Iterative integration of plans and schedules

imageThe ability and willingness of organizations to make commitments is a function of their environment, capabilities, capacity, and the clarity of what they have been asked to do. When these commitments are made, they should not be empty promises, but should represent realistic intentions for how the organization will be utilizing its resources. A structured framework can help these organizations by providing a basis for negotiating and documenting their commitments, so that the ways and means are available which can realistically be used to accomplish target objectives.

The organizations responsible for performing this work may be unwilling to support the required planning and scheduling of the work itself. They may view such planning and scheduling as just an exercise to check off a box, rather than an essential effort to carefully think through the sequence and resources required to satisfy the intended business objectives. Other individuals may be too overwhelmed by existing commitments and known unknowns to take the required time to orient and determine where they really are, so they can plot a course to their destination. Those responsible for traversing this terrain may also be fearful that their project will not stand up to scrutiny, or believe that their reputation will be best served by keeping commitments vague.

There may just be a prevalent attitude that any effort expended on planning is a wasted effort, until the environment stabilizes, or critical unknowns have been answered. Alternatively, the endeavor being pursued may be what Jamshid Gharajedaghi describes as a mess:

A mess is a system of problems. It is the future implicit in the present behavior of the system, the consequence of the system's current state of affairs. The essence of the mess is the systematic nature of the situation, not an aggregate representation of the sum of the parts. The elements of a mess are highly interrelated. No part can be touched without touching the other parts. As such, it is an emergent phenomenon produced by the interactions among the parts. Formulation of the mess requires understanding the essential behavioral characteristic of social phenomena.

A mess is not defined in terms of (1) deviations from a norm, (2) lack of resources (time, money, and information), or (3) an improper application of a known solution. A mess is neither an aberration nor a prediction, but the following:

  • The natural consequence of the existing order, based on a false assumption that nothing will change.
  • The product of success rather than failure, the consequence of a belief based on the fallacy that if X is good, more X is even better.
  • An early warning system reminding the actors that if things can go wrong they probably will.
  • An exaggeration intended to highlight the critical issues that may become the seed of a system's destruction in the future.

Messes are very resilient; they have a way of regenerating themselves. It is powerlessness and impotency in dealing with the mess which leads to the inevitable denial on which messes thrive.

When performed properly, planning and scheduling are efforts to bring order to such messes. While often viewed as the same thing, planning and scheduling pursue fundamentally different objectives. The interdependencies of these objectives becomes apparent when you consider attempting either without the other. In the absence of sufficient planning, efforts to develop a schedule without first having a plan will generate more questions than answers, and may overlook many activities that are foundational to success, Yet having a plan without having a schedule make it unlikely that the plan will be able to be executed effectively or efficiently; the interactions between performing organizations may not be crisp, and since there will be no agreed-to means to track performance, or adjust tactics as conditions indicate. If neither are done well, the result will be a cascade of crises, and a never-ending collection of messes.

There are many dimensions to planning and scheduling that need to be considered in order to do them well. If these dimensions are not in harmony, or well understood by all those who must produce the resulting plans and schedules, organizations may fall into a trap of acknowledging the need for plans and schedules, without having the wherewithall to actually knowing how to make them. But blissful ignorance will only take you so far, and precious time will be lost in the meantime. Until the scope, facts, data, and issues are captured and reconciled for this planning and scheduling to proceed, everyone may remain optimistic that everything will turn out all right. But such hopes are not an effective strategy to optimize resources, make tradeoffs, or deliver results on time.

Instead, what is needed is:

  • A basis for understanding and making commitments
  • A means to determine the demand on resources necessary to realize these commitments
  • A description of the key informational and material handoffs necessary to accomplish the work
  • A framework to prioritize and resolve disconnects and facilitate mid-course corrections necessary to protect critical events
  • A definition of the baseline against which future changes can be considered

There are two types of information that are necessary to meet these objectives. The first type of information required is a top-level, integrated master plan (which in some settings may be called an IMP). This integrated plan communicates the overall approach which should be taken to do the work. The second type of information required is a top-level, integrated master schedule (often called the IMS), This integrated schedule defines the time, resources, and interactions necessary to implement the integrated plan.

When the deliverables and work products required to achieve outcomes are sufficiently complex,or the organizations involved in producing these products have a novel or not very well defined structure, development of this planning and scheduling information may require involvement by an entire network of organizations, and require integration of a hierarchy of related, lower-level projects. The activities which lie along the critical path of these projects deserve particular attention, since slippage in any one organization may delay dependent actitities or resources needed by another. These areas of importance typically include:

  • activities to derive and review requirements, and flow them down to lower-level projects which are dependent upon their determination
  • lead times for building or fabrication of prototypes, and which are a fundamental part of the design process.
  • software development activities, especially when they depend upon target hardware which has not yet been selected, or which could introduce significant constraints on the software implementation
  • hardware/software integration and test activities

The below writings describe this planning and scheduling information in more detail, and offers suggestions on how this information can be developed and agreed to across the network of the organizations which are involved, so that their commitments are understood, achievable, and consistent with the goals described above.

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