The schedule is not the enemy when used correctly.

The schedule is not the enemy when used correctly.

I recently asked a group of the Software Process and Measurement listeners why they hated schedules. The focus of the question was not on plans, which are documents that provide strategic direction but rather schedules which are more task oriented. The respondents were a mixture of scrum masters, project managers, process improvement leaders and change leaders primarily in software development, enhancement and support. I should note that by being readers of a process blog and/or listeners to process-related podcast the respondents marked themselves as lifelong learners and perhaps a bit outside of the norm (in a good way). However, the top five answers were:

  1. They are generally wrong. Schedules, especially anything over a longer time horizon, establish an expectation. These schedules reflect best guess and best intentions and rarely standup to what as teams wrestle with delivering value. There are all sorts of techniques to try to anticipate schedule drift, like adding padding. These techniques are tacit admissions that the schedules are generally wrong.
  2. Schedules prescribe how a problem is to be solved. A detailed schedule is the embodiment of a solution; listing the tasks that specify what is to be done and when it needs to start and be completed. However, as most projects progress, the solution as it was originally conceived, evolves. This renders a detailed schedule moot.
  3. Schedules are someone else’s idea of what should happen. Project managers or tech/test leaders are often tasked with creating schedules (this even happens on Agile teams when someone else breaks tasks down and assigns the work). Schedules are created with input or buy-in from the team doing the work yielding animosity and stress from the team. Release and iteration planning are Agile’s solutions to these problems.
  4. Schedules reduce team behavior. One attribute of an Agile team is supportive behavior. Teams commit to work and then, when needed, swarm to tasks and features so that the team can meet its commitment. Detailed project schedule commits team members to performing specific tasks in a specific order.  The schedule gets in the way of team members being able to use self-organizing techniques like swarming.
  5. Detailed schedules take a huge amount of upkeep. One respondent suggested that for any project scheduled to take more than a year to complete, one person should be allocated to maintaining the schedule. That included chasing team members for updates, resolving conflicts and in general being a pain. Other respondents were less specific, but indicated that the cost of the schedule was more than the value.

The question generated responses that were oriented detailed project schedules typically found in projects managed using classic project management techniques.  A few respondents pointed out the value of detailed project schedules. Some of the benefits included the ability to distribute and direct work across distributed teams and to facilitate a discussion of when the project would deliver. It should be noted that these responses came from more command and control oriented organizations. Respondents with a background in Agile tended to point out that while they did not feel that a classic project schedule made sense, the combination of product backlog and sprint level task list was a necessity.

 

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