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As regular readers know, I lean towards an agile approach. We live in such a rapidly changing world, that we need to be able to adapt quickly. Spending many hours creating a detailed schedule, that is hard to change, feels like a huge waste of time. But, do we sometimes need project schedules? In this blog, I discuss five observations on that question.

Scheduling and doing are not the same.

I know clients frequently ask me “when can this be scheduled?” What they usually mean, is “when can this be done?”

Let’s not confuse the two questions. Scheduling something and doing something are not the same. Does a project schedule need to be created? Can you live without a schedule? I’ve worked with clients who insist on a detailed schedule. I’ve worked with nonprofits applying for grants, which required submitting a at least a basic schedule. I’ve worked with contractors who thought that their schedule was the project plan.

Some would say the beauty of a schedule is that it tells you when everything is going to happen. But does it really? Others say that if it isn’t scheduled, it won’t happen. But how many times have you done something that wasn’t on your calendar?

Schedule creation and monitoring is time consuming and expensive.

It’s worth understanding that in a traditional project environment, project managers spend a LOT of time and money creating and managing the schedule. They use sophisticated software tools and very complicated project manager methodologies. Many of them give me a major headache, and I’m a project management geek!

If you take away the schedule, will the work happen without much effort, or will the project fall apart? It depends entirely on the team and their commitment to the project. So, perhaps we should focus a little more on people and little less on pieces of paper.

To some extent, the debate on scheduling depends on how detailed the schedule is supposed to be. The more detailed a schedule, the more time someone will spend managing the schedule – which is time that can’t be spent on executing project activities. When does managing the schedule actually add value to your project?

Not all deadlines are equal.

Unfortunately, there is no calendaring software that allows you to distinguish between your critical deadlines and the deadlines that you want to meet. (If this idea interests you, call me to discuss.)

We can all agree that some deadlines are critically important. Most are not. Most deadlines are just targets that can be used to keep the project moving forward. Some are needed to make sure that supplies or resources are on site when needed. Others are used to ensure that a certain activity doesn’t start prematurely. Do we need a detailed schedule to ensure that those deadlines are met? Or, do we just need to find a better way of managing projects?

Stuff happens. Get over it.

I laughingly tell my friends that I work at a fast food restaurant, which shall go nameless. For many years, I have taken my laptop and “worked” in a back booth. I’ve done this for so long, that the general manager kids me when I “miss work” and kindly installed a plug in the wall so that I could recharge.

Several months ago, this large chain restaurant determined that it was time for a remodeling job. The time came, and the restaurant was scheduled to close for ten days. I went on a long road trip, and came back expecting to be the last regular to see the new digs.

When I arrived on my first day back, imagine my lack of surprise when I learned that the planned closure time had almost tripled. Permit problems, contractor conflicts… I didn’t bother to get a full-blown accounting. (But I did wonder why the restaurant closed without permits in hand.) If this happens to an establishment with years of store openings, renovations, project management systems, and experience, why should you expect something different?

Change offers great opportunities that we should capitalize on.

Project schedules can make it hard to capitalize on the benefits of change. They can result in dead times when allowances for delays have been factored in, and subcontractors are not in a position to react quickly when they are needed. Just the existence of a schedule can cause people on the team to overlook opportunities to say no to something on the list or better prioritize the outstanding work.

In his book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, Peter Bregman writes about how important it is to stay focused on your environment. He started out in outdoor wilderness leadership training and notes that when his teams were following a trail they were much less inclined to focus on the environment.

In a rapidly changing world, we all need to be focused on the environment. Has some competitive change suddenly made your project obsolete? Has a new resource been discovered that might save you time or money? I’m not suggesting that you stop building your bridge before it’s finished, or that scope control goes out the window to re-prioritize new opportunities. I’m simply saying that we need to rethink the need for detailed project schedules, and develop a project management approach that allows us to capitalize on change.

We need to focus on doing the right things, not the next things. Our clients and our management teams need project teams that can consistently generate value in a world of rapidly changing realities.

If you want some help, or want to help me, give me a call.