Stop Thinking So Hard: Multi-Project Scheduling is Easy! [The Liquid Approach: Part 3/6]

Liz Pearce | March 2, 2011

Multi-project scheduling is easy
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Read Part 2/6: Building a Project Schedule the Best Case/Worst Case Way

Let’s start with a little pop quiz: What do all of the projects you’re managing have in common?

Answer (for most teams): The people doing the work!

Multi-project scheduling is where the rubber hits the road in project management. In most systems, you have a “project file” for each distinct project you’re working on. Those systems work by having you create “deterministic” schedules (i.e., YOU tell the system the start/end dates and/or durations of each task.) This seems great at first, because you can make the schedule “look” however you want (very comforting when you’re just trying to get a plan on paper).

But beware: those deterministic project schedules have some hidden pitfalls. First, they don’t generally talk to each other. In other words, when calculating Project A, the project system doesn’t take into account the work that team members are doing on Project B. (Or, if it does, it’s extremely complicated to manage.)

The result? Highly unrealistic and uninformed schedules. Second, you have to manually update each schedule when something on a project with a shared resource slips, changes, or is added. Who can manage that web of complexity across multiple files?

In LiquidPlanner, all projects are shown in a single view, and they’re always scheduled taking shared resources into account. Scheduling those overlapping sets of work sounds tricky, right? Actually, it’s simple. To get the best schedule, have teams focus on what’s important. (As it turns out, that how most of us think and act anyway.) In practice, we call it priority-based project scheduling.

Multi Project Scheduling ArrowsHere’s how it works in a nutshell: Projects that are the most important to the organization should be done first, because they either provide the most direct value in terms of revenue, or they are strategic in nature (i.e., pressingly urgent to a key customer.)

To get a multi-project schedule in minutes, just put your projects in priority order. All it requires is that the tasks in the project are assigned and estimated to the people who will do the work. Then LiquidPlanner calculates your expected start/end dates for you. In other words, the scheduling engine calculates when you’ll be able to complete projects (hint: less work for you!)

Most teams don’t work on a single project at a time; individuals and managers are juggling multiple concurrent projects or major subprojects on a daily basis. It follows that delays, overruns, or other unanticipated changes to a single project’s schedule impact the schedules of other projects where there is resource overlap.

When multiple concurrent projects are in play, use more granular ordering (of individual tasks) to reflect each person’s priorities. This is basically like making a to-do list for each of your team members. (What’s easier than that?) The cool thing is that because all the projects are tied together, you can see how they impact each other. For example, if Joe has to work on an urgent Project B task, it will push out Project A. And you can see this instantly and automatically!

As long as people keep their progress updated on a relatively frequent basis, you get meaningful insights into the resource pool’s capacity in real-time. And by prioritizing projects and deriving the project schedule from the priority order, teams can achieve the highest return on their investment of time.

Read part 4/6: Distributed Project Management: Three Steps to a Living Project Plan

If you found this article helpful, there’s more. Learn how to take your project management skills to the next level. Download the eBook, 5 Practical Habits for Today’s Project Manager.”

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