A Schedule More Complicated Than a Rube Goldberg

A Schedule More Complicated Than a Rube Goldberg

I just reviewed an Integrated Master Schedule (IMS) comprised of almost 5000 lines.  I didn’t write the thing.  I was just asked to review it.  You might be saying to yourself that must be an absolutely awesome schedule, detailing every nuance of a project.  Counter to that, you might be saying to yourself that is the most overdeveloped schedule ever creating, complicating the most trivial of work.

In the business of project management or leadership, you should always be asking yourself, “does this make sense?”  If it doesn’t, you should be looking for the Goldilocks approach to documentation or process.  Do something that is not too complicated or simple.  Do something somewhere in the middle.

Don't make your schedule as complicated as a rube goldberg machineAs I read through the IMS, I started to think of a Rube Goldberg machine and the OK Go video titled This Too Shall Pass.  Rather than reading a very straightforward schedule, identifying all of the deliverables and a decomposition ad nauseam, I saw a schedule that both inveigled and obfuscated.  A Rube Goldberg machine is the perfect analogy for this schedule.

A Rube Goldberg machine is irreducibly complex. It is a single system which is composed of several interacting parts, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to break down. If one component is missing, the machine doesn’t work; the whole system is useless.  This is NOT how an IMS should be written.  I see a schedule as a tool of transparency.  It is a way to communicate if a project is on time in a passive manner.  A fully resource loaded (properly decomposed) schedule can help you do a lot of other things.  But 5000 lines?  I don’t think so, not in this case.

Image Source:  www.rubegoldberg.com

14 Replies to “A Schedule More Complicated Than a Rube Goldberg”

  1. Derek,

    For the IMS to truly be an Integrated Master Schedule, it needs the Integrated Master Plan.

    The IMP describes what DONE looks like in measures of effectiveness and measures of performance in the Accomplishments and Criteria.

    Without the IMP, the IMS is just a list of work. Jumbled work most likely. At best a scheduler made the IMS at worst the CAMs through it together to get a check in the box for having a schedule.

    But that approach is NOT an Integrated Master Schedule, it’s just a schedule.

    http://herdingcats.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/03/the-grammar-of-done.html

    starts the conversation about the grammar of DONE.

    1. Well, I can tell you this contract deliverable (the IMS) is titled Integrated Master Schedule. So, per your definition, it is not truly an IMS. The Data Item Description (DID) lists nothing about requiring an IMP. So, the vendor did not supply an IMP. Don’t you love it how things work out like that? For those out there reading this, Lt Col Allan Netzer at DARPA has a good overview of the IMS and IMP.

      I completely agree we should all have agreement as to the definition of done. Otherwise, I see this following Parkinson’s Law. Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Let me rephrase that. I’ve now seen it follow Parkinson’s Law.

      Lastly, I love reading Geoff Crane’s stuff. I see you referenced his work in your post. For those reading, here is a link to the original post.

  2. Derek,

    For the IMS to truly be an Integrated Master Schedule, it needs the Integrated Master Plan.

    The IMP describes what DONE looks like in measures of effectiveness and measures of performance in the Accomplishments and Criteria.

    Without the IMP, the IMS is just a list of work. Jumbled work most likely. At best a scheduler made the IMS at worst the CAMs through it together to get a check in the box for having a schedule.

    But that approach is NOT an Integrated Master Schedule, it’s just a schedule.

    http://herdingcats.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/03/the-grammar-of-done.html

    starts the conversation about the grammar of DONE.

    1. Well, I can tell you this contract deliverable (the IMS) is titled Integrated Master Schedule. So, per your definition, it is not truly an IMS. The Data Item Description (DID) lists nothing about requiring an IMP. So, the vendor did not supply an IMP. Don’t you love it how things work out like that? For those out there reading this, Lt Col Allan Netzer at DARPA has a good overview of the IMS and IMP.

      I completely agree we should all have agreement as to the definition of done. Otherwise, I see this following Parkinson’s Law. Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Let me rephrase that. I’ve now seen it follow Parkinson’s Law.

      Lastly, I love reading Geoff Crane’s stuff. I see you referenced his work in your post. For those reading, here is a link to the original post.

  3. One of the checks I perform when analyzing an IMS expresses the number of “real” activities to the the total as a percentage. I call it schedule efficiency, which I don’t particularly like, but I have not thought of a name for it that I like better. Subtract summaries, LOE, milestones, and whatever other schedule detritus you find from the total number of activities in the IMS. Make sure what remains is legitimate discrete effort. Divide the number of discrete activities by the total and multiply by 100. I have seen values as low as 25%. Somewhere around 75% is not unusual and may be about right.

    5000 activities is not an especially large project. I would expect to see about that many activities for a $50M project. Applying the “half-or-double” rule, I would be concerned if the IMS for a $50M project had fewer than 2500 or much more that 10,000 activities. If the IMS you were reviewing is for a $100M project, I’d think 5000 activities may not be enough and would look for missing scope. Similarly, if it is a $25M project, 5000 activities may be overkill.

    Another factor to consider is the stage at which your review takes places. I would be ecstatic to see even a messy IMS prior to a bid decision. It should be pristine when the proposal is submitted, at IBR and during execution.

    1. Wow! Thank you for that very insightful comment. If you put it like that, the quantity of activities isn’t so over-the-top. Unfortunately, the “IMS” I read had a lot of fluff. It needed to be 5000 lines. I personally thought there needed to be more meat on the bone, so to speak.

      Again, thank your the insight.

  4. One of the checks I perform when analyzing an IMS expresses the number of “real” activities to the the total as a percentage. I call it schedule efficiency, which I don’t particularly like, but I have not thought of a name for it that I like better. Subtract summaries, LOE, milestones, and whatever other schedule detritus you find from the total number of activities in the IMS. Make sure what remains is legitimate discrete effort. Divide the number of discrete activities by the total and multiply by 100. I have seen values as low as 25%. Somewhere around 75% is not unusual and may be about right.

    5000 activities is not an especially large project. I would expect to see about that many activities for a $50M project. Applying the “half-or-double” rule, I would be concerned if the IMS for a $50M project had fewer than 2500 or much more that 10,000 activities. If the IMS you were reviewing is for a $100M project, I’d think 5000 activities may not be enough and would look for missing scope. Similarly, if it is a $25M project, 5000 activities may be overkill.

    Another factor to consider is the stage at which your review takes places. I would be ecstatic to see even a messy IMS prior to a bid decision. It should be pristine when the proposal is submitted, at IBR and during execution.

    1. Wow! Thank you for that very insightful comment. If you put it like that, the quantity of activities isn’t so over-the-top. Unfortunately, the “IMS” I read had a lot of fluff. It needed to be 5000 lines. I personally thought there needed to be more meat on the bone, so to speak.

      Again, thank your the insight.

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