The CPM Schedule as a Multi-Dimensional Model

The CPM Schedule as a Multi-Dimensional Model

Throughout CPM Mechanics we have been advised never to lose sight of the distinction between the Project Execution itself and the model of that Project Execution, the Project Schedule. We were told that Activities in the Schedule represent Actions in the Project. We were told that Logic Ties which connect Activities in the Schedule actually represent the Interdependency Relationships between those human Actions on the Project.

The point to be made is that it is all too easy (and, sadly, too common) to conflate the very real Project with the superficial and virtual Project Model. When we stare at a CPM schedule, we must use our imagination to visualize the Project that the Schedule seeks to model. One way to accomplish this is by taking the additional mental step of appreciating the distinct informational nuances of Schedule content within different Schedule Segments.

Why Schedule Tense is So Important to Understanding Project Schedules

In one of the book’s final chapters we learn about something called Schedule Tense, that Schedules can and mostly do reflect three different Project Temporal States: past, present, and future. We learn that Schedule Segments in the Project Model correspond to Project Performance Periods out on the Project.

I thought that a good use of this last blog posting (in the CPM Mechanics blog series) would be to consider how the meaning of various Primary Schedule Elements might differ, depending on the Schedule Segment within which they appear. For the following discussion, please refer to this table:

Schedule Element Past Present (Imminent) Future
Activity Recorded Actions Opportunity Actions Possibility Actions
Logic Ties (Actual Restrictions) Coordination (internal) Collaboration, Cooperation
Dates Historical Facts Commitment (Current) Intention
Date Constraint (Actual Restriction) Coordination (external) (Current) Expectation
Duration (Actual Requirement) Priority and Autonomy Timeframes (Time Holders)


Different Meanings of Activity: Let us start with the most basic element of any schedule, the Activity. We know that Activities in a Schedule represent Actions on the Project. But is there more to recognize about Activities, with respect to the different Schedule Segments?

  • Past Segment Activities found in the Past Segment represent work that was performed, what we might call Recorded Actions.
  • Present-Imminent Segment Activities found in the short-ranged Imminent Period of the Present Segment can be appreciated as a listing of opportunities for Action that face the Project Team. Viewed this way, we would spend sufficient time in discussions to discover ways to capitalize on those opportunities.
  • Future Segment By contrast, Activities in the Future Segment only describe the possibility of scope performance. Whereas there is little uncertainty that Present Period Actions will be performed, Future Segment Activities clearly state what is not only possible, but reasonably expected to occur.

Different Meanings of Logic Ties: As a generalization, Logic Ties in a Project Schedule model corresponding Relationships on the Project itself. But when we look closer, at the Schedule Segment level, we see important distinctions.

  • Past Segment The truth is that the Logic Ties that we see in the Past Segment of the typical Project Schedule are fairly useless and not to be trusted. I say this because, once the Activities have been statused as complete, the Logic Ties between the Activities are not adjusted to reflect the true Relationship between the corresponding Actions on the Project. I challenge you to find any Best Practices guidelines that call for adjusting the Logic Ties to reflect how the Activities in the Schedule were actually interrelated. And that is why I put the words “Actual Restrictions” in parentheses: they are simply not recorded.
  • Present-Imminent Segment As for Present Segment Logic Ties, these reflect the most current thinking of the Project Team as to how the Imminent Period work will be performed. In other words, it expresses the coordination plans of the Project Team, but only of the work to be performed by Project Team (internal).
  • Future Segment As we turn our focus to the Future Segment, Logic Ties become absolute, as they express the collaborative and cooperative intentions of the Project Team.

Different Meanings of Activity Dates: Activity Dates have different names, depending on the Schedule Segment.  Present and Future Segment Activity Dates are calculated, whereas Past Segment Dates are actual.

  • Past Segment Activity Dates represent historical facts. They account for when corresponding Actions on the Project actually occurred. It is a best practice to record the Actual Dates for Activities that are reported started and/or completed.
  • Present-Imminent Segment Calculated Dates for the Imminent Period represent solid, take-it-to-the-bank commitments among the Project Team members.
  • Future Segment Contrast that with Future Segment Dates which are, at best, a reflection of the best intentions of the Project Team. The word “current” is set off in parentheses because it is not a common practice to revisit the details of the Future Schedule Segment, on the occasion of each Schedule Update. ICS-Research recommends that the Schedule be revisited for confirmation of continued viability, but this is hardly a standard practice in the construction industry. In fact, most construction contracts discourage (and some even prohibit) changes to even the most minute details of the Project Schedule without prior Owner consent.

Different Meanings of Date Constraints: Imposed Date Constraints have the effect of modifying date calculations, pursuant to the functionality of the specific Date Constraint.

  • Past Segment Date Constraints become dormant, or disappear, once the Activities to which they are attached are completed. It would be an interesting enhancement to our Project Time Management processes if we were to note any Date Constraints that actually affected the performance of Activities. Since this is not a common practice, I have put it in parentheses.
  • Present-Imminent Segment In the Present Segment, Date Constraints are included for coordinative purposes, to more specifically and thoroughly describe any agreed-upon pacing factors.
  • Future Segment Date Constraints that appear in the Future Segment are placed there to reflect the expectations of the Project Team with respect to some future event or circumstance.

Different Meanings of Activity Durations: Activity Durations have very different meanings, depending on the Schedule Segment

  • Past Segment Activity Durations, if we would take the time and effort to calculate the amount of time actually required to perform the work, could be a very useful mode of actual performance. But Actual Durations are rarely calculated or captured.
  • Present-Imminent Segment Durations in this Schedule Segment are the most important and essential elements in the Schedule when it comes to the Project Team’s ability to prioritize its work in the near term. It also helps clarify who has “rights” to specific work areas, and when those area are “theirs alone.”
  • Future Segment In the world of publishing there is this thing called the “place-holder,” which is an empty box drawn on the document layout sheets to hold a place for a future diagram or image to be “dropped in” once developed. Likewise, the Durations of Activities in the Future Segment can be thought of as time-holders; we call them Timeframes.

A Monolithic Perspective is Over-Simplistic

I hope you enjoyed the above discussion. The Take Away is that a Schedule is not this monolithic document; it is a fractal. We should hardly be surprised to read this. Across the blogs of this series we have come to realize that a Project is a fractal, as is Project Management and Project Time Management.

Now we see that the Project Schedule, too, has many facets to it, and each facet has its own attributes and limitations. The Critical Path Method is just a technology, nothing more. What we do with it is a very different, and much larger, discussion — which will be considered in sufficient depth in other ICS-Institute Courses, books, and blogs. See you there!

Rethinking Schedule Updating Objectives

If I turn down the noise and listen ever so carefully, sometimes I think I hear a faint chorus of skeptics who may share my doubt about the sanctity of the Holy Grail of modern Project Controls, the Baseline Schedule.  For many decades now, the prevailing wisdom has been that:
  • Well in advance of its happening, it is actually possible to create a detailed step-by-step recipe for project (temporal) success; and,
  • If dutifully followed, this Master Plan virtually guarantees project (temporal) success; and,
  • The essence of true Project Control is to constantly monitor ongoing project performance with vigilant eye trained on any deviations from the Master Plan.

Those who know me know that I have long railed against such a preposterous set of propositions. While I can present an impressive number of arguments in opposition to the prevailing thinking, perhaps only one argument needs to be raised: it runs contrary to human nature.

Looking Forward

What Project Owner does not look forward to a positive outcome for its project? What contractor does not also look forward to a profitable and successful project? My point is not so much what they look forward to, as it is that they look forward!! We humans consistently and naturally spend more of our time looking forward than backward. That is how we think.

So I was grocery shopping with my grandson the other day. We had been given a shopping list by my wife. Now, being the anal-retentive person that I am, prior to leaving home I had taken the time to rewrite her list in an order that corresponded to the layout of grocery aisles. I thought this would make our venture more efficient. Off Marcus and I went, with list in hand, and smiles on our faces.

For the first few aisles, all was going well. But then we got the crazy idea to go to movie after we finished shopping. We quickly checked movie listings on my smart phone and learned that the movie would be starting quite soon. If we were to make it in time, we would have to speed up the remainder of the shopping.

To accomplish this, we tore the list in half and went our separate ways. After a short while, we met in the middle of the store and compared our respective progress. As it turned out, each of us had missed a few items. Taking a minute to be systematic, we scratched off what we had gotten and identified what was left. We then spied the clock as well as the long checkout lines and concluded, much to our disappointment, that we would not be able to make the movie in time.

And just like a million other examples across a lifetime that I could present to you (or you could think of), our shopping experience illustrates how we humans look at (a) what is left to do, and (b) the amount of time left to do it in. That is how we pace ourselves! The point of this story is that Marcus and I did not spend time looking backward in review of what we had accomplished or the rate at which we had placed items in our respective baskets.

Looking Backward

Yet that is precisely what Dominant Project Management mandates as not just a “best” practice of — but in fact as the main reason for — updating the Project Schedule.  We update the schedule in order to perform an assortment of variance analyses aimed at identifying any instances of the actual work deviating from the planned work.  It is an entirely retrospective exercise.

The main problem with the Dominant Project Management approach is that peering backward does not advance the Project. Instead, it just monitors and maintains the Baseline Schedule. This wouldn’t be so bad if the Baseline Schedule really was a proven formula for guaranteed success. But, it’s not!

There are two inescapable flaws in the Dominant Project Management thinking: Projects are unpredictable and Project execution is circumstantial.

Taken together, this means that the very best we can hope for, if we are 100% loyal to the Baseline Schedule, is achievement of Original Plan — but never an improvement upon it. And if I sound overly cynical, may I ask you to recall, from your own experience, how a Contractor is treated should he deviate from the Baseline Schedule to any measurable degree. Is he not called upon to (a) submit a “Recovery Plan,” or (b) chastised for having not followed the schedule, for working “out of sequence?”

Guiding the Future versus Bemoaning the Past

Cognitive Project Management encourages a different mindset. It argues that the real value in updating the Project Schedule is in order to (a) see where things stand, and (b) to plot the most optimum course forward from the Present Standing to the ultimate temporal objectives.

A helpful analogy might well be different parenting styles when it comes to their child’s progress at school.  Following the Dominant Project Management mold, a parent would merely monitor test scores and report cards, and point out to the child where performance had been deficient. Such a parent would then end its involvement by requiring that the child prepare and submit a “Grade Recovery Plan.” Contrast that with the parents who would actually work with their child to help them with their homework, to help them understand the material!

Maybe It’s Simply a Matter of Perception

In hindsight, maybe it all began with the wrong set of labels.  I mean, why did we ever call the great masterpiece a “schedule?” I mean, just image the Lord’s Prayer being called the “The Lord’s Poem.” Surely the Lord’s Prayer is poetry. But that label merely describes what it is, not why we recite it. We call it a prayer because that is how it is to be used.

Cognitive Project Management describes the Project Schedule as a model of Project Execution Strategy. I have to wonder if things would be different today if we didn’t just see the Project Schedule as this dry, cold, inanimate set of data. What if we saw it as the extensively deliberated consensus of thoughtful and respecting members of the Project Team? [In another blog, How Not to Interpret an Updated Schedule,” I write about the Project Schedule being an expression of intentions, of commitment.]

Just look at how reverently we refer to the Founding Fathers, the brave souls who spent 87 hot summer days in Philadelphia crafting the U.S. Constitution. This isn’t just some multi-page set of lofty and multi-syllabic words. It is a complex and brilliant statement of intentions and promises. If only we would view each Project Schedule as a consensual commitment to a mutually-beneficial Project Execution Strategy, perhaps we would approach the routine updating of that document with a different intention.

Instead of each monthly revisiting of the document being an occasion to compare how far we may have deviated from the original intentions, what if we seize the opportunity to re-affirm our Way Forward (from where we currently stand) to our ultimate project temporal objectives?

If Scheduling Occurs Before the Fact, then Of What Use are Schedulers During Updates?

The word “schedule” is a verb; it describes something we do. We schedule an event before we experience the event, right? You don’t schedule your vacation while you are on it. You are no longer scheduling your wedding while you are exchanging your vows. Likewise, by the time the monthly update is being performed, the Project Execution Strategy is underway. The project has already been scheduler! So why is there need for a Scheduler, to perform the Schedule Update?

But wait. If we were to do as I suggested earlier, and seize the monthly update as an opportunity to re-affirm our Way Forward (and to chart a different or better course forward, if warranted), then perhaps there might indeed be a need for a qualified Scheduler to help facilitate that process.

But that is not what we have as recommended practice today. And herein we have this glaring incongruity. On the one hand, we employ a Scheduler, alright. But then, on the other hand, we discourage rescheduling the remaining work unless the current schedule is so dramatically out of sync with how things are going that a new baseline is simply unavoidable. But for that extreme, we put all pressure on the Project Team to simply get back on track.

How about a Project Journalist?

At Cognitive Project Management, we have been trying to come up with a better label for the person who manages the technical aspects of the routine Schedule Update cycle. [For starters,  we refer to this periodic cycle as a Schedule Recalibration Cycle.]  Here again, the word choice is intended to point focus on why we do what we do, not just on what we do.  The goal is to revisit the current plan of attack for the remaining work, and see if it is still valid. If not, then we plot a different course; we recalibrate. We make mid-course corrections, as beneficial.

And as for the technician who helps with this process, we have been toying with the label, Project Journalist. I am not sure we will stick with this label, but at least for purposes of this blog it is worth mentioning. I mean, we had also considered Project Historian, Document Controller, Record-Keeper, Information Engineer or Clerk, etc. But none felt as good as Project Journalist.

To us, the idea of a journalist evokes the underlying process of journaling, creating an interwoven story. Plus, the word also reminds us that we are on a “journey.” It integrates the otherwise independent records and documents in a way that they must all be consistent with one another. Contrast that with Document Control, which is all about the indexing and efficient storage and retrieval of documents. Likewise, Information Control focuses on data and databases.

But Journaling never loses sight of a continuum and consistency of information across disciplines — and across the project story. Thus correspondence, minutes, reports, databases, claims, revisions, and fact records are all interrelated, and their interweaving must be done in a consistent and compatible manner.

Never Lose Sight of Why We Do What We Do

Whether we ever change the names of the players, I hope we will never lose sight of why we do what we do.  But maybe that ship has already sailed. Why is terribly important thing to know.  It reminds me of the story of a girl who was heard defending her boyfriend, a young man that her mother especially disliked. “But Mom,” she wailed, “he is a good boy. Why else would he be doing 200 hours of community service?”

Are You Practicing Project Cannagement

Last night I watched an episode of Restaurant Impossible. In this series, world-renowned Chef Robert Irvine spends two days (and $10,000) to help a failing restaurant turn the corner and once again be successful. Each episode follows the same general formula. One Day 1, Chef Robert figures out what they are doing wrong. On Day 2, he affects changes. Usually, the problems (and fixes) center in four primary areas: food, service, management, and décor.

In last night’s episode, he watched in horror as the kitchen cook used nothing but canned and frozen foods in preparing his meals. Unable to contain himself any longer, Chef Robert went on the war path: “You call yourself a cook?  You are nothing more than a food warmer!”

As the show drifted into commercials, I turned down the sound and thought more about the cook’s over-dependence on canned foods. As I said the words aloud, “canned food,” I heard myself add, “canned reports.” Isn’t that what we call boilerplate management reports that are only different from one another by virtue of the data that falls into the columns and rows?

I got to thinking about how dependent today’s Project Managers have become on Key Performance Indicators.  I have a sarcastic expression about this; I call it Management by the Numbers (not unlike painting by the numbers). As I see it, Project Management must be uniquely delivered each and every time. Just as every project is unique, so must be each Project Management application to that project.  There is no place in our Project Time Management world for canned reports.

In Closing

In closing, let me return to the topic: the routine Schedule Update.  Why are we doing it? Forget the canned answer. Shouldn’t we be using the monthly reflection as an opportunity to confirm that we have determined to be the  best Way Forward from this point to our ultimate temporal objectives? If we take this view, then we won’t be worried, fixated, or obsessed with what we didn’t do so right in the past, as much as on where we go from here in the future.

Forward Ho!


G.R.A.S.P. and Schedule Data Credibility Profile

Cognitive Project Management strongly believes that, when it comes to the quantity and quality of useful information to be taken from that bedrock Project Time Management ritual known as Schedule Updating, which is repeatedly performed throughout the project life cycle, we overlook far more than we recognize.

Properly executed, our Project Time Management processes are capable of yielding a plethora of significant temporal insights — of supreme importance to the Project Team’s approach to upcoming work prosecution — that are simply not at all revealed by the current “monitoring and controlling” processes advocated by Dominant Project Management.

Before we identify the kinds of useful information than can be gotten from a properly understood analysis of contemporaneous temporal data, we need to establish some new terms and concepts.

Introducing the Concept of Schedule Tense

Let us begin by making the observation that all Schedule Elements (activities, relationships, path segments, paths, milestones, Momentum CheckPoints, etc.) are more fully understood in the context of what Cognitive Project Management calls Schedule Tense. All Project Schedules can speak in past, present, or future tense. Cognitive Project Management has expanded this simple truth in order to recognize three Project Performance Periods and three corresponding Schedule Segments.

Defining the Project Performance Periods

The Dominant Project Management model only recognizes two Project Performance Periods: Past Period and Future Period, the two separated by a value called the Data Date, which denotes the end of the current reporting period. Important to this discussion, the Data Date is a theoretical point in time that, in itself, has no duration. Thus, all Schedule Elements that precede the Data Date are, by inference, reflective of the Past Period, whereas all of the other Schedule Elements must be contained within the Future Period. Like I said: Past Tense and Future Tense, but not Present Tense.

By contrast, Cognitive Project Management defines the Past Performance Period and Future Performance Period, not in terms of some dimensionless Data Date but instead, by a clearly defined Current Performance Period. The Current Period covers a span of time that is calculated based on two factors: the Project Length and a predetermined Current Period Percentage variable. (ICS-Protocols recommends using 5% of Project Length, but each Project Team should set its own percentage).

  • The all-important Data Date is to be found somewhere within the Current Performance Period, usually somewhat left of midway. Its placement allows definition of two sub-periods within the Current Performance Period.
    • The Just Done Period spans from the start of the Current Period and ends at the Data Date.
    • The Imminent Period begins with the Data Date and extends to the end of the Current Period.
  • ICS-Protocols recommends a default placement of the Data Date at roughly 20% of the distance between start and end of the Current Period; however, the Project Team should make its own determination based on what is best for achievement of its Project Management objectives.

Putting the pieces together, then, the Past Performance Period spans from Start Project to the start of the Current Performance Period. Likewise, the Future Performance Period spans from the end of the Current Performance Period to Complete Project.

Defining the Schedule Segments

So far we have been talking about Project Performance Periods, which characterize real stages in the real project. But, just as Activities are Schedule Elements that represent counterpart Actions in the real project, so too Schedule Segments correlate with Project Performance Periods. Thus, a Project Schedule can be divided into three sections: Past Segment, Current Segment, and Future Segment.

It should be noted that the proper labels are Schedule Past Period Segment, Schedule Current Period Segment, and Schedule Future Period Segment. But, in the interest of brevity, we truncate the terms to Past Segment, Current Segment, and Future Segment. By either formal name or nickname, these new designations will be central to our understanding of the Schedule Data Credibility Profile, which we will introduce below.

Schedule Tense and Schedule Data Perspectives

Armed with these new terms, we are now able to hold a brief discussion that appreciates the unique contextual perspectives of the different Schedule Segments. The following may seem obvious, but it is good nonetheless to set it down in writing:

  • Past Period data is contextually retrospective. This makes perfect sense. Past Segment data reflects Past Performance Period activities and conditions that took place before the Data Date, and before the Current Performance Period. Whatever we might say, think, or report about past events and circumstances can only be retrospective.
  • Conversely, Future Period data is contextually prospective. Schedule Data from the Future Segment reflects our best estimates and projections of what will happen sometime in the future, after the Data Date, and after the Current Performance Period.
  • As for all Current Period data, this is where the Project Team is at its most introspective. And we can make a further observation, concerning those sub-period timeframes of Just Done Period and Imminent Period. We might characterize the Just Done Period as depictive (i.e., it emphasizes recent achievement with vividness of detail). Quite differently, Imminent Segment Data is principally directive.  Think of the Short-Term Look-Ahead Schedule that provides day-by-day details as to what is to be accomplished, in what order, and by whom.

The reason we want to characterize the contextual nature of the data found in each Schedule Segment is to heighten our awareness of the practical limits of information taken from any given Schedule Segment. If the previous sentence is still a little hazy, the next discussion should clear it up.

Introducing GRASP

According to the Online Dictionary, to grasp means to: “to get hold of mentally; comprehend; to understand, especially with effort.” An interesting discovery that ICS-Research made a few years ago was that, within each Schedule Segment, one can find two different types of schedule data.

  • Past Segment Data: In the Past Segment, schedule data can be divided into Realized Data and Gleaned Data. Since the word, realize, means to “make real, give reality to,” Past Segment Data tells us what actually happened. In business, one might say, “in the last quarter we realized a modest profit.” In the context of Realized Data, we are speaking about information that reflects what actually happened.
  • Contrast Realized Data with Gleaned Data, which results from an interpolation of Realized Data. As an example, when we estimate the amount of time needed by a partially-completed activity to become 100% complete (expressed as a Remaining Duration), we are generating a piece of Realized Data, because the Remaining Duration acknowledges, in the corollary, the work that has been accomplished. Yet, when we perform a Forward Pass on all Remaining Durations, we generate a new set of Early Dates, which constitute Gleaned Data.
  • Current Segment: In the Current Segment we find Apparent Data, the name suggesting that what just took place in the previous week or so is as apparent to us as the work that needs to be performed in the upcoming few weeks. The word, “apparent,” means “readily seen, exposed to light, or open to view.” We can subdivide Apparent Data into its Just Done Segment and Imminent Segment subcategories. Just Done Data is fresh in our minds. Imminent Data is what we are currently making final preparations to execute.
  • Future Segment: Notice that Past Segment data types, Realized and Gleaned, differ by their origins. Realized Data emerges from the work itself, whereas Gleaned Data results from our interpretation and analysis of Realized Data. /the Future Segment also has two very different types of data.
  • Compare this observation to Future Segment data types, which differ in terms of why we generate the information. Strategic Data is formulated from analysis of Realized, Gleaned, and Apparent Data, in order to chart a fresh strategy from piloting the project from the Current Period to Project Completion. Predictive Data has an entirely different intent: to speculate on how the project will turn out, in terms of previously-established goals.

These five types of Schedule Data comprise Cognitive Project Management’s G.R.A.S.P. concept: Gleaned and Realized data, Apparent data, and Strategic and Predictive data.

Introducing the Schedule Data Credibility Profile

Having identified and defined the three Schedule Segments and the five Schedule Data types, it was now possible for Cognitive Project Management to realistically map the variable reliability of the typical Project Schedule. We call this model the Schedule Data Credibility Profile.

F1206-Figure 1

Figure 1 correlates the reliability of Schedule Data with its position along the project timeline. We can make a few observations based on further ICS-Research study into what the Schedule Data Credibility Profile tells us:

  • Schedule Data Integrity Improves Across the Project Length: As a general statement, all types of Schedule Data tend to collectively improve as the project progresses. But now, let’s look at the quality of Schedule Data within specific Schedule Segments and sub-Segments.
  • Realized Data Accuracy Correlates to Data Acquisition Frequency: This is not much of a revelation, since most of us already knew this.  The more frequently we update the schedule, the more reliable the Realized Data being reported. This is because the information is fresher in our minds, having just happened.
  • Gleaned Data Accuracy Gets Better with Time: Now this one might not be as obvious. Gleaned Data, you will recall, is information that is interpolated from Realized Data. But while Realized Data is reporting period specific, Gleaned Data is cumulative of all past reporting periods. So, as more reporting periods drift into the Past Segment, the amount of history, specific to this project, increases.  Gleaned Data for the current reporting period is tempered by trends building across all prior reporting periods.
  • Apparent Data Reliability Correlates with Width of Current Period: But for the comparatively short Just Done sub-Segment data, the overwhelming majority of Apparent Data is found in the Imminent Period. Since the overall Current Segment is proportional to the Project Length, on very large projects it is possible for the Imminent Period to exceed ten weeks. This could be a problem.
  • ICS-Research has determined that there is a direct correlation between a schedule’s level of detail (expressed as the Schedule’s average activity duration) and the service period for that detail. The ratio is 10:1, such that the details remain credible for ten times the average activity duration. For example, if the average duration is ten days (two weeks), then Schedule Data remains reliable for about twenty weeks.
  • The problem with Imminent Period data is that is typifies the most detailed that the Project Schedule might ever get. The Average Activity Duration for a short-term, Look-Ahead Schedule might only be two or three days! Applying the above ratio, the reliability of such a precise schedule edition might be as short as four to six weeks. If the Project Length is quite large (more than two years), it is possible that the Imminent Period might be greater than the four to six weeks.
  • Strategic Data Reliability/Coverage Period Inversely Proportional: What this bullet says is that there is an inversely proportional relationship between the reliability of Strategic Data and the width of the Future Period. This should make perfect sense.  The longer the Future Period, the greater the Uncertainty about threats or opportunities that might wait in the wings.
  • Predictive Data Credibility/Coverage Period Inversely Proportional: Likewise, the same correlation exists with respect to the reliability of Predictive Data.

In Closing

Just what does all of this mean? The answer to this question is the subject of a companion blog at  I invite you to hop over there and see what it has to say. I hope you have enjoyed this discussion about this brief introduction to GRASP and the Schedule Data Credibility Profile. If you are interested in learning more about either, CPM Mechanics has two chapters dedicated to these all-important topics. To get your copy of the book, click here.

Project Time Management and the Law of Attraction

No doubt, if you are like most people, every now and again you come across some inspirational sayings about living in the present. Just now, searching on Google for inspirational sayings, I came across “Forbes Top 100 Inspirational Quotes.” What I found fascinating was that 40% of them speak to aspects of the Law of Attraction.

The Law of Attraction

Before I make sense of those quotes in terms of how they might inform our thoughts about Project Time Management, let me take a minute to explain the Law of Attraction to those who are not familiar with it. At its simplest, the Law of Attraction states that our thoughts are the precursors to our reality, at least to a certain point. That is, we cannot merely think sunny sky and prevent there ever again being rain. Our thoughts cannot reverse or override the laws of nature. But, as the thinking goes, the Law of Attraction is one of the laws of nature. As such, it works in conjunction with all other immutable laws, and thus can be trusted to act consistently time and time again.

So how does the Law of Attraction work? Actually, quite simply. You focus your thoughts on that which you want. You imagine yourself in that circumstance or condition. You act and feel as if you are already in that state or condition or circumstance, and then … release the instruction to the Universe.

The Law of Attraction is sometimes described as like attracts like. This should not be an entirely foreign notion to most of us. Both behavioral science and the adages of eons seem to support the notion. “Hang around depressing people, and you get depressed.”Don’t worry; be happy.” “What goes around, comes around.” “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” And so forth.

Whether you consider what I’m putting down as just so much nonsense, or whether you happen to subscribe to it, surely we can still agree on some underlying principles incorporated into the Law of Attraction. Here are some of the more salient ones:

We Only Live in the Present

Let’s face it, it’s only in the moment that we actually live. The past is memory, and the future is opportunity. Only in the present can we act, or think. Bill Cosby said, “The past is a ghost, the future a dream. All we ever have is now.” It is not that we shouldn’t gain insights from the past, or stop planning for the future. But we must be mentally present – in the present. Albert Einstein agreed; “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The secret is not to stop questioning.” But we should not be too obsessed with planning for the future, lest we forget to live in the present. Wasn’t this John Lennon’s admonition? “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

It All Starts With Our Thoughts

All actions are preceded by thoughts. The world we ultimately experience is manifested by those thoughts that we harbor most consistently and passionately, in the present. Earl Nightingale explained that, “We become what we think about.” Buddha agreed: “The mind is everything. What you think you become.” So did Ralph Waldo Emerson when he said, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”

Oprah Winfrey is an outspoken believer in the Law of Attraction. She, too, reminds us that, “You become what you believe.” But my favorite quote about the power of what we think and believe comes from Norman Vincent Peale, who confidently taught us to merely “Change your thoughts and you change your world.”  Even Jesus proclaimed, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.”

The Great Power Within Each of Us

What they are all talking about is this Universal Law of Attraction, which is based on the premise that there is an Infinite Energy that spans the entire Universe, the same passing through every speck of dust on the farthest planet, just as it powers the subatomic particles that comprise the cells of every living thing on Earth, including you and me.  If you are among the 98% of humans who believe in a One God, then this notion should not be hard to fathom, or accept.

We may laugh at the joke about the Maharishi ordering a hot dog in Manhattan, “I’d like one with everything.” But for those who believe in One God there can be no other explanation than that there is a constant flow of Energy emanating from the same Source, which passes in, around, and through every one of us at every moment of every day.

How much of a leap is it, then, to think that this Energy operates at electrical frequencies. Dr. Masaru Emoto has dedicated his lifetime to studying the effect that human emotions have on water. By freezing water and then photographing it through a microscope, he has discovered that the water molecules arrange differently depending on the vibrations emanating from those observing the water.  Here is how he explains it, “We always observed beautiful crystals after giving good words, playing good music, and showing, playing, or offering pure prayer to water. On the other hand, we observed disfigured crystals in the opposite situation.”  I encourage you to Google on Dr. Emoto and his fascinating work.

Now, for you skeptics (as I, too, was when I first heard him speak in Denver), it is not that the water actually hears the words or music or prayers. Rather, it is we, who either produce or hear the words, music, or prayers that then emit a different vibrational energy pattern in response to our feelings about those words or sounds, which the water molecules pick up. It works just like how a tuning fork, set to C, will begin vibrating when brought near another tuning fork, already vibrating, also set to C.

“That Which is Like, Unto Itself is Drawn”

A bit of an awkward phrase to understand, I admit, but yet it captures the essence of the Law of Attraction, emphasis on the word, “law.” The Law of Attraction is just as natural as the Law of Gravity or the Law of Magnetism. It is part of how God designed and engineered the Universe to work. In a nutshell, whatever exerts an energy field will draw to it other sources that exert a similar energy frequency. Think of it as a sort of metaphysical magnetism.

[Sound too far-fetched for you?  Hang in there with me just a little longer. For if it were just Murray saying this, then you could chalk it all up to one guy’s nonsense. But then, you’d also have to dismiss Jim Carrey, Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Oprah Winfrey, Suze Orman, Will Smith, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Albert Einstein, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, and even Jesus.]

Have you ever had an experience where you were deeply thinking about something or someone, and suddenly the phone rings, or an email comes in, out of the clear blue.  That’s the Law of Attraction at work.  But it’s much less random than you likely suspect. I have seen it work in my life, and it is actually compounding and exponential.  Here’s what I mean:

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about something. As I do, other thoughts come to me, as if out of the clear blue. Like an epiphany. So I mull over these additional thoughts, and still more thoughts come to me. At some point, my thoughts begin to suggest a course of action; I jot them down. As I take the first steps in the upcoming days, not only do additional thoughts come to, in come those “random” phone calls and emails. Or I bump into someone at the grocery store or at the airport and, come to find out, they are working on the same general matter that I am. We exchange ideas, and phone numbers. As we continue to work on the matter, now together, other things start to “fall in place.”

Hasn’t this ever happened to you? You see, the Law of Attraction is operating in your life, just as surely as gravity or magnetism or radio waves, whether you know it or not; and whether you believe it or not.

Draw Confidence From the Power Within You

The obvious implication from all of this is that you have immense power within you. If you learn to channel your thoughts toward the things you most want, they are certain to come to you. But you must be careful about what you think. As Oprah Winfrey explains it, “If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.”

We must learn to make decisions based on a confidence in this hidden power within each of us. Stephen Covey once said, “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” Henry Ford also understood that how we see ourselves determines what we ultimate become, when he said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Here are some other quotes about having the kind of confidence that can easily be yours, once you realize that there is this Universal Energy awaiting your instructions:

  • Believe you can and you’re halfway there. –Theodore Roosevelt
  • When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. –Lao Tzu
  • We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained. –Marie Curie
  • The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself–the invisible battles inside all of us–that’s where it’s at. –Jesse Owens
  • What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined. –Henry David Thoreau

The point is that we should live each day with an attitude of confidence. Just as the Universe is endless, so is the flow of Energy in us, around us, and through us. “Limitations live only in our minds. But if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless.”  This is the advice of Jamie Paolinetti. And Alice Walker notes that, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

Dare to Imagine the Impossible

Tony Robbins often points out that children, not yet inhibited by “getting real,” have no problem imagining anything they might want. Asked what he would like if he could have anything in the whole wide world, the little boy answered: “I want a swimming pool in the back yard.” Then, after a short pause, “And another one in the front yard.” Tony points out that we can learn from children. “Don’t put any limitations on your dreams.”

Zig Zigler said, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”  And Gloria Steinem gave the notion of dreaming an air of adult legitimacy when she added, “Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” And this should be pleasant reassurance for all of the planners and schedulers reading this blog.

Follow Constructive Thoughts with Confident Actions

But just thinking is not enough. At some point, you need to convert those thoughts in actions. It’s like Aristotle said, “First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.”

Arthur Ashe, who said, “Start where you are. Use what you have.  Do what you can,” surely echoed Teddy Roosevelt who said, similarly, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” It is all about believing in yourself enough to take confident action. “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it,” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Leonardo da Vinci very much appreciated the importance of taking decisive action. He reflected, “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” But the quote that resonates best with me (perhaps because I am a builder at heart), comes from Farrah Gray, who said, “Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.”

Maintain a Happy Attitude

What does a happy attitude have to do with the Law of Attraction? The obvious answer is that if you send out happy vibes, you will get back happy vibes. But the deeper answer is the one I want to share with you. You see, if our thoughts ultimately determine our future reality, then that puts tremendous pressure on always harboring only positive thoughts. And having to vigilantly monitor our every thought could prove exhausting, if not also impossible.

And that is why God equipped us with a thought sensor, to help us easily notice when our thoughts were drifting away from confidence, and towards fear and self-doubt.  That thought sensor is … our emotions. It is really quite simple, and quite powerful. If we feel afraid or worried, then we are harboring defeatist thoughts. If we are feeling gratitude, joy, and general happiness, then we are confident about the future.

So, when Bob Marley sings, “Don’t worry. Be happy,” he isn’t giving two instructions, just one action and one consequence. The way I hear it, he is saying that if you “don’t worry,” you will “be happy.” If you block out worry, because you are confident because of the immense Power at your disposal, then your future will be a joyous one, and you will “be happy.”

Now, take it all one step further. You have heard the Beatles tell you that “the love you take is equal to the love you make.” This isn’t merely another way of explaining the Law of Attraction. It is also a way of saying that you can never be happy, if you are busy making other people miserable. I suspect that is what Jesus had in mind when he encouraged us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” What I hear is, for just as you love your neighbor, that shall be the level of love you will yourself experience.

Put all of this together and you have a perfect loop. You want to maintain a happy attitude, in order to attract a happy future. But when you begin to experience that happy existence, you must share it with your neighbor, for if you selfishly hoard the good stuff for yourself, then you are reaffirming an belief of limitedness, instead of one of abundance. You do not hoard the air, because you know there is enough for everyone. When you give freely, you attest to your belief that be giving to others you will not be diminished. Said differently, when you show kindness to those around you, it comes back to you, tenfold. Cool system, huh?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou was emphasizing the importance of how we treat one another.  It is impossible for our personal life experience to be detached, or much different, from the life experiences of others all around us. “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else,” Booker T. Washington told us.

I know that John Lennon understood the importance of maintaining a happy attitude.  You may have read this about him before: “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wrote down ‘happy’.  They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

And just how do you bring about happiness in your life? Surprise, surprise — it starts with your thoughts. “Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions,” the Dalai Lama tells us. And, according to Heller Keller, it also comes from our prevailing outlook on life: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.”

Beware of Fear

Of all of the emotions to engulf Man, fear must surely be among the most lethal. Once we allow self-doubt to seep into our spirit, we begin to think that we are powerless to overcome whatever obstacles or threats we may face. When we are in the grips of fear, we are in denial of our Unlimited Internal Power. Les Brown pointed out the debilitating effect of fear when he noted that, “too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” Likewise, Bill Cosby sought to stoke our fires of determination when we said, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” And Franklin Roosevelt warned us that, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

It’s all about attitude. Just take a deep breath and, as my wife tells me each time I succumb to self-doubt, “just fake it with confidence.” Rosa Parks said as much: “I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.”

We Are On Earth to Be Creative

I will close my epistle on the Law of Attraction by noting that, according to every major world religion and philosophy, we are on Earth to be creative. Indeed, creativity is innate within each of us. That is how we start out, anyway. Then, gradually, we let our self-doubts make their way into our minds and hearts, and before long we have subjugated ourselves to “the way it is,” or “what is expected (of us).”

But once, long before we grew up, we were children who knew how to dream. We could paint our happiness with our imagination. “Every child is an artist,” Pablo Picasso once said. “The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

The good news is that creativity is a bottomless pot of gold. “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have,” Maya Angelou assures us. And it is available to us … any time, any place. All we need to do is slow down, go quiet, and listen. The epiphany will hit; I promise. Just, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

What the Law of Attraction Teaches about Project Time Management

By now you are likely wondering: What does all of this have to do with Project Time Management?  Project Time Management is all about finding ways for the Project Team to more effectively use the time that is available. We accept that Project Time Management is essential to successful Project Management. And that makes sense since Project Management, according to Cognitive Project Management, boils down to four primary centers of managerial focus: Collaboration, Coordination, Cooperation, and Communication. We note that it is most difficult to accomplish any of these without effective Project Time Management tools and processes that are designed to facilitate the Project Team working harmoniously together.

What the Law of Attraction has to do with Project Time Management is that it suggests a Project Ecology that is most conducive to effective Project Time Management. You may recall that Project Ecology, according to Cognitive Project Management, is the “operational context in which the Project operates,” and it reflects the Project Ideology.

Predominant within that Ecology is the very spiritual culture of the Project Team. A less awkward term than spiritual would be esprit de corps; literally, from the French “spirit of the body.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes esprit de corps as, “the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group.”

So, let us imagine a project where the participants all behave in accordance with the principles of the Law of Attraction (even if they have never heard the term before).

  • They place most of their mental focus on the present. They appreciate the past for what it can teach them, and they certainly wish to insure the future by planning for it. But mostly, they maximize the opportunities in the present.
  • They maintain a positive, can-do attitude. They understand that whatever they spend their time thinking about today will come back to them tomorrow. If they spend too much time putting out fires, and fail to do the necessary planning for the future, they leave its outcome to chance. If they spend too much time bemoaning past disappointments, or current negative standing, they invite more of the same on themselves.
  • They maintain a confidence in one another. The Project Schedule is interpreted as a set of Promises or Commitments that the players have made to one another. They can feel a very real and tangible sense of power that pulses from the synergy created by their collaboration and partnership. Many consider one another as friends.
  • They value the plans they have made, but they value their follow-on actions much more! Talk alone won’t get the building built. They view the plans as a guide, not an objective. What really matters is what is done; they care much less about what should have been done.
  • A good feeling fuels the project. People look forward to coming to work. It’s “one for all and all for one.” If any one party has a problem, then the entire project has a problem. Conflicts are resolved with a conviction that only a win-win solution will be acceptable. Compassion characterizes the interactions of the workers, and of their leaders. Believing that what goes around, comes around, they willingly treat others the way they want to be treated, themselves.
  • Because of all of the above, there is no cause for fear. Worry and fear do not exist, because the power of the collective whole is so great that they know that nothing is insurmountable.
  • Finally, the members of the Project Team enjoy what they do; it provides the perfect outlet for their innate creativity.

Now let’s quit dreaming, and take a sober look at how most of today’s construction projects actually operate under the Dominant Project Management model.

  • Most of the mental focus is on either the past or the future; disproportionately little on the present. The essence of Project Control is (a) to create a baseline schedule to act as a benchmark, (b) to constantly update the schedule to reflect progress past performance, (c) to perform numerous variance analyses that compare past planned with past actual performance, and (d) to predict how the project will turn out in the future. The only consideration of the present comes in the form of requiring the contractor to either “take corrective actions” to get back on schedule, or to simply revise the schedule.
  • They maintain an essentially negative attitude. Using a Management-by-Exception approach, most management reports are aimed at isolated and dwelling on all that went wrong, or is about to. Total Float reports draw attention to critical or near critical activities, based on how close Total Float is to zero, or negative values. Earned Value reports do likewise, keeping an eye out for “troubling indicators.” Risk Management is all about anticipating the worst case scenarios and then inserting contingency times into the schedule to absorb the anticipated negative impacts. Change orders are evaluated for their affect on contractual barometers. Monthly status reports monitor for schedule slippages or budget overruns.
  • There is next to no trust or confidence in one another. Even before the project begins, contracts are drawn up that are designed to protect the parties from one another. Carefully-worded exculpatory language fills the pages of the contracts, with clause after clause setting penalties and consequences for unwanted behavior. The operating atmosphere on the job site is mainly defensive or confrontational.  Zero Sum Game characterizes the relationships of the participating companies, each trying to get as much as possible for itself, before anyone else does. Finger-pointing is a standard response to accusations and criticism.
  • Innovation and entrepreneurship are discouraged. Working out of sequence, or not in accordance with the Sacred Schedule is basis for criticism. The free flow of work is stymied by regulatory, contractual, and fiscal concerns. Work flow is also interrupted by frequent demands for meetings, reporting, and other “hot seat” accountability appearances. Actions without prior authorization are discouraged, if not outright prohibited.
  • At its best, the mood on the project is guarded. At its worst, it is openly hostile and tense. Conflict is so commonplace that a cottage industry has grown up around the promise of resolution. The unspoken rule is every man for himself.
  • Fear and worry are ever-present. Project Managers dread reporting to their Home Office bosses, as much as to the Owner. Sometimes the anxiety is muffled, but just below the skim. Sometimes tension is palpable; you can feel it in the air.

You may not entirely agree with my depiction of the typical project. That’s okay. You may be one of the fortunate few who has had mostly positive experiences on construction projects. But I will stand by my description because I think it highlights many realities that exist on every project, even the ones you thought were good. The contracts, the baseline schedules, the updates, the reporting obsession, the focus on past and future over present … those are all commonplace on today’s projects.

Was It Worth the Read?

I hope this gentle-flowing saunter into the world of the Law of Attraction, and what it might teach us about how to better manage the use of time on our projects, was worth the read. For those of you who are already familiar with the Law of Attraction, maybe this blog article will encourage you to intensify its practice on your projects. And for those new to the Law of Attraction, maybe this article was an eye-opener. I hope so, as that was the intent.

But make no mistake about it: The importance of knowing about the Law of Attraction goes way beyond project management, or your world of work. Much more, it teaches how to get the most out of your very life. Let me close with a quote from Mark Twain: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

How Project Costing’s Influence Can Destroy Scheduling Integrity

With each passing decade, the Project Cost Control community has become more and more reliant on a fully cost-loaded, network-based Project Schedule, in order to perform its primary cost control functions. With this increasing dependence has come an associated wave of performance criteria aimed at regulating the configuration, content, and quality of data contained within the Project Schedule. The procedural rules and parameters have often had the undesired effect of eroding the Project Schedule as a temporal tool — the project’s only temporal tool. This is too high of a price to pay for Cost Control information that, as it turns out, is of questionable credibility.

The Gradually, Barely-Detectible Encroachment of Cost on Schedule

It took little time for the broader Project Management community to accept, without little to no questioning, the apparent necessity of the Project Schedule to accommodate whatever restrictions and demands might be mandated in the interest of Cost Control. Cleverly, the Project Cost Control community depicted its role and contribution as being essential to  the achievement of fiscal and fiduciary accountability. What responsible Owner, especially in the public sector, would not fully embrace a program that promised:

  • To provide constant correlation between payments made to contractors/vendors and equivalent value received by the Owner;
  • To keep contractors and vendors honest in their invoicing, progress reporting, and dispute posturing;
  • To provide factual, objective assessments of true project status;
  • (And, for contractors) to yield a quantitative picture of resource utilization efficiency?

Encroachment, Not Without a Price

And while the Project Management world is adamant that Cost Control should be performed within the schedule, I am at best a reluctant supporter of this arrangement — and, even then, only on a fairly restricted basis. Let me be clear: I am not opposed to cost processes taking advantage of the power of an automated Project Schedule. Having said that, I nonetheless believe that:

  • Cost Management processes, wherever performed, must not be allowed to negatively impact Project Time Management operations.
  • Cost Control, as a needed discipline, can function just as effectively, from outside of the Project Schedule.

My position on this topic is that the above-listed goals of traditional Cost Control can be accomplished just as effectively from outside the Project Schedule. In fact, I happen to think that the quality and credibility of conclusions reached by cost engineering processes would actually be enhanced, if Costing did not have such a dominant say on how schedules are to be developed, maintained, and used!

Traditional Cost-Oriented Uses of the Project Schedule

This blog has the potential to become controversial in its conclusions. So perhaps I can begin with some points that we might all agree on. For starters, let us consider the value of cost-loaded schedules. To fully appreciate why a cost-loaded schedule can be quite helpful to the Project Team, one must look at it from two different perspectives: that of the Owner and that of the Contractor.

  • Owners use the cost-loaded schedule to generate cash flow projections, to acquire a sense of progress being made on the project, and to validate vendors requests for payment.
  • Contractors chiefly use the cost-loaded schedule to support progress payment requests, to keep track of their own performance budgets, and (less often) to assess cost resource efficiency.

Does Cost Control Require a Cost-Loaded Schedule?

Among senior scheduling practitioners there is a growing opinion that Cost Control processes may be better served through dedicated job costing software, leaving scheduling software to focus on temporal issues without having to endure cost-imposed encumbrances. The chief differentiator is that scheduling software addresses the element of time, whereas cost accounting software is strictly tabular in its calculations. Said differently, scheduling software must take into account the order or sequence of work activities, whereas costing software can sort the column of data in any order and always derive the same totals on the infamous Bottom Line.

The Weakness of Earned Value’s Schedule Performance Assessments

This same distinction can be found at the center of another, related debate: the credibility of Earned Value as a temporal prediction tool. I am talking about Earned Value’s Schedule Performance Index (SPI) which, if we are honest with one another, ignores the interwoven logic of the Critical Path schedule. That is, Earned Value calculations (and conclusions) do not take into account the relative criticality of activities whose resource utilization levels are being measured.

Now, compound this omission with another fly in the ointment; that Earned Value adopts a simplistic (and unproven) assumption that time and cost correlate with one another. The fact of the matter is that the rate at which project dollars are spent has no direct correlation to the amount of temporal progress being made, and this is true for a number of logical, common-sense reasons (especially in Construction):

  1. There is no consistency across the activities of a Project Schedule when it comes to labor crew configurations. Some activities employ two-worker crews, some eight-worker crews, and some are single-worker activities.
  2. There is no consistency across trades as to what a worker gets paid per hour.
  3. There is no consistency across activities as to how many crew days are required to perform an activity.
  4. The cost of some activities is heavily skewed by unusually large equipment or material costs.

I could go on, but let’s just stay with the four items I mentioned. On what dollar basis should the Earned Value’s “earned value” be determined?  Should we use the total cost of activities, including equipment and material, in addition to labor? The fourth bullet points out the distortion created by equipment/material cost skewing. If we use labor dollars only, how do we account for differences in labor rates, composite crew rates?  And if we simply use labor hours (not even labor dollars) in order to avoid the disparate labor rate concern, how do we deal with the varying labor intensity of different activities?

Finally, let us return to my earlier point, that Earned Value is blind to the relative criticality of activities (as measured by Total Float). It is a simple exercise of junior high school complexity to show by way of a “project” with just two activity paths (each with the same required labor hours and yet with significantly different Total Float values) that if the high Total Float path is reported at 100% performed, and the low Total Float path has not yet begun, the project may be reported “on schedule” per Earned Value, yet dramatically behind schedule in terms of Total Float

Where the Encroachment Happens

Earlier I mentioned the encroachment of Costing requirements and parameters that are imposed on the design, development, and maintenance of the Project Schedule.  Specifically, I am referring to requirements that dictate the level of detail of the schedule, the forced use of a Work Breakdown Structure, and certain rules that seek to matrix the work breakdown with the organizational breakdown.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, let me simply say that most of this is entirely unnecessary for Project Time Management purposes alone. It is only in order to accommodate Cost Control interests in the Project Schedule that we are forced to jump through such hoops. My complaint is not simply one of interference and inconvenience. Far more significant, my gripe is that these impositions of rules and parameters and requirements have the unwanted effect of weakening the Project Schedule’s ability to function as a time management tool.

Erecting a Digital Fence

After years of experience and experimentation I can reach no other conclusion than that each interest should stay on its own side of the fence. I happen to think that a cost-loaded schedule can be used to extract data into integrated cost management software — but not backward again in the other direction. [Incidentally, I would make the same argument with respect to tracking schedule performance against key intermediate deadlines. We know that each additional Finish No Later Than date constraint further complicates the tracing of critical paths. So why not export scheduling data into a spreadsheet and compare to desired deadlines outside of the CPM schedule?] The same approach can work for cost budgets. Why not simply export cost data from the schedule into a cost management program, or even into a simple spreadsheet program?

Incongruities with Schedule-Based Cost Management

I have already noted that the cost-loaded schedule, if allowed to over-extend its influence, can easily erode the temporal functionality and reliability of the Project Schedule. This is quite a price to pay for the value of the information gained by cost-loading the schedule in the first place.

But what if the costing information gleaned from the Project Schedule isn’t even all that reliable?  Well, there are plenty of senior scheduling professionals who will agree with me that Earned Value should not be used to opine on temporal aspects of project performance. First, as noted above, the very rules and regulations imposed by Cost Control protocols erode the credibility of the Project Schedule. Second, the use of cost data as a basis for opining on schedule performance is, as also noted above, unsubstantiated.

Has the Day Come to Reverse the Tide?

So there we have it. On the one hand, the overbearing influence of Cost Engineering on the inner workings of the Project Schedule all too often has been instrumental in weakening the Project Schedule as Project Time Management tool. On the other hand, the Cost Control processes that are the primary beneficiaries of the information taken from the injured Project Schedule are themselves known to have identified, and thus far unresolved, shortcomings.

Taken together, these two observations beg us to confront a most obvious question: why do we continue to incubate Cost Engineering from within the Project Schedule? Why not perform these functions outside of the Schedule?

If this topic piques your interest, you may want to read The Great Divorce: Cost-Loaded Schedule Updating,” a paper presented by John Orr at the 2011 AACE International Annual Conference.

Activity Codes or WBS: Which is Better?

I have a confession to make.

In my latest book, CPM Mechanics (2012), I was especially critical of the Work Breakdown Structure concept. In fact, I was equally harsh in my first book, Faster Construction Projects with CPM Scheduling (2007). I even wrote a separate ICS-White Paper in January 2012, entitled, “How WBS Can Break a Schedule.”

The truth is that the Work Breakdown Structure does have merit, just as it also has real world usefulness. And I can assure you that in the next edition of CPM Mechanics, I will most certainly wordsmith the section dealing with WBS. I will unequivocally declare that one can use the WBS mechanism as a systematic means of insuring that a Project Schedule contains all of the project scope intended for it.  I will point out that a well-conceived and implemented WBS offer be a potent and robust way to locate and access the most miniscule information in a Project Schedule.

In My Defense

So what set me off in the first place? I have been performing as a Project Scheduler for over three decades, across more than 185 projects worldwide. And yet I can count on one hand the number of times I have used a Work Breakdown Structure. And in almost every case my experience was fraught with aggravation and frustration. I have always preferred the utility of skillfully-employed Activity Codes.

In hindsight, I can see that my ridicule of  WBS was misdirected, for it is not the Work Breakdown Structure concept itself that is inherently flawed. Rather, the criticism rightfully goes to those who poorly executed it on those projects where I had the great misfortune of serving as Scheduler.

In each separate case, the WBS was had been created by a Cost Engineer. Not only did the Cost Engineer not consult with the Scheduler in development of the WBS in the first place, the entire WBS definition was established before the schedule was even conceptualized (which precedes its being written).

In other words, by the time I came into the picture as the Project Scheduler, the WBS had already been formalized. As a consequence, my subsequent scheduling effort was forced to “adopt” the existing WBS, despite the fact that the WBS may have been flawed – through errors of both commission and omission (e.g., missing or redundant scope). And no amount of discussion (whether polite or forceful) proved effective in bringing about the slightest alterations of the WBS, once formalized. Hence, the frustration.

Improvements in Software

Also in my defense, I note that in the years since my published rant about WBS, scheduling software has evolved, such that one of my complaints no longer has absolute merit. If you read the above-referenced ICS-White Paper you will see that I complain about the inflexibility of a WBS hierarchical structure that forces “only one WBS code per activity.” Well, nowadays, a few scheduling software programs provide the ability to create multiple, independent WBS structures. This means that a single activity might be assigned more than one WBS code. (That said, I still prefer Activity Codes over WBS!)

The Broader Issue: Choosing Scheduling Tools and Techniques

The question of whether or not to use WBS raises a broader, more fundamental issue — one worth discussing, and the real subject of this blog: how to decide which scheduling tools and techniques to apply when faced with more than one choice.

To be sure, having a range of selection is, for the most part, a good thing. After all, you wouldn’t want to eat a meal comprised of just one food type, would you? Imagine beef for appetizer, beef for the entrée, beef for the side dish, and beef for dessert. Yuck! You wouldn’t frequent a restaurant that only offered one meal choice on the menu, would you?

Let’s face it: When it comes to Project Time Management, there are as many “perfect solutions” as there are consultants to serve them up. Surely each one of these offerings (products, services, new concepts, etc.) has merit, and applications for which it might be perfectly suited. At the same time, however, we can be equally sure that no one of them is Utopian.

Each has its strengths and weaknesses; therefore, each has at most limited value. The challenge for each of us is (a) to find a way to understand what each offering is best at, (b) to learn how to choose from among them choices, and (c) to then skillfully implement a particular solution option that is best for a particular project’s unique circumstances.

Choosing Against the Backdrop of Differing Context

Mixed up in the challenge of the previous sentence is accommodation of differences among project players. Such differences exist along three distinct axes.

  • Topical: Along one axis is a broad range of managerial topics about which differences may exist.
  • Ideological: Along another axis would be an equally wide spectrum of possible values and beliefs with respect to any given topic.
  • Practical: The third differentiation exists along lines of process and performance.

What boggles the mind is how, with just these three factors at play (topical, ideological, and practical), the number of exponential choices can mushroom to create a management nightmare that defies measurement.

  • Topical Considerations: Within this group of concerns are tradeoffs and considerations like cost, time, contract, resources, harmony, quality, and so forth. Just among these few topics, which one(s) would you consider most important? And would member of the Project Team give the same answer?
  • Ideological Considerations: These differences concern what one values most, as well as what one believes to be the best way to secure and safeguard those values. Here is where the diversity of opinion is at its greatest.  For example, consider the standoff between popular management philosophies: Command-and-Controls versus Team Empowerment; Project Autonomy versus Home Office centralized Control, etc.
  • Practical Considerations: Differences concerning the practical application of management ideology typically entail Methodology and Technology.  Examples might include Earned Value, Gantt Charts, Critical Path Method, Graphical Path Method, BIM 5D scheduling, Momentum Scheduling, Critical Chain Project Management, Linear Scheduling, Location-based scheduling, Lean Scheduling, Earned Schedule, etc.

ICS-Research has studied the relationship between these three categories of managerial variability and reached certain recommendations. One such recommendation is that Practical choices should be made last — only as a reflection and consequence of Ideological and Topical preferences. By contrast, Dominant Project Management begins with Technology and/or Methodology and then either (a) backs into a “canned” Ideology that is forced to fit, (b) makes an assumption about which Ideology we must adopt, or (c) is silent on Ideology altogether.

To be sure, Cognitive Project Management approaches Project Management with tremendous respect for the multiplicity of options and choices that confound it, and it holds to the contention that effective Project Management boils down to real-time improvisation as the Project Team’s best risk mitigation policy. That is, the Project Team should have a variety of response arrows in its quiver, a selection of sharpened and ready tools hanging from its belt. We believe that the Project Team should have sufficient knowledge, training, and experience with using each option, in order to skillfully select and employ the best one for any given situation.

We are Blessed With Many Choices

The good news is that there is not just one right Solution for any particular Project Management circumstance. And, beyond debate, no single Solution can be best for all situations. We know this because:

  1. No two projects are the same.
  2. Projects, at their compositional core, are fractals. That is, each member of the Project Team perceives a slightly different project, even if all projects share the same name and address.
  3. Across its natural life cycle, the essential composition of a Project will gradually and subtly change in terms of priorities, conditions, informational needs, resources, tempo, complexity, etc.
  4. Members of Project Leadership are human beings; thus, unique individuals. Each one can be expected to hold to a slightly different Project Execution Strategy.
  5. Just as projects are fractals, so is Project Management. Each “knowledge area” within Project Management has its own innate organizational structure, success criteria, required skill sets, and functional processes.

As a tangible example of that last point, consider that under Project Time Management specifically, the Project Team must deliberate and agree upon a host of issues for which individual opinions may vary, perhaps widely, including: project strategic planning, project tactical scheduling, period and necessary rerouting of work flow, close-quarters coordination, long-range strategizing and remapping, detailed schedule analysis, broad-brush theorizing about GRASP factors, risk planning and dilemma forecasting, resource-leveling, schedule buffering, and on and on and on.

Activity Codes versus Work Breakdown Structure

So, the next time you are surfing LinkedIn and come across some out-of-control debate among “seasoned” schedulers over which is the better data manipulation technique, Activity Codes or Work Breakdown Structure,  just remember that there is always more than one way to skin a cat. No method is ever always right, or always wrong.

As a discipline, perhaps each of us would be well advised to descend from our high horse.

Collaboration, Coordination, Cooperation, and Communication

Extensively repeated throughout Cognitive Project Management literature, the essential focus of Project Management is, or should be, on Collaboration, Coordination, Cooperation, and Communication. We believe this to be true because we find it difficult to imagine how any of the traditional “knowledge areas” of Project Management attention and concern can be effectively managed if any of these four focal points is not dutifully addressed.

Distinguishing Between the Terms

Briefly, let me clarify these terms. In a nutshell:

  • Collaboration refers to the simple reality that multiple entities are working within close enough proximity to one another that, if not prudently managed, such juxtapositions have the potential to negatively impact the efficient performance of all involved parties.

  • Coordination speaks to a conscious and concerted effort by the parties involved to figure out an orchestration of their respective movements such that they minimize the amount of negative impact they might cause one another.

  • Cooperation has to do with attitude, especially the attitude of those being managed in the course of coordinating collaborative activities. Cooperation cannot be mandated or forced.  It is only volunteered or offered freely.

  • Communication, a familiar and self-explanatory term, is the medium through which the other three focus factors are accomplished.

Note: For more about the Four C’s of Project Management, see Dynamics Projects: It’s all About Attitude,” a blog I wrote back in September 2012.

Equitable and Mutually-Supportive Intentions

The simple assertion of this blog article is that the Project Schedule is the perfect tool for cultivating, nurturing, and safeguarding Project Collaboration, Coordination, Cooperation, and Communication. The Project Schedule — most especially a dynamic and interactive network-based schedule (such as a Critical Path Method schedule)  — must nevertheless be allowed to express the equitable and mutually-embraced intentions of the Project Team.

Please don’t gloss over that last sentence.  The key to a powerful Project Schedule — at least, with respect to the achievement of Collaboration, Coordination, Cooperation, and Communication — is that as a Project Execution Strategy the details within it must be:

  • Equitable: When viewed holistically, the Project Schedule reflects the most equitable win-win scenario possible, given the particular circumstances of the project.

  • Embraced: The Project Execution Strategy must not only represent a mutually-agreed-upon plan of attack, it must be one that all parties commit to, especially with respect to their individual portions of the overall execution strategy.

A Short, Controlled Rant

If you will indulge me, I would like to rant for a few minutes about arbitrary limits that have been placed on the use of Date Constraints, certain Relationship types (specifically, Start-to-Start and Finish-to-Finish), automated work calendars, and certain software settings. In recent years the floodgates seem to have been opened with respect to opinions about the legitimacy of these scheduling mechanisms. It is my firm opinion that each of them is individually legitimate as a technique or method, and none should be condemned as “bad practice” on their face.

As I see it, each of these mechanisms can contribute to the effective achievement of what is, or ought to be, the primary purpose behind the creation and maintenance of any Projects Schedule: to model Project Execution Strategy. To me, these mechanisms are no different than an illustration that accompanies an article, a graphic that augments a narrative, or punctuation that adds meaning and context to a sentence.

  • Date Constraints: When attached to an activity, a Date Constraint qualifies an otherwise less certain statement of timing for the associated activity. Without the Date Constraint, the activity’s start and/or finish dates are subject to the compounding effects of durations and logic of other activities. Date Constraints come along to clarify the intentions of the Project Team, that certain activities are expected to happen with greater temporal certainty than what might be predicted to manifest solely from the eventual progression of effort.

  • Automated Work Calendars: Similarly, automated work calendars that have been peppered with blocked-out “non-workdays” reflect the intentions of the Project Team, as well.

  • Overlapped Activities: Start-to-Start and Finish-to-Finish logic ties are used in CPM schedules to depict the Project Team’s expectation that certain activities will occur somewhat concurrently. How more relevant can one get to the concerns of Collaboration, Coordination, and Cooperation than to identify which activities might be occurring concurrently, and to contemplate how their juxtaposed work efforts will interrelate to one another?

  • Software Settings: There are a number of scheduling software settings that are routinely argued among Scheduling Technocrats as to their appropriateness. To name some of the more hotly-debated: progress override versus retained logic; continuous versus interruptible durations, zero total float, and zero free float, and others. The point is that each of these settings provides us with additional ways to reflect the intentions of the Project Team, with respect to Project Execution Strategy.

Banning Contractions

Could you ever imagine the Chicago Manual of Style banning the use of contractions? Well, not only does it not prohibit their use, it actually encourages them, saying, “Most types of writing benefit from the use of contractions. If used thoughtfully, contractions in prose sound natural and relaxed and make reading more enjoyable.”

I bring up contractions because that is how I view Start-to-Start and Finish-to-Finish ties: they are a more “natural and relaxed” way of depicting the intention for two activities to be partially overlapped. In a simple example I often use, picture two activities: Wash Dishes and Dry Dishes. Now assume two people assigned to kitchen duties: one person washes while another dries.

Clearly, Drying Dishes cannot begin any sooner than some time after Washing Dishes has not only begun but progressed to the point that at least one dish has been washed and stood in a dish rack to drain. Likewise, Drying Dishes cannot finish until after the last dish is washed. Using traditional Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM) notation, we merely create two activities and link them with a pair Start-to-Start and Finish-to-Finish ties.

But for those who have heartburn over the use of Start-to-Start (SS) and Finish-to-Finish (FF) ties, their preferred diagramming scheme would have use revert to the logic depiction techniques which were last in wide-scale use back in the 1970s (Arrow Diagramming Method; ADM)!

They would have use create four activities: two for washing and two for drying. And they would link these four activities with four logic ties, as follows:

  • Activity 1: Start Washing Dishes
  • Activity 2: Complete Washing Dishes
  • Activity 3: Start Drying Dishes
  • Activity 4: Complete Drying Dishes

As for the logic between these activities, instead of the single SS/FF pair used PDM, we would now have four Finish-to-Start logic ties, as such:

  • Logic Tie 1:  Activity 1 > Activity 2
  • Logic Tie 2: Activity 1 > Activity 3
  • Logic Tie 3: Activity 3 > Activity 4
  • Logic Tie 4: Activity 2 > Activity 4

Twice the number of activities, and twice the number of logic ties! And in the end, they both say the same thing. So, why in the world should Start-to-Start and Finish-to-Finish ties be outlawed?

The Goal Was to Drain the Swamp

I sometimes (maybe even often) wonder whether we Scheduling Technocrats have gone too far with our self-imposed rules — with our recommended and best practice pronouncements. In fairness, losing our practical bearings is somewhat endemic of most humans. Ronald Reagan said, rather famously in February 1982, “I know it’s hard when you’re up to your armpits in alligators to remember you came here to drain the swamp.”

I fear that, over the years, the Scheduling Discipline has lost sight of why we create and maintain Project Schedules in the first place. We do so in order to facilitate the Communication needed to achieve efficient Collaboration, Coordination, and Cooperation.

Borrowing From Book Content Layout Design

After a less than satisfying experience with my first book being published through a large publishing conglomerate, I decided to self-publish my second book.  This meant doing my own copy layout. I purchased the same software that the professionals use, and took my copy from MS Word and imported it into Adobe inDesign.

Laying out my own copy was an exhausting and sometimes aggravating experience. But I did learn something that I think is transferable to this discussion about Schedule Design and, more specifically, to the use of Start-to-Start and Finish-to-Finish ties. It has to do with what are called placeholders.

Suppose you are laying out a page of text and you know that somewhere on this page you will be placing a small graphic. Suppose that at the time of the layout you have not yet developed the graphic. In fact, all you know at this point is the intended size of the graphic. Into the page you insert an empty box that measures two-inches wide by two-inches high. For now, this empty box serves as a placeholder for the ultimate image. Later, when you receive it, you will simply drop the image into the empty box.

The thing about placeholders is that there are two different ways to anchor them in the layout: absolute and relative.

  • Absolute Anchor: When a placeholder is absolute, its location is fixed on the page with respect to other fixed values (e.g., page margins).  The image will never move from this location even if the text around it does.

  • Relative Anchor: The other option is to anchor the placeholder relative to some point in the text.  Think of the image as just another character in the strings of characters that comprise the sentence. If we add more text before the insertion point, then the location of the image floats, along with the subsequent text.

The Concept of Anchoring, Applied to Project Scheduling

Back to Project Scheduling, perhaps it might be helpful to apply the concept of anchoring to schedule logic.

  • Logic Ties: When we apply logic ties, we are essentially anchoring an activity to surrounding activities. As such, when activities prior to the Subject Activity move back or forth in time, the Subject Activity’s Earliest Dates change accordingly. Likewise, should downstream activities shift, the Subject Activity’s Latest Dates will change accordingly. Thanks to logic ties, the Subject Activity is anchored in a relative manner.

  • Date Constraints: When we impose Date Constraints on a Subject Activity, we anchor that activity to an absolute point in time, by way of either a calendar-fixed starting point or calendar-fixed ending point.
  • Work Calendars: Finally, when we assign a Subject Activity to a particular work calendar, we anchor the activity to one or more operational windows that are fixed to specific calendar dates.

My hope in discussing anchoring is that perhaps by seeing Logic Ties, Date Constraints, and Work Calendars as forms of anchoring, it might be easier to appreciate why I contend that bans on the very use of these techniques is unwarranted.

Ratio of Vowels to Consonants

Back to the Chicago Manual of Style, could you ever imagine it mandating some arbitrary “ideal” ratio of vowels to consonants in a written document? Would this literary authority ever dare to suggest that the ratio of vowels to consonants ought to be such-and-such? How about the number of periods or commas in a document?  How about the number of quotation marks? Yet, in recent years we have seen a flurry of scheduling recommended or best practices that dare to opine on such quality-indicating parameters as:

  • The largest (or smallest) that an activity duration should (can) be
  • The number of Date Constraints in a schedule (some ban them altogether)
  • The use of Start-to-Start or Finish-to-Finish logic ties (some ban these, as well)

Convey the Project Execution Strategy

I will close by reminding the reader that the primary (if not sole) purpose of the Project Schedule is to depict the Project Team’s intended Project Execution Strategy. The Critical Path Method gives us many powerful and robust mechanisms for painting this picture. Since we probably agree that as a general rule simple is better, whenever one of these mechanisms presents a statement of intention more coherently, are we not remiss if we pass it over … in acquiescence to a flood of arbitrary “standards” that surround us up to our armpits.

Using Multi-Path Residency to Accelerate a Schedule

At first, this will seem like a rather technical discussion. But it has real-world significance, especially when a Scheduler is asked to recommend where to “blitz” a schedule.  Let’s get into it.

Some Extra Men Have Come Available: Where Can They Do the Most Good?

As a Scheduler, this is a question that you just love to hear. In all honesty, we don’t hear questions like this often enough! The truth is that the Project Schedule is rich with valuable information that can help the Project Team more efficiently and more effectively execution the Work of the project. But how might we answer the posed question? On what basis should we advise as to where to deploy the extra labor resources?

Assuming a Temporal Interest in Our Answer

The following discussion assumes that the question was aimed at finding out how the deployment of additional labor forces might lead toward an earlier completion of one or more Project Execution Commitments (firm deadlines). That is, it is assumed that we are concerned with temporal outcomes, as opposed to consequences related to cost, risk, safety, or other important considerations.

Biggest Bang For the Buck

An familiar expression is that we want to determine where we will gain the biggest bank for the buck, the greatest temporal improvement in exchange for the deployment of additional resources. So, what are some possible bases for answering this question?

  • Least Float Path: An obvious answer – and the one most often chosen – is to assign the additional labor resources to any of the Activities having the least Total Float in the Schedule. But that might not be the best choice, as we shall soon discover.
  • Longest Path: Another equally-common choice is to apply the resources to any of the Activities residing along the longest path in the Schedule. For the same reasons, however, this might not be the best choice.
  • Largest Duration: Another intuitive answer might be to apply the resources to Activities that have very large durations. The presumption here is that if we double the labor of such Activities, we cut their duration in half.
  • Most Successors: A smaller percent of responses might zero in on Activities that have the largest number of immediately-succeeding (downstream) Activities tied to them. The theory here is that if we can complete the predecessor sooner, then all of those immediately-dependent Activities can start that much sooner!
  • Nearer the Deadline: Finally there is an argument for applying the additional resources to Activities that are closest to an impending Milestone. The nearer an Activity is to a Milestone, the more critical is its timely completion (for there is less time to “make up” for any slippage of such an Activity).

So Which Answer is Right? Which is the Best Answer?

There may be other valid options, but these are some that immediately come to mind. But which, of these, is the best option? Of course the answer to that question is a matter of opinion. And it is unlikely that the following opinion will convince those holding different views.

The point of raising the question in the first place was not so much to find the right or best answer, but rather to raise your awareness of a little-known attribute of all Critical Path Method schedules, and of the vast majority of Activities within those schedules: the typically Activities reside simultaneously on multiple paths!

In most CPM Schedules, Activity Paths crisscross and intersect in such convoluted ways that the majority of Activities reside on more than one Activity Path. ICS-Research defines an Activity Path as a series of Activities that span between a Start Milestone and a Finish Milestone.

Introducing Multi-Path Analysis as a Way to Answer the Question

ICS-Research has developed an innovative process to answer this question. And it really works! Multi-Path Analysis consistently identifies the best place (on which Activities) to deploy additional resources in order to provide the overall Schedule with the most temporal benefit. In fact, the Multi-Path Analysis option has proved more effective than even Least Total Float or Longest Path options in this regard.

If you have the stomach for a highly technical paper, I invite you to read ICS-White Paper WPA-MF-28, entitled, “Schedule Acceleration Using Free Float and Multi-Path Analysis.” This paper fully explains the principles behind Multi-Path Residency as it conducts a detailed comparison of the Multi-Path Analysis with the above five other options: Least Total Float, Longest Path, Largest Duration, Most Immediate Successors, and Nearest the Deadline.

The concept behind Multi-Path Analysis makes good common sense. If you are comparing two Activities, one that resides on only one Path, and another than resides one multiple Paths simultaneously, if we improve the performance of the latter we positively impact multiple Paths in one felled swoop.

If you would like to learn more about Multi-Path Residency, I strongly encourage you to read the referenced White Paper.




Critical Path Myth, Part 3: Conclusion? Delusion


Blog Series Abstract

The widespread faith in the Critical Path Concept is not justified by the facts. Still, those with a vested interest in their projects finishing timely continue to support the Critical Path Concept and embrace recommended practices that they are told will lead to more successful projects. This three-part blog series is intended to shed light on the Great Delusion under which most Project Management stakeholders unknowingly suffer.

Myself hardly naïve, I fully expect disagreement with what is written in these three blogs. The resistance expected from Critical Path Concept proponents is both understandable and anticipated. I am comforted by a saying in the Air Force: “if you’re drawing flak, you must be over the target.” I remain hopeful that the discussions and debates that this Blog Series is certain to provoke will nonetheless facilitate the kind of open, honest, and informed dialogue needed to at last turn around the ship upon which we all sail together. The truth shall set us free.

About Critical Path Myth, Part 3: Conclusion? Delusion!

Part 1 and Part 2 have informed us that a great injustice has been perpetrated on those who have the most to lose, should their Projects miss important temporal goals. Unwarranted faith has been placed on a Critical Path Concept that is fraught with problems, in theory and in practice. There is only one Conclusion to be reached about the state of present-day Construction Project Time Management: Project Stakeholders are unwittingly suffering under a great Delusion. They think that the Critical Path Concept works, when in reality it faces many challenges. Worse still, empirical evidence suggests that many of the policies of Construction Executives may well be further eroding Schedule Credibility, thus making effective Project Time Management even less likely!

In Part 3, we will acknowledge that most Construction Project stakeholders are mostly unaware of the many compounding shortcomings contained within so many recommended Project Management practices that have the Critical Path Concept somewhere at their core. With a lump in our throats we come to realize — much to our surprise and chagrin — that we, as Construction Executives, may actually be dealing our Projects the greatest blows by way of policies and contractual requirements that drive the final nails into the Project Time Management coffin. But, so as to wrap up on a positive note the blog concludes with a few simple changes that Owners can rather make that could dramatically improve the temporal outcome of their construction projects.

Recap of Parts 1 and 2

In Part 1, Confusion and Illusion, we learned that the Critical Path Concept is fraught with uncertainty. As amply discussed, it suffers widespread terminological deficits, surprising disagreement over key computed values, and even confusion within the very context of the Critical Path Concept.

In Part 2, Diffusion and Infusion, we began to wonder how a Concept so fraught with limitations would be a chosen as the foundation of a broad Project Management ideology. But where Part 1 examined the raw fundamentals of the Critical Path Concept, Part 2 took a more analytical and substantive review of the Concept’s implications. In a short discussion about Schedule Data Credibility, we were told that Schedule Credibility improves over time. In the inverse, a Schedule is least credible at its outset. We learned that Performance Data, already highly speculative, will degrade after about ten weeks and that a Schedule’s level of detail needs to be correlated with the length of the project that it seeks to model.

Next,  we entered a meaty study of the real meaning of Total Float and Critical Path. We were enlightened to learn that Total Float measures the gap between two essentially irrelevant and temporal extremes. Earliest Dates represent extremely unlikely performance, whereas Latest Dates represent an extremely irresponsible Project Management strategy. Removing any rose-colored spectacles we might be wearing, Part 2 reminds us that a Baseline Schedule with a Critical Path bearing zero Total Float is about as prudent as starting a business with no money in the bank. Yet, that is precisely what many Contracts require of the Contractor: to submit a Schedule shows Zero Total Float along the Critical Path!

Despite all of the shortcomings discussed in Parts 1 and 2, the Project Management community continues to sing the praises of the Critical Path Concept. They do so, even as they continue to argue with one another over a wide range of technical issues.  That these issues have not been resolved long before now may well explain why there is such inconsistency and confusion in Project Time Management products and services. [Note: If you have not read Part 1 and Part 2, I strongly encourage you to do so.  The discussions we will have over the next two weeks will surely touch on contents of the both other blog parts.]

Counter-Productive Project Management Policies & Practices

Here in Part 3, we will take a candid and sober look at some of the many ways that Construction Executives only make matters far worse, by the policies they adopt, the rules they impose, and the expectations that harbor. It is my genuine hope that, by laying all of this out on the table, we can have an honest and productive discussion about ways that each Project Time Management stakeholder can change the way they do what they do, for the betterment of the Project. We all have a hand in the timely outcome of the Project. This set of three blogs is meant to throw bright floodlights on some of the more egregious and damaging practices, policies, and actions.

How the Critical Path Concept Negatively Affects Project Management

Some of what you are about to read under this heading are points that I seriously doubt you have heard or read anywhere else. I know that I have scoured the Internet and come up dry, in my search for comparable examination. At a very minimum, I hope the following will give you something to think about.  Let’s get started:

The Critical Path Concept Over-Simplifies Project Time Management

For starters, it seems to me that Project Management literature (and even doctrine) tends to reduce Project Time Management to whatever fits neatly within the Critical Path Concept. The mantra of generations has been, “Plan your work, and work your plan.” It is as if Project Execution (and, inclusive of that, Project Time Management) boils down to simply creating very good Project Schedule, and then simply “following it.”  But the intersection of theory and practice is in how the Schedule is maintained and used, from one performance/reporting period to the next.

The Schedule is referenced, work is executed, performance is measured, Key Performance Indicators are compiled, reports are distributed, explanations are sought, “corrective” actions are crafted and implemented and … then the whole cycle starts all over again. Most prominent among the Key Performance Indicators are two familiar values: Total Float and the Critical Path. But even Critical Path is secondary to Total Float, when it comes to convenience of measuring Project performance. As Total Float shrinks, Management concern grows; as Total Float inflates, concern is relaxed. In a very practical sense, the current ideology of Project Managements seems to be that … Project Time Management amounts to Total Float Management.

“Management By the Numbers”

I use this expression somewhat sarcastically.  For it seems to me that far too many of today’s Project Managers put greater focus on how their “numbers look” than how the Project is actually proceeding. I blame Construction Executives for this, to whatever extent it is true.  After all, if Owners and General Managers didn’t put such importance of these Key Performance Indicators, maybe the Paper Project would be less important than the Physical Project.

Nowadays, Every Project is Actually Two Projects

And that brings me to my first boat-rocking declaration: as practiced today, every construction project is actually two projects: the Paper Project, and the Physical Project. And we can draw some important conclusions from this revelation:

  • Each “Project” has its own Project Manager.
  • Each “Project” has its own goals and objectives
  • Each “Project” should have its own management tools and resources
  • Each “Project” has its own customer

Let’s take this all in.  As we do, think of the Contractor’s Site Superintendent as the “project manager” for the Physical Project. Now think of the traditional Contractor’s titled Project Manager as the “project manager” for the Paper Project. The Site Superintendent is clear about his goals and objectives: to complete the Physical Project successfully, in compliance with the Contract Documents. This means completing it on time, within budget, and with expected quality and safety.  He has one prime customer: the Construction Project Owner.

He doesn’t give a damn about the Contractor’s Home Office and all of the political, fiscal, and contractual BS. The titled Project Manager, however, lives and dies by “the numbers.” His Project is performed on paper. After all, to a very real extent, that is where money will be made or lost, time will be reported as gained or lost, time extensions will be sought and secured, claims will be asserted and won, savings and cost containment will be achieved. It’s all about the Numbers!  The Paper Project Manager has two customers: the Construction Project Owner and Home Office Senior Management.

Both Projects (and Managers) Use the Same Schedule!

Now, here’s the “rub,” to borrow a word from Shakespeare: both Projects use the same Project Schedule. And that makes it the rope in a terribly violent tug-of-war. Actually, that are several ropes passing through the Project Schedule, stretching it into such great tension that it might surely break at any moment.

  • As just noted, the Paper Project Manager and the Physical Project Manager tug on the Schedule, from opposite ends. One wants it more detailed, the other more general. One wants it more flexible, fluid, and responsive. The other wants it more stable, consistent, and controlling.
  • The Owner and the Contractor also tug on a rope that passes through the Schedule. The Owner wants the Schedule to lock the Contractor down, and to use it to monitor the Contractor. The Contractor wants the Schedule to have “wiggle room,” in order to support its planned claims time extensions and adjustments in reaction to scope changes.
  • The Design Professionals grab the rope before the Contractor has even arrived on the scene. They consume a disproportionate amount of the available Project Length (a combination of design, procurement, and construction phases).  When the Contractor comes aboard, he finds the flag well past the center line!

I could go on, but you get the point. These two “Projects” are in a constant state of conflict with one another. And that explains why the Project Manager and Site Superintendent do not always see things the same way, why Owner and Contractor impose important yet often-opposing requirements on the content and use of the Schedule, and why Contractors have a general dislike for (or at least irritation with) Design Professionals who, as they see it, do not seem to view “reality” the same way that they (the Contractor) do. Caught in the middle is the Project Schedule which, let us not forget, is the central gear in the Project Execution machine. If the Schedule becomes dysfunctional, then you can kiss timely completion goodbye.

How the Critical Path Concept Negatively Affects Project Execution

Before going into the discussion we are about to have concerning how pursuit and protection of the Critical Path can, and often does, actually extend the length of a Project, it might be helpful to those who are not very familiar with the Critical Path Concept to get a quick primer.

Roof Over a City: How the Longest Path Determines the Shortest Project Length

Imagine being asked to construct a roof over Manhattan. What is the lowest (in elevation) that that roof could be? Answer: no lower than the tallest building. Right? Before the terrorists attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, these tallest buildings in Manhattan topped out at 1,727 feet. So, that is the lowest that the roof could have been at that time. But after the destruction of the Twin Towers, suddenly the Empire State Building was now the tallest building, at 1,454 feet.  You get the idea.

And we can form a statement that, at first, seems a little counter-intuitive: the lowest that the roof can be is determined by the highest building. Well, if you turn the city skyline on its side, and substitute “roof” for Project Completion, and building heights for Activity Path lengths, you get the explanation for how a Critical Path determines a Project Completion. If every building represents an Activity Path, then the tallest building represents the “critical” path. And so, we get this statement: the shortest Project Length is determined by the longest Activity Path — the critical path.

But is our example maybe a little too simplistic? Aren’t we assuming that all city building stand on a level downtown base? If they do, then it would remain true that the tallest building reaches the highest point in the air. But what if we were talking San Francisco, not Manhattan? There, the tallest building is the TransAmerica Pyramid, which stands 850 feet in the air. Except … it is based at only four feet above sea level. Now, also within the city limits are the Twin Peaks, which top out at 922 feet above sea level. Suppose we were to construct a short, one-story house on the top of one of the peaks, with its roof only 28 feet from the ground. This would put the roof’s highest point at 950 above sea level.

Meanwhile, the top of the towering Trans Am Building is actually lower, at 854 feet. What we see from this example is that it is not actually the tallness of the building that matters to our roof’s lowest elevation … it is the ultimate height that each building reaches. Likewise, in a Project Schedule, not all Activity Paths begin at the start of the Schedule or extend all the way to the end of the Schedule. If they all did, then the Manhattan scenario would be a useful analogy. But, in practice, Activity Paths can start anywhere along the length of the Schedule.  And so, it is possible that the Activity Path that determines the earliest that the Project can finish may not be the longest Path.

Manage to the Critical Path

Perhaps now you might be better informed to understand the thinking behind the principle advanced by the advocates of the Critical Path Concept. For if you want to finish your Project as soon as possible, then make sure you do not extend the Critical Path. That would be like adding floors to the building that already reaches the highest into the air. In fact, the opposite is sometimes asserted (although, it is factually incorrect), that for every day that you shorten the Critical Path, you pick up a day on the Project Completion. You get the idea; according to Critical Path Concept dogma, it is all about managing to the Critical Path. And it certainly seems to make a lot of sense, and for over five decades this has been the guiding principle behind the Critical Path Method of managing projects:  manage to the Critical Path.

The Lane Hopping Effect

But I am here to tell you something you have likely never heard before. Managing to the Critical Path may quite possibly extending the length of your projects! The explanation of this phenomenon is what I call the “Lane Hopping Effect, and it works this way. Traffic engineers are familiar with a pattern where drivers, frustrated with being caught in the grip of bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic, upon seeing an adjacent lane seemingly flowing more freely, all simultaneously jump into the “fast-moving” lane. Within a matter of seconds, the previously fast-moving lane slows to a crawl, and the lane which the cars had just abandoned suddenly becomes the fast-moving lane. They call this oddity, “filling one’s own vacuum.”

ICS-Research has found that the same thing happens on Projects that are managed to the Critical Path. Because of the disproportionate emphasis placed on Total Float, the natural and common tendency of Project Managers is to favor Critical Path activities at the expense of non-critical activities. This predilection is fueled by “practice standards” that establish the safeguarding of the Critical Path as a “standard of care,” such that not to do so might be argued as professional negligence. Of course, when an excess of resources are directed toward a “critical” Path, other Paths from which the resources were drawn can suddenly become more “critical,” even as the initially-critical Path turns non-critical.

In other words, by managing the Project through systematic responses to dropping Total Float values, the Project Execution team is constantly chasing its own tail. You might be interested to learn that ICS-Research studies show, beyond a margin of error, that managing to the Critical Path is often counter-productive. Experiments conducted on Schedules of completed Projects proved that, had the same overall level of effort been applied evenly to all available activities (rather than primarily to critical and near-critical Activities), the Project would have finished sooner than it did by managing to the Critical Path.

The “Fill the Buckets of Water” Problem

The Critical Path Concept also makes another assumption that is not substantiated by the experience on most Construction Projects. It assumes that there is enough energy to complete the Project in the allotted time. Now you may think that a Baseline Schedule – which must show a Project Completion date equal to the Contract Completion Date in order to gain Owner approval  – confirms that the original Schedule surely anticipated sufficient energy. But you might be wrong. To explain, let me present a simple example. Assume that we are given 60 ten-gallon buckets and told to fill them with water from a tap. Assume that the maximum water pressure out of the tap is 60 gallons per hour. Clearly, it will take 10 hours to fill all 60 buckets. Now suppose that we sign a Contract which obligates us to fill all 60 ten-gallon buckets in just EIGHT hours. Given the above “facts,” we can easily see that it cannot be done., given the maximum water pressure out of the tap, right?

Now let’s see how we might be able to trick ourselves (and others?) into thinking that it can be done. It’s really quite simple.

  • First, we divide the 60 buckets into six groups, which we label Group A through Group F. Each Bucket Group contains ten buckets.
  • We earmark Group A as our  “sampling” subset of buckets. We will use statistics concerning this Sample Group’s progress to interpolate the presumed progress of the other five Groups.
  • Next, we buy a six-way splitter and six garden hoses. We connect one end of each hose to the splitter, and place the other end of each hose into one of the buckets from its Group.
  • Finally, as a basis for later interpolating the statistics associated with our progress on Group A, we make the assumption that all Groups will be filled at the same time.

Now, since everything is equal in our example, the progress within each Group is equivalent and the interpolation from Group A is valid. The maximum flow rate was given at 60 gallons per hour. That means that 10 gallons of water will be flowing out of each hose, per hour.  And that means that each hose can fill one bucket each hour. We conclude that each Group will require ten hours to fill its ten buckets. But we still have that pesky Contract requirement, to completely fill all  60 buckets in only eight hours, not ten hours.  So here is how we game the system. We commandeer Hose B for fifteen minutes of each hour! As we fill the Group A buckets at this higher flow rate, it appears that we will be able to fill Group A’s ten buckets in eight hours!

And since we are still telling the world that, “as Group A goes, all groups go,” the impression we are giving is that all is well. But is it? Remember that we were told that the tap had a maximum capacity of 60 gallons per hour. And we are consuming 12½ gallons per hour, just for Group A. That leaves the remaining 47½ gallons per hour to be shared by five Groups, equally. I’ll spare you the math.  Bottom Line: those other five Groups will now take ten hours and 32 minutes for their buckets to get filled. So — not only will we not complete the Project in the required eight hours, we see that by diverting resources, what should have taken ten hours is now expected to take 10 1/2 hours!

What we learn from this simple Fill the Water Buckets example is that a sampling set only tells us about the whole if the sampling set is treated the same as the whole. But when the Sampling Set is given preferential treatment over the general population, one can no longer draw conclusions about the whole from the performance of the sampling. Now let’s go back to the Lane Hopping Effect, where I stated earlier that when we give higher priority to Critical Path activities, we can actually extend Project length. I call this “energy spillage.”

Back to our Bucket metaphor, each time we swing the Hose B away from its bucket and over to the Group A bucket, some water spills on the ground! And we are going to borrow the hose eight times! Well, the same thing happens to limited resources on a Project. The more we bounce them around, the less efficient we are across the board. And on a Project where it will take maximum resources to meet an end date, resource spillage usually means schedule slippage. Interestingly, when I  was consulting the Arizona DOT, those traffic engineers told me that their studies had found that (a) all of that Lane Hopping doesn’t actually gain any advantage for the lane-darting vehicle; they still end up in the same place at the same time. And, (b) all they accomplish is unnecessarily expended fuel, burned brake pads, and tattered nerves.

An Unwanted Paradigm Shift

Another harmful consequence of the Critical Path Concept has been a destructive shift in attitudes among virtually all parties to the Project. The two key culprits are the Construction Executives and the Project Managers; the rest of the players have been mainly reactionary in their attitude changes. For their part, Owners have expressed distrust in Contractors. This distrust is clearly reflected in the tone and content of their Contracts. Of course this is music in the ears of Project Controls advocates who happen to believe that control of the Project is not only possible, it is essential. (I disagree, on both points.) In response to the Owner’s squeeze play, Contractors have become more defensive and cunning, less trusting and conciliatory.

As we noted earlier, the Project Schedule is the rope in a multi-player tug-of-war.  This explains why each contestant in the battle rushes to implant his own preferred seeds (of future victory) into the unsuspecting Schedule. The Project Executor (the Site Superintendent who, you will recall, is the “project manager” for the Physical Project) is essentially out-gunned. He reluctantly accepts the Schedule that is being crammed down his throat. Inwardly, he resigns to ignoring it as much as possible. The Project Planner or Scheduler practitioner, meanwhile, carries the main burden for Schedule Development, Maintenance. (Adoption and implementation remains the responsibility of the two project Managers – albeit, each for their own separate purposes). Meanwhile, non-Scheduling Project Controls personnel, one step removed from primary responsibility for Schedule Development and Maintenance, nonetheless pursue their assigned interests: cost control, quality control, risk management, resource management, etc.

The Critical Path Concept, in Practice: A Reactionary Model

And all of this plays out against the backdrop of those pesky “Numbers.” This is how all parties use the Project Schedule, for their respective, different, and often opposing ends. And chief among the facts and figures to be extracted from the Schedule are … Total Float and Critical Path. For the Paper Project Manager Total Float is of primary importance. That’s because Management believes (however, wrongly) that it captures the overall status of the Project in a single numerical value. Construction Executives have been told (again, wrongly) that by monitoring the Total Float of key milestones, one can get a reliable and useful reading on the likelihood of the Project achieving its temporal goals.

Managers of Paper Project well appreciate the significance of Total Float. And so they place it first and foremost among their Key Statistics. Schedulers have been schooled in producing the three main CPM Reports: sorted by Activity Identifier, by Early Start, and by Total Float. The first one is used almost exclusively by the Schedulers, themselves.  The Early Start Report is the first choice of the Physical Project Manager. And the Total Float Report is what the Paper Project Manager flips through each time a new one comes out.

And the process is almost always the same. The Total Float Report (also known as a Criticality Report) is sorted by Total Float with the lowest or least Total Float at the top of page 1.  It is Standard Operating Procedure for the Paper Project Manager to glide his finger down the right-most column of the first page, hoping to see any negative Total Float numbers gradually fade into zero, and then turn to positive Total Float. “Damn!” he mumbles to himself, as he flips the page and continues to see negative Total Float on the second page. And if the negative Total Float eventually disappears somewhere on the third page, the Project Manager sighs slightly, thinking to himself, “We have our work cut out for us.” And for the next few weeks, until the next set of Schedule Reports come out, he will be focusing attention on, and diverting resources to, those negative Total Float Activities.

And what happens to all of those Activities on page 4 and beyond – the ones with the positive Total Float? Well, they are essentially ignored. It’s the old, “too busy extinguishing fires to take a notice of new smoke” syndrome.  I hope you recognize this scenario for what it truly is: reactionary. And the Scheduling Community, with its trained Schedulers and recommended practices, are right there to fuel the insanity. Just consider how “seasoned” Schedulers interpret a Total Float reading of -8 days. “The Project Completion activity had zero Total Float in the Baseline Schedule. This shifted to TF -2 in the first month, TF -4 in the second month, TF -6 in the third month, and now TF -8 here at the end of the fourth month.  This means that, as of right now, we predict completing the Project eight days late.”

“Eight” days late? Really?  How about 36 days late? Why do I say this? Because this is an 18-month project and we seem to be losing two days each month. My point is that the typical interpretation of Total Float often disregards trending data. But that’s not how it always was. Back when I was a newbie Scheduler (in the 1970s), trending extrapolations were commonplace. Over the years, however, attitude changed at the Management level, and new directives were given to the Project Scheduler. Bad news was swept under the rug. Remember: Project Management means Total Float Management. And the Subcontractors have gotten the memo, too! They have learned how to interpret that right-most column. If their Activities bear two-digit positive Total Float, just try convincing them that their “immediate performance is critical to the Project’s temporal goals!”  They can read, and they aren’t buying it. Their sense of urgency has been dimmed.

Infusion: Additional Uses for the Project Schedule

So far in this third blog, everything I have written about relates back to the Project Schedule in its primary role as a Project Time Management tool.  What I am about to tell you is that others — with no real concern for the factors that impede timely Project completion — also have dibs on the Project Schedule and its all-important temporal data. The simple message to Construction Executives reading this blog is that each of these other uses has only served to further erode the Schedule. And since the Project Schedule is not just the main temporal tool, but the only temporal tool used by the Project Executor (Site Superintendent), as the Project Schedule gradually loses its credibility and reliability, there goes Project Management’s innate ability to self-manage as effectively as possible. In the end, the Project suffers. As you read on, please make a mental note of how each one of these additional uses for the Project Schedule puts added pressure on the Paper Project Manager to manage to the Critical Path.

Change Orders and Time Extensions

Virtually all Construction Projects incur changes, and each change presents an opportunity for the Contractor and Owner to renegotiate the Contract. Up for discussion and agreement are increases or decreases in cost and time commitments. In this blog we are concerned with the latter. It has become normal practice for the Contractor to include in its Change Order Proposal a side-product known in the Scheduling World as a TIA, or Time Impact Analysis. In a nutshell, here is how it works: the Contractor develops a small sketch of schedule logic (called a “fragnet”) which depicts the added work. This fragnet contains all of the typical elements of a CPM schedule (activities, dependencies, durations, date constraints, etc.), but it only pertains to the work scope of the Change.

Then the fragnet is “placed” within the greater logic of the most recent Schedule Update. Depending on where the fragnet is tied into the Project Schedule, the Total Float of the Schedule’s downstream Activities may be negatively affected. If they cause Total Float of downstream Activity Paths to “go negative,” then the Contractor is justified in asking for a time extension to the overall contract. Obviously, there is an unspoken desire on the part of the Contractor for the TIA to justify a time extension. This, of course, translates into palpable pressure on the Paper Project Manager to “tweak” the fragnet and its placement, at all times with an eye on that all-important Total Float.

Time-Related Claims for Delay and Acceleration

On a larger scale, the same conditions, general processes, and motivations operate behind the scenes, as Contractors and/or Owners assert or defend against claims of delay or acceleration. Once again, the all-important variable is Total Float along with its primary derivative, the Critical Path. Again, immense pressure is placed on the design and maintenance of the Project Schedule, with a trained eye at all times focused on Total Float and Critical Path.

Performance Evaluations

Constructions Executives have overwhelmingly acclaimed the simplicity and clarity of Key Performance Indicators, prime among these being the Total Float and Critical Path values.

  • Management (of both Owners and Contractors) interpret even the slightest changes in Total Float values as possible evidence of Project Management ineffectiveness. Project Managers know this, and since they are the primary source for Schedule Update information, there is a great pressure (if not also, tendency) to withhold certain facts and perhaps embellish others, in an effort to affect the final reports.
  • It is common in most construction contracts to link approval of Progress Payment Applications to Schedule Reports that validate or confirm performance. Percent Complete values, per Activity, aggregate to the amount for which the Contractor can seek compensation.  But those same Percent Complete values are part of the calculations of Early Dates which, you will recall, are the basis for Total Float. Paper Project Managers are forever struggling to find the right balance between justifying the largest Pay App on the one hand, and not skewing the Critical Path away from its most advantageous route (in terms of Change Order TIAs and Delay/Acceleration claims).
  • Even Earned Value Reports, when they signal possibly troubling trends, merely send Paper Project Managers back to the CPM Schedule to determine whether (and, if so, by how much) Total Float Activities are involved in the bad news.

Other Project Controls Uses of the Schedule

Finally, in order for some of these other Project Controls interests to use the Project Schedule for their particular purposes, they sometimes have need to modify how the Project Schedule is constructed or maintained. Two immediate examples of this are Work Breakdown Structure and Cost Accounts. Both typically emanate from the Cost Engineering component of Project Controls. A Work Breakdown Structure is a formal coding system that accompanies the Project Schedule, and organizes the data records within it.

Unfortunately, one of the unavoidable restrictions of a WBS system is that no activity can have (belong to) more than one WBS class. The practical effect of this requirement is that it often drives the schedule into more detail than would otherwise be required for the Schedule to be an effective temporal tool. In fact, this requirement can easily render an otherwise good schedule less than fully effective. Along much the same lines, many Cost Engineering entities employ Cost Accounting practices that mandate that no Activity can belong to more than one Cost Account. Here, too, the net effect is to drive the Schedule into needless and possibly counter-productive detail.

The point of this short subsection is that these “external forces,” so commonly endorsed and sponsored by Executive Management, quite often introduces additional pressures on an already over-stressed Project Schedule. And as the Paper Project Managers struggles to strike the right balances (as described above), these additional restraints only further complicate the assignment.

Contractual Clauses that Handicap, Impede, or Sabotage

This next section ought to raise some eyebrows, for this is where I get specific on how Owners, for the most part unwittingly, can make matters worse than they already are when it comes to achieving effective Project Time Management. While there are many more reasons than just the ones listed here, this short list in meant to give tangible examples of how Owners can unintentionally further handicap, impede, or sabotage their Project’s Time Management efforts :

No Early Completion Clause

Many construction contracts prohibit the Contractor from submitting a Baseline Schedule that shows the Project completing any earlier than the Project Completion Date set in the Contract. Behind this clause is a fear by the Owner that, if the Contractor shows how he could finish earlier, then if during the course of the Project the Owner is responsible for any delays that might deny the Contractor the chance to complete early, the Contractor might be owed a time extension.  Now let me tell you how this clause hurts the Project, although it should be obvious, based on what we discussed earlier.

Suppose the Contract grants 300 days to complete a project, and the Contractor has crafted a Project Execution Strategy that shows completion in 275 days. Such a Schedule would show Total Float of 25 days, right? But when a No Early Completion clause is imposed, the Contractor is forced to artificially elongate the Schedule in order to eliminate the positive Total Float. It is time to recall what we said earlier about what a Critical Path with zero Total Float actually means. It means that, for the duration of the Project, the earliest that any Activity along the Critical Path can be performed is also the latest possible moment that it can be performed! I ask again, as I did before: is this any way to run a Project?  Do you, as a Construction Executive, really want to demand removal of any time cushion from the Project Schedule?

And keep this in mind: schedules become self-fulfilling prophecies. You see, when a Schedule is artificially elongated, the Earliest Dates are deferred until a later time (“pushed out,” “slipped to the right”). But because the Schedule is not just a budget, but instead a key tool for planning future performance, subcontractors actually use the schedule to plan their work. And so, if it the Painter reads that he will not be needed until June, then he may well take another job that wraps up in May. But the Painter was looking at an artificially elongated Schedule, the distorted Schedule mandated by the No Early Completion clause. Without that clause, the Schedule would have shown the Painter starting work 25 days earlier! Supposing actual performance moves at a pace consistent with original, non-padded Schedule, and the Contractor needs the Painter in May .. he now has to pay a premium to get the subcontractor to site “earlier than planned.”

And let’s not overlook two other, counter-productive side effects of a No Early Completion clause. One: it forces the Contractor to hide Total Float. And even though the Contract may also include a prohibition against “Sequestering Float,” this clause necessities just such a practice anyway. Two: it distorts Total Float readings for all Activities in the Schedule, not just the ones residing on the Critical Path. Without getting too technical, the longer the Critical Path is, the greater the Total Float values for non-critical paths. Go back to our Roof Over the City example. If we add floors to the already tallest building in the city, then, for each other building, the distance between the Roof and the building’s top merely increases. The harmful effect of inflated Total Float values (along non-critical paths) is that it increases apathy and cools any sense of urgency among those responsible for performing these “non-critical” activities.

Float Ownership Clause

Perhaps no other clause is more threatening to the temporal goals of a Project than this one, for it is here that the Owner sets the tone for the Project. Unless this clause gives 100% ownership of Total Float to the Contractor then, no matter how it is worded, this clause sets up a Zero Sum Game that no party can win. I am of the strong opinion that Total Float belongs to the Contractor and that the Owner has no ethical right to it. Let me explain how it negatively impacts the Project. When the Owner claims its right to use of available Total Float, the Contractor is forced to hide the Float. And even though the No Float Sequestering Clause may be exist in the Contract, and even if there is not a No Early Completion Clause in the Contract, the Contractor will do whatever he can to preserve as much Total Float as possible for his exclusive use.

Since the Contractor is the one to create the Baseline Schedule, he enjoys the first opportunity to manipulate its content, if he so chooses. [Now there may be Schedulers reading this blog who will voice strong objection to what they perceive as my characterization of Contractors as devious, dishonest, and conspiring folks. They will argue that most are quite honest and decent. I would agree. But there is a stark difference between being dishonest, and gaming the system. And Owners game the system, too. As many Contractors view one-sided, dictatorial Contracts, they silently think, “you fight fire with fire.”

A Few Immediate Suggestions

As stated earlier, there are far more practical suggestions I could make than appear below. These are just a few of the more obvious ones that can be implemented with little fanfare. Still, they will require Construction Executives who have the courage to invoke change and the conviction to make things better.

Require Full-Blown CPM Schedule with Bid Proposal

The concept behind this suggestion is that each bidder would submit a comprehensive, detailed Critical Path Method Schedule with its Bid Proposal. Even though this effort would be “wasted” on all but the winning bidder, the arguments in favor such a requirement are still impressive:

  • For a bidder to construct a credible cost proposal, they need to think through how they will build the project.  And the level of forethought when it comes to Execution Strategy should be no less detailed than the level of contemplation that goes into the cost estimate.  Quantity take-offs go down to the pounds of nails and sheets of drywall.  Why should the Bid Schedule not get down to the single activities?
  • It allows the Owner (or its agents) to really understand how each Bidder envisions performing the work.
  • It allows an apples-to-apples comparison between bidders proposals.
  • It puts credibility behind each Bidder’s promises.  They can promise anything. But a detailed Schedule shows that they have thought it through and really believe what they are promising.

Best of all, though, having a full-blown CPM Schedule before Notice to Proceed means that the Project will start with Schedule in place. This is a big deal, Owners, because empirical evidence shows that 80% of the delays that afflict a Project sink their roots during the first 20% of the Project Length. On an 18-month project, that makes the first two months highly vulnerable to Schedule slippage. Yet this is precisely the same time period when the Project Schedule is still being developed, submitted, and reviewed under the current, traditional model. Most contracts allow the Contractor 30-45 days to submit the Project Schedule, and the Owner (or its agents) is granted another 2-4 weeks to review and approve it.  And if it is not approved, subsequent resubmittals only further delay the adoption and first practical use of the Project Schedule!

Suggested Contractual Changes

Here are a few changes to the Contract boilerplate that can make a huge difference in how well Project Time Management is accomplished on your Projects. It should flow logically enough from the above discussion, to:

  • Grant Contractors 100% ownership of all Total Float.
  • Allow the Contractor to show an Early Completion in its Baseline Schedule, with no penalty to either party for such allowance.
  • Review and Approve the Baseline Schedule only for the following:
    • Consistency with the Bid Proposal Schedule
    • Acceptable resource-loading (e.g., no front-end loading)
    • Presence and proper placement of all contractual milestones
  • Allow Contractors to change the Schedule at will, without requiring prior Owner permission. The only restriction is that major milestones cannot be removed or their requirement dates adjusted.
  • Do not specify expensive, complicated Enterprise-level scheduling software unless the Project involved multiple sub-projects spanning five or more years.

Reduce Dependence on Total Float and Critical Path

Now the following ideas may be a bit further out on the fringe, harder to adopt either easily or immediately. But I mention them to give you something to think and talk about.

  • Allow a Different Method to Perform Time Impact Analysis: For instance, we can use Performance Intensity (a Momentum Management value) to automatically calculate the time extension justified by the Change Order fragnet. No need to worry about placing the fragnet in the Schedule and seeing whether (or, to what extent) it negatively impacts a Critical Path. Instead, by way of arithmetic formula, every Change will generate an adjustment to Contractual Milestones, regardless of whether the changes impact a Critical Path, or not.  If you are interested in this, write to me.
  • Use a Different Method to Evaluate Performance: Here, too, Performance Intensity can be used to speculate on whether and when downstream deadlines will be achieved.  Performance Intensity is actually a far more stable, consistent, and earlier indicator of project performance than traditional Total Float or Earned Value computations.
  • Resolve All Delay/Acceleration Claims as Soon as Possible: As the saying goes, “bad news does not get better with age.” As much as possible, resolve time-relayed disputes as soon as the relevant facts are known.  Use Performance Intensity, instead of Total Float, to quantify time impacts.
  • Track Milestones Outside of the Project Schedule: By reducing the number of Date Constraints imposed on the Schedule, the Total Float values that appear will be more reflective of true Schedule Vulnerability and Resilience.

The advantage of each of these changes in approach is that they take Total Float out of the equation. And if we can eliminate the use of Total Float for anything other prioritizing Project Execution, we can greatly reduce, and possibly even eliminate the need, temptation, or practice of Schedule manipulation. If only the Schedule could be returned to being strictly a Project Time Management tool, it stands to reason that the Project’s temporal goals would more likely be achieved.

Adopt Monitored Paths Ranking System in Lieu of Critical Path

This last suggestion may require more explanation than this blog has space for.  It is already way too long!  If one is interested, there is a free ICS-White Paper at the Continuing Scheducation website.  Basically, the idea is that instead of having this single, theoretical, comparative value called “the Critical Path” that leads to just the Project Completion milestone … we would replace it with the following schema:

  • Ranking System: Instead of a comparative determinant (e.g., longest or least), we would establish a set of constant terms with fixed parameters, much like what are used in medicine or meteorology. Then, every Path in a Schedule would be evaluated and ranked against these fixed parameters.
  • Multiple Paramount Paths: For each downstream milestone, all Paths leading to the milestone would be identified and ranked.
  • Paramount Path: The most influential of all Paths feeding into a milestone would be deemed the Paramount Path.

Conclusion: About This Three-Part Blog Series

For those of you who are critics of the Critical Path Method, a special word: You may be getting giddy inside, thinking that you have found support and camaraderie from someone who has been such an outspoken proponent of the Critical Path Method for so much of his nearly four-decade career. My message to you is this: do not misunderstand me. Re-read these three blogs. For throughout these three blogs, I have been quite careful and selective in my wording. To be sure, I have been openly critical… but not of the Critical Path Method, but rather of what I have purposely called the Critical Path Concept.

Let me be clear: I still believe that the fundamental structures, elements, and mechanisms of CPM are as good of a tool set as we have seen to date in the latest innovations of recent years (including my own … Momentum Management, Cognitive, etc.).  What I am up in arms about is what we do with this potent and brilliant system of formulas, notational symbols, and core processes. My father used to tell my brothers and me, “In life, it is far less important what you do as how you do it. It’s not so much what you say, as how you say it.” That ridiculous argument by the National Rifle Association that “guns don’t kill people, people do” is a rhetorical load of hooey. Hell, guns and bullets absolutely do kill people (and animals). Of course, so do cigarettes, poison Ivy, plutonium, trains and cars, bombs, swords and daggers. Even pillows, water, snowflakes, or marshmallows can be used to snuff out life. My point is that we are remiss if we ignore or dismiss the People behind the Actions, and the Will behind the People.

And nowhere are the endless manifestations of Human Will more evident, or more potent, than in the manner (far more than the method) of what we do. The Critical Path Method is not the crux of our project Management failures. Instead, blame must be fixed on the manner of our actions. It is my thesis that we have been employing a self-destructive Concept, an Ideology that seems rooted in aspirations of Control and Micromanagement. For those interested in what Cognitive Project Management is all about (in the alternative), there is already ample reading material available from ICS-Global.

But cutting to the chase, the Cognitive Project Management model — that was designed specifically for the Construction Industry — revolves around the Project Executor (Site Superintendent). Its policies, principles, processes, and tools all radiate outward from this essential Core. Contrast that with the Critical Path Concept, which has a different objective in mind. It is to “control,” to micromanage. It reeks of distrust and disrespect. It is confrontational and a counter-force to self-management, team empowerment, and espresso de corps. It dissipates seeks to regulate Human Will, just as it denies innovation, improvisation, and creativity.

I believe in the Critical Path Method. Sure, it has certain inherent limitations that can never be fully eliminated, and I have numerated may of them in Part 1. But I believe that its limitations can be accounted for, absorbed, and worked around … so long as we are aware of them. And that is what these blogs are intended to do. But we cannot continue with our blind embrace of, and allegiance to, an Ideology that is self-destructive. And make no mistake about it, all of the other, newer innovations waiting impatiently in the wings for their moment on stage … all of them contain inherent limitations, too (even my own brain-children). I sincerely hope that this three-part blog series on the Critical Path Myth will inspire lively discussion, debate, and passion. At all times we must remain respectful, but our signified manner will in no way weaken us in our resolve to find a better way.  Let us search together.

Thanks for reading!

Learn and Lead!

Critical Path Myth, Part 2: Diffusion and Infusion


Blog Series Abstract

The widespread faith in the Critical Path Concept is not justified by the facts. Still, those with a vested interest in their projects finishing timely continue to support the Critical Path Concept and embrace recommended practices that they are told will lead to more successful projects. This three-part blog series is intended to shed light on the Great Delusion under which most Project Management stakeholders unknowingly suffer.

Myself hardly naïve, I fully expect disagreement with what is written in these three blogs. The resistance expected from Critical Path Concept proponents is both understandable and anticipated. I am comforted by a saying in the Air Force: “if you’re drawing flak, you must be over the target.” I remain hopeful that the discussions and debates that this Blog Series is certain to provoke will nonetheless facilitate the kind of open, honest, and informed dialogue needed to at last turn around the ship upon which we all sail together. The truth shall set us free.

About Critical Path Myth, Part 2: Diffusion and Infusion

Despite its many technical limitations and shortcomings as explored in Part 1, those with the most to gain from keeping the Illusion alive are responsible for a Diffusion of standards, best or recommended practices, guidelines, training, and certifications which they know, or should know, to be engulfing an inherently flawed technology. The consequence of their tenacity, persistence, and sweeping influence is a dogged and constant Infusion of the Critical Path Concept into nearly every nook and cranny of the Project Management model.

In Part 2, we will continue our analysis of the current state of Construction Project Time Management by observing how the Critical Path Concept is inextricably woven into the very Project Management fabric.  We will be shocked to find out that — only compounding the technical limitations discussed in Part 1 — the practical application of the Critical Path Concept has merely introduced further deficiencies and convolutions. Said bluntly, how we employ the Critical Path Concept has only made matters worse!

Recap of Part 1

In Part 1, we discovered that the Critical Path Concept, at its most fundamental, suffers one major limitation: it is fraught with uncertainty. And only compounding its intrinsic deficiencies, the Scheduling Community seems gripped in disharmonious, inflexible, and possibly irresolvable debate. Combined — the root technology itself, as well as how we currently manage it — the Critical Path Concept should not rightly inspire the level of confidence and enjoy the reputation for certainty that it currently does. As a quick recap, here are some of the many chilling truths revealed in Part 1. If you have not already done so, I strong encourage you to take the time to read Part 1.

The Critical Path Concept Suffers Widespread Terminological Deficits

Throughout the Project Management community, there is hardly consensus on the meaning of basic terms like Activity, Duration, Path, Critical, Critical Path — or even secondary terms like lead, lag, constraint, restraint, event, deadline, milestone, window, calendar. Even the correct meaning of the word “schedule” is continues to be contested among Scheduling authorities and practitioners, alike!

Disagreement Over Key Computed Critical Path Method Values

Beyond lexicon, there is equally passionate debate among seasoned practitioners and experts as to the correct formulas or derivations for some of the most basic computed Critical Path Method values:

  • Critical Path: There is anything but agreement on just how to recognize a “critical path.” This may seem hard to believe, given that CPM is a 50 year old concept. Yet, today, the arguments rage on over whether it is the Longest Path through a schedule, the Least Total Float path, or even a hybrid concept of sorts … the Driving Path. We learned that all three of these definitions have their proponents and each enjoys fairly widespread acceptance. And yet, they can’t all be right. In fact, as research shows, they mutually invalidate one another!
  • Longest Path: Quite typically the Longest Path has different Total Float values along its length.
  • Least Total Float Path: The Least Total Float Path is not always the longest Path through the Schedule. In fact, quite often it does not even terminate at the end of the Schedule; many times it does not commence at the start of the Schedule!
  • Driving Path: The Driving Path purposely disregards Date Constraints and renders a Path that can be other than the Least Total Float Path or the Longest Path, depending on how you determine Path length.
  • Total Float:  We learned that there are four popular formulas for deriving Total Float, and yet each yields a different answer. Since the formulas are mutually exclusive of one another, they can’t all be right.
  • Early Start: Finally, we learned that there are different ways to compute an Activity’s Earliest Start.  One of those ways actually yields Earliest Dates that are not the earliest that an Activity can start!

Confusion Within the Context of the Critical Path Concept

In the last section of Part 1, we discovered that CPM Schedules are inherently inaccurate. This comes as quite a shock, since the overwhelming impression made by decades of Project Management literature, training, and lectures is that CPM is a very precise methodology. This may be true but, as we learned, precision is not the same as accuracy.

  • Durations: We were reminded that the Activity Durations are estimates. Even the underlying factors that are used to estimate Durations are themselves estimates: e.g., crew composition, productivity rates, and scope of work.
  • Dependencies: It was revealed that the relationships between the Activities — logic ties that weave the Schedule’s Activities into a cohesive network — are themselves reflections of assumptions about how actual Project Execution might play out. We also were told that all of the relationship in a Schedule, in total, only represent a fraction of all of the inter-dependencies that exist in every Project.
  • Conditions: We were reminded that real life conditions cannot be known ahead of time. Thus, our Schedules are only crude assumptions about how future conditions might unfold on the project.
  • Contingencies: Even the time contingencies that we place into our Schedules in an effort to infuse more realism … are themselves estimates.  Moreover, the precise placement of those contingencies only further contribute to the uncertainty of the Schedule.
  • Schedule Maintenance: The process of maintaining the Schedule introduces more assumptions and estimates.
  • Three-Point Duration: Even the more rigorous three-point Activity Duration, as popularized by PERT, is yet another set of assumptions and estimates, albeit complex and impressive ones.

A Poor Choice for Premier Project Management Ideology           

Given everything just said about the Critical Path Concept, it is hard to understand why the Project Management community would select it to be the functional centerpiece of its Project Time Management machine. But there it is, the facts notwithstanding, masquerading as a methodology of great precision and credibility. That it does not deserve the deference it has been shown is only half the message. The other half is that as long as Critical Path remains king of the mountain, no other replacement methodologies will be given serious consideration.

A Short Discussion about Schedule Data Credibility

In my most recent book, CPM Mechanics, I devote an entire chapter to something called the Schedule Data Credibility Profile. This Profile, when fully understood, reveals fascinating insights about the nature of Schedule Data, and which conditions make it more or less credible. In this blog, I won’t get into concepts like Schedule Tense or the five different categories of data to be found in a schedule: Gleaned Data, Realized Data, Apparent Data, Strategic Data, and Predictive Data. Rather, I will stay on point by mentioning a few key axioms explained in the book, truisms that have direct bearing on the subject of this three-blog series.

Schedule Credibility Improves Over Time

This should be fairly obvious. At the very start of a Project, everything in the Schedule is predictive of the future, speculative. But as the Project progresses and the Schedule is “statused,” a greater proportion of the Schedule’s content converts to “actualized data.” With Schedule Data Credibility expressed as a ratio of Actualized Data to Speculative Data, it should be clear that at Project Commencement, Schedule Data Credibility is between 5-10% (assuming that the Schedule is created just before Project Commencement). By the time of Project Completion, Schedule Data Credibility approaches 100%.

Speculative Performance Data Degrades After Ten Weeks

With respect to Schedule content aimed at speculating on what performance will be achieved in the future, predictions for the Imminent Period (roughly 5-10 days past the Data Date) are the most credible.  Beyond ten weeks, predictions are mostly wild speculation.

Schedule Level of Detail Proportional to Schedule Data Shelf Life

ICS-Research has developed a convenient rule of thumb which says that Schedule Data Credibility is achievable if the schedule’s level of detail does not drop below 10% of the length of time across which the data is forecast. For example, for a Schedule covering an 18 month Project, a credible level of detail would be where Activity Durations average no less than 1.8 months, or roughly eight weeks. As Activity Durations are pushed below this threshold, the credibility of such Duration estimates dissolves. (Keep this in mind when we talk about WBS and Cost Engineering requirements, later). The take-away from this paragraph is that too much detail too early in the Project life cycle results in a Schedule with questionable credibility.

Understanding the Real Meaning of Total Float and Critical Path

I brought up the ICS-Research findings about Schedule Data Credibility Profile as a segue to this next, all-important topic. Most Construction Executives and mid-managers (and even many rank and file Project Controls practitioners) do not really appreciate just how impossible a “critical path” is to perform without slippage.  Consider that Total Float measures the gap between two irrelevant temporal extremes. If you read nothing else in these three blogs, re-read the previous sentence! Total Float measures the gap between two irrelevant temporal extremes.  Now, let me defend the statement:

Earliest Dates Represent Extremely Unlikely Performance

Let’s reduce a Project Length to something more understandable.  Let’s scale it down by 100%.  So, an 18-month Project equates to a period of 5.475 days. With 24 hours in a day, that converts to 131 hours. Now let’s assume that the Schedule for that 18-month Project had Activities with an average Duration of ten-days, or 240 hours. If we divide that by 100, as well, then our Reduced Project would have Activities with Durations averaging around 2.4 hours, or 144 minutes.

Now let me ask you to take pencil and paper in hand, and start drawing out a flow chart that will “schedule” everything you will be doing for the next 5½ days. And get down into the nitty-gritty, such that the Activities in your Schedule account for what you will be doing every 2½ hours. How many Activities might your Schedule have, even if there was only one single, continuous path of Activities? Well, in 5.475 days there are 131.4 hours. At 2½ hours per Activity, the Critical Path would be 52 activities long!

Now, here’s the drum roll question: what is the likelihood that every one of those 52 activities will take place precisely as planned? That each will take no more, and no less, than the Duration you estimated? That each and every Activity will take place in the exact order you specified? What is the likelihood that your Schedule is perfect and that it can be, and will be, followed down to the minute? Well, that is what Earliest Dates are all about. Earliest Dates are calculated through an arithmetic process (Forward Pass) which assumes that all prior activities will consume the exact amount of time reflected in their Durations, and that all dependencies between Activities will be honored! No exceptions!

Do you believe that? Prior to this blog, did you realize that this is what Earliest Dates are all about? Folks, they reflect a theoretical best case scenario. How often does that happen in Life? And that is why I call it an extreme. That is also why I call it irrelevant, because no sane Project Manager (or Construction Executive) would ever expect not to run into “surprises.” As we all know, stuff happens!

Latest Dates Represent an Extremely Irresponsible Management Strategy

Latest Dates are derived by a reverse process (Backward Pass) where, working backwards from the Project Completion (or other contractual) milestone, Activity start and finish dates are calculated that represent the last conceivable points in time to which Activities can be delayed without delaying one or more downstream milestone.

Most of us have seen definitions of Latest Dates along these lines. But what is rarely put into print is the underlying assumption behind Latest Dates, which is the same ridiculous notion behind Earliest Dates: that everything will proceed flawlessly, with no hiccups, no problems, no shortages of materials or labor, no missing information, no logistics logjams, no problems whatsoever. Yeah, right!

How many of you would manage your project to Latest Dates? So, once again, I defend my earlier statement. For, just as with the Earliest Dates, the Latest Dates are also extreme, and they are irrelevant, since no responsible manager would ever wait until the last possible moment, with hopes that from that every Activity in the Schedule will be performed flawlessly, and there will not be even one setback.

Zero Total Float Critical Path = Broke Before We Start

Think about that means, folks! For an Activity where Total Float is zero, the earliest that the Activity can be performed is also last possible moment that it can be performed. Is this a good situation? I hope you would agree with me that a Critical Path with zero Total Float is a very undesirable situation. And when this situation occurs naturally in the course of a Project, our proper instinct is to give it our utmost attention. But why, pray tell, would we ever consciously force Earliest Dates to be the same as Latest Dates?

Dear Construction Owner, can you please tell me why your Contracts actually require the Contractor to strip away all positive Total Float along the Critical Path in his Baseline Schedule? (More on this in Part 3.) Isn’t this policy about as rational as requiring a start-up company to commence operations with zero money in the bank? The point of this short digression is to point out that the Critical Path Concept glorifies a zero Total Float Critical Path. In fact, many scheduling authorities actually define the Critical Path as the Path with “zero Total Float.”

Critical Path is a Comparative Value

Next, I want to point out that, no matter how one defines a Critical Path, it is a comparative value. Either it is the longest Path through a Schedule, or it is the Path with the least Total Float. The problem with comparative values is that they are rarely constant. And things turn from bad to worse when we wrap Policy around wavering values. For instance, we tell Project Managers to concentrate on the Activities that reside on the Critical Path. Well, one month Path X is deemed critical (either the longest, or bearing the least float), but  in the next month Path Y is longer or has lower Total Float. Suddenly Path X is no longer “critical;” attention moves away from it. Far too many Project Managers and Site Superintendents know what it is like to be jumping through hoops in an effort to “focus on the Critical Path Activities.”

Damn, the torpedoes! Full Steam Ahead!

Or … “don’t confuse me with the facts”

Despite all of the above red flags, the staunchest proponents of the Critical Path Concept boldly persist in their promotion of CPM books, courses, training, certifications, seminars, standards, best practices, and guidelines. The subtitle to this blog includes two accusations: diffusion and infusion. According to the Online Dictionary, to diffuse means to “spread or scatter widely or thinly; disseminate.” And that is precisely what the Project Management world has been doing for many decades now. They have “spread the word” far and wide; one is hard-pressed to find anyone even remotely involved in Construction Project Management who has not heard about Total Float and Critical Path.

Meanwhile, Off in the Corner … the Arguments Rage On

This seemingly unstoppable marketing of the Critical Path Concept might lead you to believe that it is a fantastic system with no flaws. But the truth is that, on top of all that we have mentioned in Part 1 and above in Part 2, among the Scheduling Elite a whole basketful of other technical issues remain hotly debated, and yet unresolved.

I want to be clear about a few things. I think debate is a good thing. I know that there is more than one way to skin a cat; that there can be more than one good way to do this or that Project Time Management process. So, when highly experienced practitioners get in a room, it is inevitable that there will be disagreements … passionate disagreements. I think that the good work being done by various professional organizations to help consolidate and formalize recommended best practices and guidelines is also commendable effort, and my hat is off to my respected colleagues for all of their hard work. I applaud volunteerism; otherwise, I wouldn’t have given years of my life in voluntary service to some of these international Project Management organizations.

Are We Really Still Debating These Things?

All of that said, I still think it is symptomatic of a discipline in free-fall chaos that, after 50 years, the leading experts in Project Time Management should still (in 2013) be debating technical matters that should have been nailed down decades ago. For those of you on the fringes, did you know that we technocrats are still arguing about:

  • What is better to use, Retained Logic or Progress Override
  • What is the best use of Multiple Calendars, or of they should be used at all
  • What is the better expression of progress, Percent Complete or Remaining Duration
  • Whether, how, and where to include weather contingency into a construction schedule
  • The appropriateness of negative Leads and Lags
  • Whether to use the advanced dependency types of Precedence Diagramming Method (PDM), and if so, to what extent?  Should the use of Start-to-Start and Finish-to-Finish be discouraged or restricted?
  • What is the best Total Float measurement: Start Total Float, Finish Total Float, Most Total Float, or Least Total Float?
  • What is the recommended setting for durations: Interruptible or Contiguous?
  • What is the recommended policy on use of Date Constraints? Should they be discouraged, even outlawed?  How many is too many?
  • What is the best advice on the use of Zero Total Float? On Zero Free Float?
  • Who should own the Total Float in a construction schedule?
  • What constitutes a Minor Adjustment to a Schedule (that would not require Owner permission to make), and what constitutes a Major Adjustment (that would require prior Owner permission to make)?

No doubt, continued disagreements over topics like these have been a primary impetus for the efforts of various international bodies to bring consensus and order to a discipline sorely need the same. However, I privately wonder whether the pursuit is an impossible one.  To my mind, it comes down to the breadth and complexity of the subject matter.

All of This In-Fighting Doesn’t Help

On the one hand, I think that a cohesive set of general standards and guidelines, if done right, could benefit Project Time Management. But, on the other hand, I also think that each industry should write its own standards, best practices, and guidelines. This is because Projects across industries and continents are so divergent that one central doctrine intended to cover all industries and geographies would either be too general to be insightful, or too specific to be useful. That said, I still applaud the gallant efforts of so many of my friends and colleagues. They are certainly moving the rock in the right direction.

That said, I cannot close this topic without mentioning the ongoing competition between many of the major international bodies, all jockeying to become the “King of the Mountain.” Rather than working together, these organizations are running a mad footrace to see who can establish and sustain the most successful credentials related to Project Controls. I know of four equally-respectable institutions that, each, feel that their approach to training and certification is vastly superior to the others. Yet underneath fairly superficial differences, they are all saying the same basic things.  Why can’t they work together?

For as they battle on, trying to outdo one another, the immediate victim is the Construction Project itself, which of course translates to the stakeholders of those projects. But the collateral victims are the Project Controls practitioners who don’t know which doctrine to belly up to and which to walk away from. Meanwhile, the institutions are certain to come out with doctrines that will differ from one another in just enough ways (a) to make it difficult for the individual to know which one to embrace, and (b) to continue to fertilize the grounds of confusion and chaos that have plagued Project Time Management for five decades!

On to Part 3

In the third and final blog, we will look at how Construction Executives who have been sipping the Kool-Aid much too long are actually further encumbering their Projects with policies, restrictions, and mandates that, while well-intended, work at cross-purposes to effective Project Time Management. We will conclude Part 3 with suggestions of a few simple things that Construction Executives can do to dramatically improve the temporal outcome of their projects. See you in Part 3!