Schedule Optimization for Agile Managers

Project Optimization and Agility

If you have had any project/program management (PPM) role, you have dealt with project and schedule optimization in some capacity, especially when a team member cannot accomplish a committed task (for any reason). When it comes to schedule optimization, there are many scientific and mathematical approaches to optimize various scheduling problems. These can fall into many categories such as single or multiple resources performing single or multiple tasks of dependent or independent jobs. Most of the scientific modeling approaches address machine-related and algorithmic optimization but do not consider various human-related factors such as illness, lack of focus, and the effects of cultural, language, and environmental differences.

Adding cross-functional human resources into the optimization formula makes our approach more challenging! Hence, we need to consider many additional aspects, such as vision/mission of business objectives, customers’ most-valuable needs, tasks/schedules based on available resources, associated costs of tasks, tasks dependencies, and more. Furthermore, organizational leaders in charge of complex programs and portfolios need to consider additional factors such as business, financial, technical, performance, and legal objectives.

Scheduling is the act of planning for a procedure or process, focused on a proposed goal concerning the timely completion of tasks. Project scheduling usually addresses three questions regarding activities: what needs to be done, when will each task be done, and who will do each task.

Agile Project OptimizationFrom Scoping (gathering the requirements of the project) to planning tasks and producing project increments, there are many optimization techniques to consider.  Aligned with academia/scientific findings and focussed on creating necessary outcomes, PPMs consider single/multiple resources with single/multiple tasks of dependent/independent jobs. The idea is to break down the project to estimate and calculate and cost of the project. Then we face the “time to market” motives for project optimization, as well as the intuition failure (in scheduling), traceability (of time-value) metrics, communication channels and methods, business objectives, balancing the “triple triangle” (time-cost-scope), and other considerations.

In scheduling we aim to predict the completion of tasks in the future, considering many constraints, uncertainties, and risks. All of these things are dependent on the outcome of a collaborative performance! There are other optimization techniques such as minimizing practices based on the duration-resource-risks, precedence constraints, intermediate due-dates, resource availability, Pareto (optimal allocation), 80-20 rules, schedule vs. cost, reactive optimization scheduling, and Heuristics performance, just to name a few.

Since most projects are comprised of multiple resources performing dependent tasks, a project leader applies “soft skills” to address unseen human behavior and to account for workloads when optimizing the project and the schedule. And because of these dependencies of tasks, these scheduling techniques use various methods such as Gantt charts, Network Diagrams, and others. We need to be mindful of workloads, resource-based or external and internal dependencies. Of course, the optimization needs to be continuous and iterative. For instance, the House of Lean of Scaled Agile outlines “flow” as a method of continuous optimization and sustainable throughput of values, while respects people and culture among other important factors.

Project management employs many techniques and methods to estimate the scope of work and to optimize the process of deliverables! Regardless of techniques used (such as bottom-up, top-down, comparative, 3-points, Pareto, or network diagram) dealing with a group of talented cross-functional team members who are performing tasks and delivering on customer needs. The significance of Agile principles and the applications of a collaborative and trusting environment has become critical to project success during the last two decades. The best and most useful products are released where developers and customers work together building the necessary solutions to problems and resultant requirements for the solutions.

UC Santa Cruz Silicon Valley Extension offers a series of hands-on courses as part of the Project and Program Management certificate program. Participants of these courses closely study this subject using real-life examples. I explain most of the topics related to the project and schedule optimization using case studies from various industries. If you are interested (in the project and program management), and if you have a few minutes to spare, please take a look at the Project and Program Management certificate program courses offered by UC Santa Cruz Silicon Valley Extension.

It is notable to add that ASVPM.org teams perform practical Agile streamlining where “volunteer” team members, along with Scrum Masters, Product Owners, sponsors and coaches work together to fine-tune the sprint outcomes, one sprint at a time. This is a story in creation; a group of Agile-minded volunteer PPMs who get together to build an Agile PPMs publishing platform using a hybrid of Agile frameworks. This is the only group of Agile practitioners that I know of, who are building the first village of Agile practitioners. I am a proud member of our ASVPM team! Please consider joining us as Agile PPMs in-action, and let us acquire Agile mindset by working together!

PS. Thanks to Donald Stringari and Dianne McGaunn for their help editing the article.

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