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"Timelines can be absolute or relative. When absolute, a certain deliverable or event must become available by a specific point in time. When relative, a specified duration of time is required to produce an outcome."

"There are many approaches to building timelines, with extensive debates about which approaches are best. In fact, no single approach guarantees an absolutely right answer. The best you can hope for is a reasonable approximation. In a rescue exercise, you must also learn to plan defensively - for example, include extensive checkpoints to flag changes to a proposed timeline and to take corrective action when necessary."

"Here are some of the common approaches for building timelines:

  • Timelines are given to you
  • Build the timeline from a fixed endpoint
  • Use the durations for individual tasks to establish the overall timelines"

"The most common method for building a timeline is the Critical Path Method (CPM). However, CPM uses only a single estimated duration estimate. A bit more realistic is the PERT method using three duration estimates: best case, most probable, and worst case. The critical path is found the same way in both methods; a forward pass and backward pass through task dependencies. Those tasks with 0 float are on the critical path. The PERT method will allow more intelligent push back on the user when the critical path is longer than the user desired project duration."

Common Problems

"The table below identifies some of the common problems within the timelines category, key considerations, and some suggested questions that can be included in your assessment questionnaire."
Problem Description
Suggested Questions
Too tight
Tight timelines may look good on paper, or make an attractive catch-phrase in terms of defining an intense corporate culture, but things do happen on projects and tight timeframes remove the flexibility to bring things back on track. Always keep a pool of slack time that can be leveraged at different times in the project. Tight timeframes can be met, but the rescue manager must keep the project team apprised of any events that could have a negative impact. Expectations management is key when a tight timeframe is unavoidable.
What is the project deadline? How was the deadline established? Who needs to approve a different deadline? Can we complete portions of the project before the project deadline and release only those?
Some timelines just cannot be met. The rescue manager is positioned to reveal an unrealistic timeline before committing to a rescue effort. Unrealistic timelines can be addressed by reducing scope or increasing certain resources.
What makes us think the project deadline can be met?
Overly optimistic
Overly optimistic timelines assume a certain series of events that usually do not match reality. Executive management pressure can sometimes convince a project team to accept an overly optimistic timeline.
Is there enough time to reasonably do what we're being asked to do?
No opportunity to correct
Perhaps the biggest flaw in a proposed timeline is a lack of opportunity to correct a bad situation. Include early warning flags to identify problems.
What can we do if the project begins to go off track again?

The above is an excerpt from a book written by Sanjiv Purba and Joseph Zucchero, published by McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2100 Powell Street, 10th Floor, Emeryville, California 94608 U.S.A. Sanjiv has over 20 years of experience managing large projects and many years engaged in rescuing ailing projects.