Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 16;   April 21, 2004: Scheduling as Risk Management

Scheduling as Risk Management

by

When we schedule a complex project, we balance logical order, resource constraints, and even politics. Here are some techniques for using scheduling to manage risk and reduce costs.
Two U.S. Army soldiers use binoculars and a riflescope to watch for insurgents

Two U.S. Army soldiers use binoculars and a riflescope to watch for insurgents downrange as they conduct a combat patrol near the Syrian border in Iraq on March 6, 2006. Patrol is a variant of "reconnaissance in force." Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Defense.

Turning the car key in the door lock, Marian was relieved that they'd finally agreed to get out for lunch, because she wanted a change of scene for the conversation she and Kevin and James were about to have. The door locks all clicked open, and the three of them hopped in.

"Where to," she said.

Kevin answered from the back seat: "You have to ask?"

Marian looked up at Kevin in the rear-view mirror. "Just trying to give you an opportunity for input," she replied. At the end of the loop road, she turned left towards Mike's, where they always went for lunch when projects were in trouble.

James began immediately. "I wish we'd found out about the Georgetown products before we did the Pyramid modules — we wouldn't be here now. But how could we have known?"

Kevin, of course, had the answer. "They could've told us," he said dryly. Marian and James laughed weakly.

"Yeah, there is that," Marian said. "But they've done this to us before. You'd think we would have learned by now."

Projects are full
of surprises — that's
what makes
them projects
Indeed. Projects are full of surprises — that's what makes them projects. Still, we can reduce the incidence of surprises by cleverly sequencing the project's tasks. Here are some tips for using schedule to manage risk.

Avoid the logical-order trap
Some projects impose a logical order on task sequence. A building, for example, has to have its foundation in place before the first structural elements go up. But unless the laws of physics intervene, keep an open mind about the order of things.
Exploit leverage
Give preference to tasks that reduce costs, either because they spin off tools you can use, or because you can learn something valuable, or because they provide a morale boost.
Delay creating what you don't need
Building or designing something before it's needed creates constraints through commitment. Delaying preserves flexibility.
If you think something might be difficult, find out early
Schedule the solutions to unsolved problems so that bad news arrives early, when you have time to sort out alternate approaches, and before other elements impose constraints.
Use reconnaissance teams
Designate teams to perform reconnaissance in force, looking for traps before the main body of the project reaches them. Give these teams enough budget to run tests that reveal weaknesses before you've made major commitments.
Avoid resource optimization
Shortening the critical path by optimizing resource allocation is a risky strategy. Most development projects aren't predictable enough for this kind of fine-tuning.
Get comfortable with placeholders
We use placeholders when scheduling requires them, especially in the critical path. But building placeholders is a wonderful way to reconnoiter — to find out about trouble early. Use them more often.

You can do the same things when you read. Sometimes reading the end first gives you a useful mental framework for the beginning and middle. If you're doing that right now, I hope you enjoy reading the beginning and the middle of this article. Go to top Top  Next issue: Nonworkplace Politics  Next Issue

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Old books, the standard symbol of knowledgeComing April 17: How to Answer When You Don't Know How to Answer
People engaged in knowledge work must often respond to questions that test the limits of their knowledge, or the limits of everyone's knowledge. Responding effectively to such questions advances us all. Available here and by RSS on April 17.
Three gears in a configuration that's inherently locked upAnd on April 24: Antipatterns for Time-Constrained Communication: 1
Knowing how to recognize just a few patterns that can lead to miscommunication can be helpful in reducing the incidence of problems. Here is Part 1 of a collection of communication antipatterns that arise in technical communication under time pressure. Available here and by RSS on April 24.

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