The terms “Planning” and “Scheduling” are often used interchangeably – but these encompass very different elements. Keeping these distinct is a best practice, though they are often heavily intertwined in the Project Management world.
Planning encompasses the strategic aspects of developing a project schedule, including:
- Ensuring that the whole project team is aligned on the main logic elements and inter-relationships between major activities
- Agreeing on key resources supporting each part of the plan and the important milestones to be tracked during the project
- Developing an overall timeline (“Level 1 Schedule”) that is realistic and achievable
- Identifying significant risks to the overall project duration and putting in place a process to quantify, manage and mitigate them.
Building these elements with Quality early will set the stage for project success and also for the more detailed project scheduling activities that are needed during project execution.
Project Management practitioners have multiple options for project scheduling; Microsoft Project, Primavera P6, Safran, and more. However, not so many options for Planning.
Actarra was developed based on a gap in the market for a specific tool to enhance the planning process. The process and tools of Actarra have been used successfully on hundreds of projects ranging from small teamwork to major capital projects of $50 billion investment.
If you’ve been around enough, you remember the old days when every planning work started with a wall and a lot of sticky notes Actarra in its simplest form is a “Wall” to put your sticky notes on it. You could open it on your computer, sit in a meeting room (or zoom) with your team members, share, and start planning! Actarra makes the process simple, easy, transparent, engaging, and collaborative.
As you are adding tasks, you link them to each other, define the type of relationships, the lag between them, work windows, and much more. This part of Actarra is used to develop a high-level plan for the project, with collaborating among your team members and a visual understanding of the interdependencies.
The second aspect of Actarra supports risk assessment – testing the robustness of the plan, the chance of success, and where the opportunities may be to mitigate risks.
Actar’s application in a project life cycle:
Here is a visual presentation of how Actarra is used through the life cycle of a project:
- Early – During Selection of a Concept for the Project
- This is the period between identifying an opportunity to selecting a concept.
- The main input to the Actarra modeling tool is the project high-level scope of work, including such things as procurement strategy, technology, and contracting strategy.
- As the first step, Actarra could help the team to develop models for different strategies before the selection of the concept.
- This is important to know in this stage, there might not be a project team yet, but the company already identified an opportunity and is working on different alternatives. That’s why the main customers are the decision-makers until an alternative/concept is selected.
- Funding Decisions
- Once a project concept has been agreed, Actarra is used to further define the execution plan by adding more details including scope, resource, cost and risks. Actarra becomes the planning platform throughout this phase as the model mature and more optimization is built into it.
- The main costumers of Actarra in this phase are the project management team.
- Actarra feeds into the more detailed schedule development
- Most planners start the scheduling process by developing a Level one Schedule. Creating a Level one Schedule is usually the best way to make sure everyone is “On the Same Page”.
- Actarra creates Level one in the background as you are developing the network of activities. Level one is an input to scheduling process.
- The scheduling development process is also iterative and would be happening in parallel. The plan(s) which was developed in Actarra would be built into the scheduling software, reviewed, and agreed upon by teams, and further developed by adding more details.
- The finalized plan/schedule would be used to run a comprehensive risk analysis and set the final target for the team before baselining of the schedule as well as company’s final business plan based on a desired investment risk profile.
- During Project Execution
- After the project starts it is important to keep the planning process – which never stops! – separate from the scheduling to ensure the project team is focused on delivering the project based on finalized PEP.
- From that time, the planning process should be continued within Actarra, focused on finding and evaluating optimization ideas and value-add alternatives
- This is when the “Scenario Planning” process starts. Scenario planning helps project team to continue their journey to excellence by recognizing the fact than no plan is perfect and there is always room to improve. Also, knowing in a post-COVID world that “the only constant is change” with rapid change in technology, tools and options around us, Actarra creates a work space for considering all options in a structured way.
- Scenario Planning process works best when it is done by a dedicated team “external” to the project team with more flexibility to explore new alternatives, evaluate and bring them to the table when it is proven to be a value-add. By this, there will be minimal distraction for the project team without losing any opportunity. This might not be an option for smaller project, but a must-to-have for major capital projects.
The success of the Planning phase is independent on some key factors which are all would be checked by using Actarra:
- Start with Planning: The sooner the planning starts is better, as the time passes, many assumptions have already been built and change could be costly.
- Focus on known: In every stage of the project, there is a known and an unknown space. Planning should always start with the known and stay focused on it until the base is identified. That’s when the unknown should be considered.
- Collaborate: The value of a plan is multiplied by the number of the key players who are involved in the process and have buy-in to the final product. A Plan is an agreement between two parties about what and how a specific task should to be done.
- Continues Improvement: Planning is an agile process, meaning when the plan occasionally needs to be freeze and translate to dates (schedule) for practical reasons, the planning process never stops. Every new information, learnings and changes needs to be evaluated and built into the Plan.
- Iterate: Planning is an agile process; iteration is the key for taking small steps and get better. There is not a final product but small batch of products which has to be built into the plan, run, test and release. Planning is a development process.
- Finish with Scheduling: For all practical reasons, Plan needs to be translated to schedule but remember dates are just a label. We use dates to create an alignment and common understanding. a schedule is a timetable.