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Volume 24, Issue 23;   June 5, 2024: The Reactive Rescheduling Cycle

The Reactive Rescheduling Cycle

by

When the current schedule is no longer viable, we reschedule. But rescheduling is unlike devising a schedule before work has begun. People know that we're "behind" and taking time to reschedule only makes things worse. Political pressure doesn't help.
A switch in the tracks of a city tramway

A switch in the tracks of a city tramway. Railroad track switches are a good metaphor for rescheduling projects. To reschedule a project is to find a new path for it through the events and projects of the hosting organization. And, like a train traveling over tracks, setting up the switches in advance is essential for smooth running.

Image by Magnus Flechsenhaar, courtesy Pexels.com.

The need to reschedule a collaborative effort can sometimes indicates a flaw in the process that created the original schedule. But in the tense period during which we work to produce a new schedule, we often overlook that possibility. We just re-invoke the scheduling process to create a new schedule, assuming that it will produce a better result this time.

But a better result is unlikely for at least two reasons — one very obvious, the other less so. The very obvious reason is that the scheduling process might be flawed. If we haven't addressed that possibility, any possible flaw or flaws remain in place. The revised schedule produced by that flawed process is then at risk of being flawed as well.

Second, and less obvious, is what I call the reactive rescheduling cycle. Reactive rescheduling happens when we're compelled to reschedule because we must account for a recently discovered schedule-busting condition. But when we're revising a schedule reactively we're at risk of getting caught in a cycle.

The reactive rescheduling cycle

When we're engaged in reactive rescheduling, we're usually working under time pressure. Rescheduling under time pressure is risky because the probability of overlooking important factors is elevated. The new schedule we produce might then later need to be "adjusted" when we discover what we overlooked. When that happens, we will again be engaged in reactive rescheduling. This cycle — the reactive rescheduling cycle — then repeats until we run out of time altogether.

Moreover, One cause of persistence of the reactive
rescheduling cycle is rescheduling in haste
for subsequent iterations of reactive rescheduling, we no longer need a triggering condition. The haste with which we cobbled together the schedule we're now replacing is condition enough to ensure that the new schedule could never hold.

Three ways to avoid the reactive rescheduling cycle

To reduce the chance of being caught in the reactive rescheduling cycle, begin by taking these three steps.

Resist the pressure to produce a new schedule in haste
One cause of persistence of the reactive rescheduling cycle is rescheduling in haste. Point out the risks that attend to haste. Explain the dynamics of the reactive rescheduling cycle, emphasizing how one reactive rescheduling event can generate the next.
When next you reschedule reactively argue strenuously for enough time to produce a durable schedule.
Deal with underestimations
Consider the causes of the failure of the previous schedule, focusing on any underestimates. When we underestimate how long a task will take, we might underestimate either its Duration or the Effort required. The two kinds of errors are very different, because underestimating Effort can lead to an underestimate of Duration, but the reverse effect is much less clear.
Compared to underestimates of Effort, underestimates of Duration more often arise from unanticipated delays whose sources, which are sometimes called "dependencies," lie beyond the span of control of the collaborating parties. Unless there is an identifiable change in spans of control, these underestimates are likely to be repeated.
Deal with omissions
If one of the drivers of the need to reschedule is an omission, it's possible that another omission is yet to be discovered. At the beginning of the rescheduling effort, seek an understanding of how all omissions came about. This information can help uncover additional omissions early in the rescheduling process, when they are most easily addressed.
Search also for omissions in other project schedules. The causes of schedule omissions aren't always specific to any particular effort. What was overlooked in another project in the past might have been overlooked in the project whose schedule is being revised now.

Last words

Most important, consider political factors, which determine relative priorities of different efforts. If political issues compelled the current project to stand aside and wait for people or resources employed elsewhere, those political issues might still have force. They cannot be adjusted by technological means. Settling political issues almost always requires political action. Go to top Top  Next issue: Rescheduling: The Paradox of Politics  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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