Before you Begin

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Why You Care

This guide is designed to help team leads and program managers shape conditions for best practices in scheduling. Here we will:

  • Provide direct links to great references
  • Talk a bit about:
    • Schedulers
    • Schedules as Systems
    • The Trade space in generating the decision information you need versus what it takes in team planning and coordination
    • What makes a good schedule
    • Considerations in developing a schedule risk analysis

“I don’t know where we are but we are making good time” is an old tongue-in-cheek navigator saying. This guide is designed to help prevent that sort of situation in a Government program office. While much of this guide pertains to any schedules, anywhere, the implicit audience here is the government program manager and/or IPT lead.

If you want to make any sort of credible statement as to where (and how you going, and when you will arrive then you need a good Integrated Master Schedule (IMS).

video icon Click to refresh yourself on some basic stuff about schedules.

While by no means comprehensive, this guide provides a decent 80% look at how to make an IMS successful in your organization

The challenge is that making an IMS a foundational part of “the way we do things around here” in a PMO takes hard work, especially in terms of shaping culture and behavior. If you can do it, the rewards are tremendous. Bottom Line: Don’t let your IMS become “un-purposed.” Help it become a useful, value-added dynamic model of your program lifecycle. Help it generate information that supports proactive leadership decisions!

Here is a short video on some additional IMS considerations:

video icon IMS 101

You might also want to download the following article that addresses the role of the IMS in program offices:

download icon A Program Master Schedule Can Improve Results

As you might have seen in the videos and articles, two critical ingredients in your IMS development are the Integrated Master plan (IMP) and Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). These tools are also part of the “Practical Advice” series, so check out the links below:

guidebook icon Practical Advice for Integrated Master Plans

guidebook iconPractical Advice for Work Breakdown Structures

Handy References

Any conversation about an IMS needs to start with proper context regarding integrated program planning. One of the best pieces of guidance in your arsenal to set the stage for integrated program planning is the recently rewritten Defense Acquisition Guidebook (DAG). We highly recommend you click on the link below to review the DAG, especially its Chapter 1 on program management.

guidebook icon Defense Acquisition Guidebook

The DAG provides critical context, but to establish and use great IMS’s there is more to do than know context. Luckily, there are some great references out there on what makes for good schedules and scheduling practice. In fact, the body of knowledge and professional associations relative to scheduling are quite robust and gives any program office little in the way of excuses for not having effective IMS’s.

Need some good references? Start with either one of these:

download icon GAO Schedule Assessment Guide

download icon NDIA Planning and Excellence Guide

But don’t stop there! There are “oldies but goodies” out there produced within DoD that help get your arms around the development and use of an IMS. Try any one of these on for size:

download icon DoD Scheduling Guide for Program Managers (2001)

download icon DoD Integrated Master Plan and Integrated Master Schedule Preparation and Use Guide (2005)

download icon NAVAIR Integrated Master Schedule Guidebook (2010)

There is more out there on the web as well:

  • Consider, for example, the Project Management College of Scheduling (PMCOS), an organization of professionals dedicated to advancing the practice and profession of project planning and scheduling, and promoting the implementation of accurate, ethical schedules throughout the world.
  • The College of Performance Measurement (CPM) is an international, non-profit professional organization dedicated to the disciplines of project management and performance measurement.
  • Go to the DAU Website and check out the EVM 263 course, which is all about scheduling and schedule risk analysis!

The Scheduler

Value your scheduler. If you don’t have one, GET ONE! If you are too busy, MAKE TIME for it!

A scheduler’s impact to a program is less derived from hard skills in tool prowess and more from basic behavioral traits. A great scheduler needs:

  • The Right Attitude
  • Strong Communication Skills
  • Maturity
  • Strong Team Building skills
  • Leadership
  • Program Knowledge
  • Program Management Knowledge
  • Scheduling Art Mastery
  • Software Tool Skills

Find someone with some sort of these traits and help that person develop the rest! And move the scheduler’s desk next to the PM’s desk!

By the way, did you notice that skills in scheduling software tools is at the bottom of the list? That is not to say such skills are not important. What we are saying is that even the most talented of schedulers do not have much impact to leadership decision-making unless they have the right attitude and maturity level paired with strong skills in communication, team building and leadership.

Scheduling skills (and the program management and specific program knowledge to support it) can be taught. And if you want to discern among scheduling talent in terms of hard skills, then a great starting point is to examine professional certifications. The American Association of Cost Engineering offers the rigorous Planning and Scheduling Professional (PSP) certification. In a similar vein the Project Management Institute (PMI) offers the Scheduling Professional (SP) certification.

The System and its Trade Space

The moment you put two schedules together (a.k.a. “integrate”) you have a SYSTEM. In a SYSTEM “little” things WILL have “big” effects.


  • Focus on practice and use before you talk tools.
  • Know what is feeding your IMS and adjust accordingly. Different schedulers, different skills, different horsepower.
  • As a minimum: The contractor IMS needs to reflect all the scope. Your Government IMS needs to reflect all your decisions.
  • Pay attention to level of detail. Too much gets too cumbersome real fast. The PM must ensure a balance is struck between level of detail and responsiveness to change. Good schedules are messy in appearance with just enough detail for decision-making without being unwieldy
  • Put your best scheduler in the “middle” and expand outwards from there.
  • Build it right. Best practices are well-known and readily available in print from GAO, NDIA, AACE and PMI.

The Trade Space

Graph showing "horsepower" on Y axis and "team coordination" on x axis. 

Terms listed going from bottom left to top right respectivley:
Powerpoint, "to-do" list, RAM, Cost, Risk/Opp Handling, SRA and CRA, IMP, EVM

What is this IMS Horsepower trade space all about? Check out the video below.

video icon Horsepower Trade Space

Tradeoffs. As you build the engine that drives your situational awareness (the following video uses an “engine” vice a “radar” but still is very applicable here), here are the BIG PICTURE things you might consider in making those trade space decisions.

video icon Prep that Radar

Key Discriminators

What makes the difference in IMS’s? What really counts? See below:

  • The IMS captures all scope in a WBS. What the work is and who is doing it. If you omit work, it will bite you.
  • Your program executes a schedule risk analysis. An SRA pulls together the risk conversation with the time and event conversation. The simplest of SRAs are worth the effort.
  • Your Integrated Master Plan Anchors the IMS. The IMP is all about what “done” looks like and is designed to support decisions. Build your schedule around it.
  • Your IMS is actually used to support leadership decision-making. If the PM doesn’t use it, what good is it?

IMS and SRA Critical SA Enablers

Best scheduling practices according to the GAO:

GAO Best Practice


Critical Enabler

Demand on Scheduler

1. Capturing All Activities

All required work must be reflected in the schedule. Every work requirement is traceable

The work breakdown structure (WBS) and Integrated Master Plan (IMP)

The scheduler must advocate for the WBS and IMP to be established before the schedule is developed

2. Sequencing All Activities

Activities need to be logically sequenced (clear predecessors and successors)

Integrated Master Plan (IMP) and active participation and contributions from technical team leads in order to verify logic.

The scheduler must advocate for the IMP to be developed and encourage IPT lead to review schedule activities in detail

3. Assigning Resources to Activities

Labor, materials and overhead must be aligned to the schedule

Organizational Breakdown Structure (OBS)

The schedule must “pull” resource information from IPT leads and other project elements

4. Establishing Duration of all Activities

Realism in durations are critical; ensure reasonable ability to measure progress

Active participation and contributions from technical team leads in order to verify logic.

The scheduler must encourage IPT leads to review the schedule activities in detail

5. Verification of Horizontal and Vertical Traceability

HORIZONTAL: linkage of products, outcomes (hand-offs); VERTICAL (traced to knowledge/decision points)

Integrated Master Plan (IMP) and inputs from technical leads

The scheduler must advocate for the WBS and IMP to be established before the schedule is developed. IPT leads must confirm “hand-offs” (givers and receivers) across the program

6. Confirming valid critical path

Path of longest duration that determines completion date

Best Practices #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5 above. Note that schedule software assumes infinite resources when calculating critical path.

The scheduler must lead by example to encourage discipline in best practices #1 through #5

7. Ensuring reasonable total float

The schedule should have available slack/margin to allow for adjustments and trade-offs

Active participation and contributions from technical team leads in order to verify logic.

The scheduler must encourage IPT leads to review the schedule activities in detail

8. Conducting a schedule risk analysis (SRA)

Statistical analysis of schedule duration based on detailed risk assessment

Best practices #1 thru #7 above and Active participation and contributions from technical team leads in order clarify details of risks and opportunities

The scheduler must encourage IPT leads to review the schedule activities in detail. Also requires close communication with risk management function since SRA information will feed risk register and planning.

9. Updating using actual progress and logic

Periodic progress updates and adjustments to logic as conditions change

Active participation and contributions from technical team leads in order to verify status and completion forecast realism

The scheduler must create a clear and simple system for IPT leads to report progress in a clear and reasonable manner

10. Maintaining a Baseline Schedule

Enables continual awareness of original plan so deviations can be identified and resultant outcomes predicted

Clearly established processes and discipline in practice

The scheduler must lead by example to encourage discipline in best practices #1 through #9

Not enough detail? Okay, then download the big “counts and amounts” sheet below to look at the desired characteristics of approximately 3-dozen schedule characteristics:

download icon Schedule Analysis Counts and Amounts

The Pinnacle: Developing Your SRA

A Schedule Risk Analysis, or SRA, is one of the most powerful analytical tools in the PM’s arsenal because it brings the risk and opportunity (e.g. predictive) dialogue into daily decision-making. Unfortunately, the minority of programs across the Department of Defense and the civilian federal agencies take advantage of the capability. The SRA requires a well-built schedule, but is entirely doable in any program office. SRA’s are definitely not easy things to do the first time you try it in a PMO but they get easier over time and are powerful assets when it comes to forecasting and proactive decision-making.

video icon Take a look at this video to learn more about SRA’s.

Now let’s look at a basic step-by-step process to make an SRA happen, starting with the leadership[ commitment to the effort.

  1. Ensure the PM makes it clear that the SRA will be a critical decision input and that prompt attention by key PMO leads is required.
  2. Establish your program IMP
  3. List the tasks required to meet the IMP “accomplishment criteria” and check the task list for sanity: aim for a range of 200-300 tasks total for the program IMS (fewer the better).
  4. Establish linkages among all tasks listed above and match every IMS task with a specific program WBS element
  5. Establish durations to the linked tasks above (ensure durations are the last step to avoid creating an “expensive calendar”) and thus create the first draft of the PMO IMS.
  6. Post the IMS for review by key PMO staff (example: taped/tacked to a wall with a pile of “sticky” notes) and/or sit down personally with each staff member to review linkages, logic and durations. Adjust the IMS based on feedback.
  7. Repeat step #6 above at least 1 more time. RESULT: A dynamic model that has PMO and leadership “buy-in” as reasonably accurate.
  8. SME Interviews: Using the PMO risk/opportunity register, interview the most knowledgeable PMO SME on each risk/opportunity. Work with the SME to insert/integrate all key handling tasks into the IMS and ensure that each is aligned with a specific WBS element. As part of the interview process, discuss each task in the SME’s expertise area to establish the best case, most likely and worst case task duration and the reasons for those durations. Seek out any possible cases of new tasks emerging and/or new dependencies heretofore not noted. Take care to document all information into the risk/opportunity register.
  9. Do Monte Carlo runs on the IMS using commercial schedule risk analysis software. Determine key risk drivers pushing the schedule “to the right” as well as drivers pulling the schedule “to the left.”
  10. Post the IMS and Monte Carlo results for review by key PMO staff (example: taped/tacked to a wall with a pile of “sticky” notes) and/or sit down personally with each staff member to review linkages, logic, risks, durations and results. Expect to make edits and re-do Monte Carlo runs
  11. Repeat #9 and #10 above at least once. RESULT: A depiction of program risk and estimate of schedule duration that has PMO and leadership “buy-in” as reasonably accurate.

What to do as a PM once you have developed the SRA

  1. Ask to have the drivers (left and right) explained with a recommendation of what action ought to be taken to address them
  2. Ask your staff to assume that the top driver has been “solved” (e.g. eliminate its impact). Check to see to what degree the key schedule dates are impacted. If there is no significant impact then it is not a driver; thus move to the next one.
  3. Repeat this process until top drivers have been clearly identified.
  4. Develop clear action plans to address each top driver and re-insert those plans back into the IMS.
  5. Repeat the SRA monthly because it helps to foster an integrated and robust discussion of quantified schedule and risk.

Parting Shots: Using Your IMS

An IMS in your program office neither has to be pretty nor perfectly compliant with every known standard in the world in order to be effective.

What truly matters is that your IMS is actually utilized by your program leadership team. In other words, we care whether you are making your IMS a critical enabler to proactive decisions and ensuring your IMS is part of regular discussion as to program performance and forecasting. And yes, if you follow even half the advice above, it will make for a pretty robust decision support system.

In short, make your IMS part of “the way we do things around here” in your PMO. Good luck!