Project managers (PMs) see a lot of project schedules with varying degrees of quality. I’ve seen project schedules scribbled on Happy Hour napkins, drawn on whiteboards (absurdly protected with a Do Not Erase warning), detailed on index cards and Post-it notes, and even retrofitted into Microsoft Excel because the team didn’t understand Microsoft Project.
Over time, we all develop our own set of criteria for what makes a good schedule by blending scheduling theory with real-world practice. The challenge with this approach is that project schedule quality is subjective to the person evaluating the project schedule, and it isn’t consistent across a project portfolio, department, or company. One project manager may feel comfortable managing a high-level schedule, and another project manager may want work packages to be defined at two-week level durations or more detailed granularity. Organizations need consistent advice and guidance based on best practices. Whether your organization has the old sage resident expert or an innovative project management office (PMO) wunderkind, a coach can review only a fixed number of schedules at a given time.
Steelray Software’s Project Analyzer breaks this bottleneck. This powerful tool analyzes your project schedule for quality, provides detailed evaluation reports in seconds, and gives coaching guidance on how to improve the project schedule. Steelray Project Analyzer provides more than 40 formulas and rules to assess the quality of your project schedule with literally one click of a button (Figure A).
Steelray Project Analyzer (Click the image to enlarge.)
Steelray Project Analyzer uses a traffic light status scorecard to easily identify problem areas in your schedule, ranging from common schedule mistakes to complex quality assessments. Scheduling errors such as missing baseline data or missing assigned resources are visually flagged, along with complex quality errors such as excessive slack durations, out-of-sequence tasks, or poorly formed dependencies. The scorecard is customizable, so you can quickly assess a schedule based on your organization’s schedule quality needs (Figure B).
Steelray Project Analyzer Scorecard (Click the image to enlarge.)
The tool also filter’s the Microsoft Project schedule to identify the problem tasks for faster resolution. I’ve written about how to customize Microsoft Project to use custom filters to identify late tasks, but Steelray Project Analyzer takes this concept to an entirely new level. The ability to quickly assess problems in a project schedule saves time and reduces the administrative burden incurred during project execution.
Steelray Project Analyzer also provides coaching advice for each of the problem areas. By clicking the whistle icon, the coaching panel appears and explains each schedule quality rule. More importantly, it tells you what to do next to fix the problems in the project schedule (Figure C).
Steelray Project Analyzer Coaching Module (Click the image to enlarge.)
I really like how the tool provides an objective assessment of the schedule, identifies the tasks that need to be fixed, and provides guidance on next steps to fix problem areas. It is even more impressive that all this analysis can be done in less than a minute.
You still need to consider the project context and the subjective influences in the project schedule. In one example, the tool evaluates the project schedule for earned value management. If your organization hasn’t adopted earned value, then this rule will not have much value to you; however, you can customize the scorecard to use the rules that apply to your organization.
I also like how Steelray Project Analyzer assesses criteria such as schedule performance index and cost performance index as it provides you with goals to achieve.
Practical applications for PMs, PMOs, and suppliers
I pride myself on being able to schedule effectively in Microsoft Project, and yet with Steelray Project Analyzer, I found several problem areas in my schedules within seconds. Even if you have thought of everything when building a project schedule, the tool can serve as a sanity check. The coaching feature also helps explain the rationale and future pitfalls if the scheduling issues are not resolved.
If you are a PMO manager responsible for providing coaching and counseling on project management processes, techniques, and standards, Steelray Project Analyzer is a must-have tool. A PMO team in a large organization can easily support hundreds of projects each year. Each PMO member may have his or her own interpretation and personal best practices on how to effectively develop and manage a project schedule. Steelray Schedule Analyzer provides a consistent set of criteria across the entire organization and standardizes the guidance provided by PMO coaches.
If you manage projects that use third-party suppliers or offshore portions of the project to other teams, Steelray Project Analyzer will help you quickly assess the quality of the supplier schedules. Even if the project has fixed-price deliverables with an outsourced supplier, conducting a quality assessment on the integrated schedule with supplier and client tasks provides value to the project and supports risk management.
As a self-admitted IT geek, I love software tools that help me do my work. We need more tools like Steelray Project Analyzer that help us become better PMs not just through theory but through actual application.
No single tool is a silver bullet for successful project management — you still need to apply your own rationale and logic to problems in your schedule. Download a free trial of Steelray Project Analyzer, apply it to your project schedule, and share your thoughts about this powerful tool in the discussion.