Maintaining project schedules is difficult as they are rarely static. Instead, they begin evolving as soon as the team gets to work. Status reports coming in from the field, issues such as material and equipment delivery timing, and labor availability will all impact the schedule throughout the project’s life-cycle.
When new project progress updates are generated, that information needs to be analyzed and integrated into the schedule. Depending on the status of various activities, some tasks may need to be re-sequenced to ensure the project remains on-track for its target completion date. But the process of realigning staff can be a challenge, and it requires detailed attention at each step of the way in order to maximize the team’s available labor resources as the project progresses.
Project managers need to start by gathering the right information at the right time. Receiving data about schedule-impacting events is the first step in successfully realigning staff. Information coming into the project team needs to be not only accurate and complete, but also timely. Given the fast pace of most projects and the tendency of new developments to have almost immediate effects, the use of a methodology that incorporates real-time status updates is an important advantage.
With the most current and complete status information in hand, the team can then re-sequence project activities with an eye toward efficiency and effectiveness. As downstream tasks are evaluated to see where changes are in order, PMs may find the schedule needs to be compressed to keep progress on track, or activities might need to be re-flowed to ensure that dependent tasks aren’t delayed.
The project team should also consider how labor resources can be realigned to not only maintain forward momentum, but also to ensure the team adheres to both the project’s budget as well as its expected completion date. Can spikes in labor requirements be more effectively managed to smooth the demand curve? Is the current labor sequence as efficient as possible, or are there opportunities to make better use of the available labor resources?
Finally, the changes to the project’s schedule and activity sequences must then be communicated back out to the team members who are doing the work. This step is often the most difficult to carry out effectively. Teams are usually adept at keeping the executive team and project leadership group up to date, but maintaining strong communications with field personnel is often not their strong suit. However, these are the people who need to know when changes are made to their activity schedules. Their cooperation is crucial in implementing the revised plan.
It can also be surprisingly difficult to distribute schedule updates to field staff without slowing (or stopping) their progress. Without the right type of data and direction, workers may create their own approaches to reshuffling their tasks. It’s unlikely these multiple strategies will fit together efficiently and progress could suffer, either because this ad hoc reordering doesn’t accomplish what’s needed to move the project forward, or because activity conflicts have suddenly been introduced into the activity flow. It’s also possible some staff may not recognize that their activities are part of the re-sequenced group, leaving them to continue on the original plan and cause further problems down the line as the schedule continues to fall farther behind.
To avoid these kinds of work interruptions, PMs need to include detailed information about where changes to the activity sequence are being made, why (when it’s possible to do so), and how staff should put those changes into practice. This eliminates the potential for confusion and ensures that everyone is using the same strategy to execute the project.