that will automate these basics for you. There is no need to invest the time to master the more advanced products. For under $125, there are products like: Gantter or Quickbase. Most computer and business supply stores carry these less expensive products. There are also a number of web-based products at this capability level.
Project Management Software for Medium-size Projects
As the scale of projects grows and their impact reaches beyond one functional unit, demands grow on the project manager’s techniques and the Project Management Software capabilities. Software that is a static representation of start and finish dates won’t meet your needs. You need to use software tools that simulate the project and reschedule and optimize it every time there is a change. You can’t re-enter start and finish dates every time something changes in the schedule. You need Project Management Software that can control the sequence of tasks with predecessor relationships. Predecessor relationships connect tasks that must be done sequentially, concurrently or consecutively. As an example, Task A must finish before Task B can start. Or Tasks A and B must finish at the same time (or begin at the same time). The software helps you build project plans based on estimated hours of work and predecessor relationships, not just start and finish dates. Those dates change frequently throughout the life of the project. Project Management Software that uses predecessor relationships lets you update the schedule in 10 minutes each week. No more hours spent crunching calculations and doing data entry.
Project Management Software at this level also gives you the ability to enter estimate-to-complete data. This allows you to gather data from your project team members about when they’re going to finish their task(s). Then you use the software to forecast when the entire project will finish. This makes your status reports more complete and lets you communicate to the boss that you are in control of what’s happening on the project.
Budget is now an important issue in planning and tracking. You require software that gives you the ability to budget and schedule internal employees was well as external consultants, vendors, equipment and travel expenses. These products include critical path and resource leveling tools. And because you are building more precise work-based plans, the Project Management Software will produce more advanced earned value reporting and slack and delay reports for fine-tuning the schedule and resolving variances.
The cost of this project software takes quite a jump in price to the $300-$500 level. The learning curve for these software tools is much steeper than the prior level. The big market shares belong to Microsoft Project and Primavera (Oracle) products.
Project Management Software for Larger Projects
On larger projects, you will need the ability to schedule and track progress using work estimates. You also need to track actual work completed versus the baseline plan. You shouldn’t use estimates of start and finish dates. You should be scheduling and tracking with estimates of the amount of work and the duration, not finish dates. This allows you to avoid surprises, especially those surprises that come just before the scheduled finish date. Then t’s too late for you to fix them. You have an early warning system if you estimate both the amount of work required to do the task and the amount of work remaining on a task. The latter is reported by your team members in their weekly status reports. It’s important to have the software track resource utilization and the workload for each team member. This gives you the facts needed to shift resources between tasks as problems arise and more resources are needed. You need the ability to display critical path, slack (also called float) and delay for each task. This allows you to quickly shorten the duration and decide what tasks you should assign to people when changes occur. You need to make weekly adjustments to resource assignments as new projects start and old ones finish or slip. All professional project managers use Project Management Software with these capabilities. Microsoft Project has all these capabilities in the desktop version and it is an excellent Project Management Software program for larger projects.
Project Management Software for Multiple Projects
The requirements for sophisticated Project Management Software products grow when you start managing multiple projects. In this situation, you are probably operating in a mature project organization that manages resources across all projects. There are executives who are accountable for portfolios of projects. You need a set of Project Management Software tools to consistently plan projects, set priorities, allocate resources to projects based on those priorities and track their progress through completion. You now need to consolidate (roll-up) multiple projects and provide consistent information so executive decision-makers can prioritize projects. You must also allocate resources and schedule and track a pool of people working on multiple projects. This process is a lot more complicated than it sounds. It requires organization processes for portfolio management and Project Management Software that can identify conflicting demands for the same resources. It must allow the executives to set priorities among projects that require the same resources. Here are other requirements the Project Management Software must provide:
Visuals that compare the actual to the baseline schedule and budget. Display slack and delay for schedule and resource optimization.
Report by task, major deliverable, resource and the department the resources came from. Earned value, cost and time variances are also required reports.
Base the schedule on work estimates, not just start/finish dates. (You can skip it if finishing on time is not critical in your organization.)
Calculate duration based on resource availability and work required (resource-driven scheduling).
Schedule people for a portfolio of projects based on project priorities.
Automatic resource leveling to ensure no resource is assigned more work than they can do.
Archived database for future project estimates.
At the strategic project level, you need Project Management Software that can allocate people’s time based on the priority of the task or project to which they’re assigned. Resource-driven scheduling uses predecessor relationships, not start and finish dates. This combination of features saves you lots of time. It also gives you the tools to quickly quantify the impact of changes the project sponsor wants to make. Project managers routinely deal with sponsors who are several organizational levels above them or who sign their paycheck. In these situations, you can’t argue with the sponsor about the best way to do the project. What you need is data to quantify the impact of changes and model alternative ways of solving problems. Having that data gives you more credibility with the sponsor. It also gives the executives solid date on which to make their decisions. They don’t have to pluck due dates and budgets out of the air.
In addition to time-saving scheduling and analysis tools, Project Management Software should also archive data for use on future projects. Incredible value comes from archiving data on every project. The right Project Management Software tracks actual performance in terms of hours of work and completion dates and builds a database for estimating on the next project. The archived data makes future estimates easier and more accurate. Microsoft Project also has all these capabilities in the desktop version.
Project Management Software Summary
Project Management Software products come in many levels of sophistication with prices ranging from free to $20,000 or more. No matter what size your project is, you should use Project Management Software to save time and get the data you and the project sponsor need. It is valuable on small projects and a necessity on larger projects.
You can learn how to use project management software in our online project management basics courses. You work privately with an expert project manager who is your instructor and coach. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences with them as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.