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Volume 24, Issue 21;   May 22, 2024: Rescheduling Collaborative Work

Rescheduling Collaborative Work


Rescheduling is what we do when the schedule we have now is so desperately unachievable that we must let go of it because when we look at it we can no longer decide whether to laugh or cry. The fear is that the new schedule might come to the same end.
Satrun during equinox — a composite of natural-color images from Cassini

Saturn during equinox — a composite of natural-color images from Cassini. Except for extremely rare events, planetary bodies move on a predictable schedule.

NASA image courtesy Wikipedia.

The first prerequisite for rescheduling any effort — the absolute must-have without which rescheduling is totally impossible — is a schedule. If you don't have a schedule you can't modify it. You're not in much better shape if your schedule is delusional, by which I mean that the schedule you do have is an over-optimistic fiction that nobody ever believed, or an out-of-date artifact the origin of which nobody still working here can remember. Rescheduling a delusional schedule is itself a delusion, because you didn't really have a schedule. But let's face it, when you're rescheduling a delusional schedule, you're probably just making another delusional schedule.

But I digress.

In any group of people engaged in collaboration, natural questions arise. For example, "When do you think you'll have X ready?" When someone asks a question like that, devising a schedule is probably going to happen. In some groups more formally managed, devising a schedule is one of the early tasks. If the group is large enough, or if the work is complicated enough, or if people outside the group are depending on the group to produce something real, the group will almost certainly need to devise a schedule. And just as certainly, in the fullness of time, they'll find it necessary to revise that schedule. So whenever you find yourself devising a schedule, set aside time in that schedule for revising the schedule. The one thing you can be certain of about any schedule is that you'll need to revise it.

To answer the need for expertise in rescheduling, this post and several to come explore the process of rescheduling. I'll address four fundamental questions about rescheduling:

  • What is a schedule?
  • What situations compel collaborative groups to reschedule their work?
  • What patterns indicate effective rescheduling processes?
  • What antipatterns indicate ineffective rescheduling processes?
In this post I address only the first question. I address the others in posts to come.

What a schedule is

Before undertaking to reschedule any effort, it's useful to know what we mean by schedule. In the context of executing an effort to produce a desired result, a schedule is a sequence of events or activities and their associated date specifications. Some definitions:

An event is the production of an intended and observable result. An example of an observable result: "The Customer has witnessed a demonstration of our widget and has agreed that it does what the Customer wanted our widget to do."
Too often, Whenever you find yourself devising a schedule,
set aside time in that schedule to reschedule the
effort. The one thing you can be most certain of
about any schedule is that you'll need to revise it.
schedules contain pseudo-events. A pseudo-event is a date or date range not associated with production of an intended, observable result. For example, "We have exerted 50% of the total effort that we estimated would be required by this work." While it might have been intended, consuming 50% of estimated effort is not an observable result.
The event date can be specified as either a specific date, or a range of dates from earliest acceptable to latest acceptable. If the event has a single date associated with it, it's usually permissible for the result to occur earlier. If the event has an associated date range, the two dates at the ends of the range are usually "earliest-acceptable" and either "latest acceptable" or "needed-by."
An activity is an intended, observable, ongoing action or set of actions that continues during the specified range of dates, until its exit criteria are met. An example of an activity: "The team meets with Customer to develop a complete set of acceptance criteria that relate to validating the Marigold installation." The exit criterion for such a task might be "Team and Customer agree."
Too often, schedules contain pseudo-activities. A pseudo-activity is similar to an activity but it lacks one or more of the attributes of an activity. It might lack dates, or exit criteria, or it might not be observable. For example, a pseudo-activity might be "In the first week of March, team members attend one week of training in writing user stories." Although this pseudo-activity has dates and although it is observable, it lacks exit criteria. We have no evidence that Team members learned anything.

The first step in rescheduling

A useful first step in rescheduling — often overlooked — is verifying that the existing schedule is actually a schedule. There are three basic criteria:

  • All events are observable. They have dates or date ranges.
  • All activities are observable. They have exit criteria and date ranges.
  • Dates occur in transitive time order, even though they might be in the past. That is, if Event 3 is supposed to occur after Event 2, and Event 2 is supposed to occur after Event 1, then Event 3 is scheduled to occur after Event 1.

Last words

After checking the existing schedule to ensure that it meets the three criteria above, you're ready to set new dates for events and activities that aren't yet completed. I'll address that part of the process in posts to come.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Rescheduling: Project Factors  Next Issue

How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsProjects never go quite as planned. We expect that, but we don't expect disaster. How can we get better at spotting disaster when there's still time to prevent it? How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble Starts is filled with tips for executives, senior managers, managers of project managers, and sponsors of projects in project-oriented organizations. It helps readers learn the subtle cues that indicate that a project is at risk for wreckage in time to do something about it. It's an ebook, but it's about 15% larger than "Who Moved My Cheese?" Just . Order Now! .

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This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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