Revising a Schedule to Complete on Time and on Budget

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If you have determined that a plan is encountering unfavorable variances, you have to do something about it. If the project is in trouble, it's important to remember one thing: You should use the plan to manage the project. Don't deviate from the plan; change it! Depending on the type of problem you are having, you can employ different strategies to get the plan back on track. The bottom line is that something needs to change if you still plan to deliver on time and on budget with high quality and all expectations met.

Project provides many tools to help you revise a schedule, but first you have to know what will work for you on this project and in your particular situation. Remember that when it comes to revising a project plan there are limits: scope, time (the schedule), and costs (resources). Project managers must choose a combination of changes to stay within those limits.


Making trade-offs to maintain a schedule is known as the "good, fast, or cheap argument." Balancing competing demands requires careful assessment of which element the customer is willing to compromise on. In other words, you need to pick two of three qualities: good, fast, and cheap.

Good encompasses both scope and quality, which means that what is good to one person in terms of features and benefits might not be good to someone else. Fast means time in regard to schedule. Perhaps more work can be done in less time. Usually, it requires an increase in the third consideration, which is cost ( cheap ). Money might not be a first factor, but it always remains in the formula.

The answer is often a compromise on all three to arrive at an acceptable project plan.

Before you even begin to modify a plan in Project, chances are that there are users, customers, sponsors, and managers that you'll need to talk to before you can reflect your strategy in Project. Whatever you decide, you are likely to be forced to make trade-offs. If you use a less expensive resource to stay within budget, the work estimates might increase due to a lack of experience of the less expensive resource. If you reduce scope, you are probably sacrificing some of your objectives to stay within schedule and budget. If you overlap tasks to meet deadlines, you increase the risk of failing to meet other objectives. The harsh reality is that, if there were serious oversights when the plan was developed, the chances of completing the plan according to all its original expectations will take quite a bit of creativity on your part.

The following sections describe what these options mean in Project.

Reducing Scope

When you cut scope, you're reducing function, taking something out of your project objectives, or delivering less than originally committed. You might also be compromising on the quality of the project goal. Reducing scope in Project can be deployed in limited ways:

  • Deleting tasks

  • Reducing work

Negotiating a reduction in scope or a redefinition of project quality can be among the most difficult tasks you'll face as a project manager. After you define your initial project objectives, removing functions from the deliverables is often technically complicated, requiring advice from many different members of the team. It's hard to decide what you can take out and still have everything function smoothly. Add to this dilemma a group of sponsors who have had high expectations, and you'll find yourself in a pretty difficult situation.

Reducing Cost

A project might be on target for the completion date and meeting scope and quality requirements but running over budget to achieve those goals. Typically, if you "throw money" at a project, anything is possible. But if staying within the project budget is an important consideration, you need to find ways to conserve expenditures. Possible options include the following:

  • Substitute less expensive workers for more expensive ones. The less expensive resource also might be less experienced than the more expensive one, however, causing a reworking of hours required on the tasks. A bonus here is that the more expensive resource might now be available to work on another task and actually reduce that task's duration.

  • Reduce allowable overtime for resources that can be billed against the project at an increased overtime rate.

  • Schedule resources that have a per-use fee to work on their assigned tasks simultaneously . For example, if a delivery fee is associated with a resource, schedule all deliveries together, to avoid being charged multiple delivery fees.

  • Negotiate with suppliers, if possible, to reduce fixed costs and materials costs.

  • Reducing project scope might be the only option for reducing overall cost of the project.

Reducing Scheduled Duration

If your targeted project finish date is in jeopardy, reducing the project scheduled duration means you first have to find out which tasks are extending the schedule, and then you have to figure out some way to make those tasks finish sooner. In Project, you can reduce the schedule by trying the following:

  • Add more resources to the project, so that some tasks can be completed sooner.

  • Break links between tasks and allowing them to occur simultaneously, which is usually a risky proposition.

  • Overlap dependent tasks by introducing lead (the opposite of lag).

  • Reduce duration by increasing a resource's percentage of commitment to tasks or allowing overtime.

  • Replace inexperienced resources with more experienced resources. You might be able to reduce work estimates, thereby completing tasks in less time.

Schedule reductions can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but the decision should be made with caution. Many elements of risk are introduced to a project plan when you agree to reduce work, overlap tasks, add resources, and maintain scope. Reducing the schedule might lower your confidence in completing on time while increasing your risk of delivering quality. Despite these concerns, project managers are sometimes forced to revise a plan and bring it in early. Here are some ways to reduce the schedule:

  • Overlap dependent tasks. If two tasks are linked, Project sets the default relationship to Finish-to-Start and the lag to 0d. You can overlap tasks by setting the lag to a negative number. A negative lag is usually referred to as lead . If you introduce lead for tasks that are on the critical path , the project finish date is recalculated to an earlier date.

  • Increase a resource's percentage of commitment to a task. For tasks with fixed work, increasing the resource units on a task reduces the task's duration.

  • If a resource is already assigned 100% to a task, consider using the Overtime Work field to reduce duration.

  • Look for underallocated resources. The Resource Usage view can be used to look for resource overallocations. You can also use this view to look for underallocated resources, by selecting View, Resource Usage, Format, Details, Remaining Availability, and then setting the display to Remaining Availability. Keep resources assigned up to their maximum availability, to ensure that the schedule is as efficient as possible.

  • graphics/versatile_icon.gif Add more experienced resources to tasks. If you decide to replace a resource with a different, more experienced, resource, the trade-off is usually higher cost versus lower work estimates. To replace a resource, you use the Resource Assignment dialog box.


When you reduce a schedule, Project does not automatically remove unneeded occurrences of a recurring task. Don't forget to get rid of unneeded tasks, such as weekly status meetings, by modifying the number of occurrences of recurring tasks (on the Task Information dialog box) or by deleting individual occurrences.

Adding resources is sometimes an effective way to recover a schedule that is falling behind, but it usually comes at a price ”the budget. Adding resources is easy in Project. Finding the right resource at the right time for the right price can be challenging.

If you add resources, there are some things you might need to do:

  • Reassign work to the new resource.

  • Modify task duration to reflect redistribution of work on the task.

  • Split complex tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks, with less work and less complex resource assignments on each.

  • Modify work estimates so that they are realistic for the new resource.

When you're done revising the schedule, your resources might have become overloaded. Load leveling is the final step to ensuring that a revised schedule remains realistic.

Many of these strategies are easy to implement in Project. The hard part is likely to be convincing your project team and sponsors that your strategies for adjusting the plan are viable and acceptable to all involved.


Before you adjust a project plan, it's a good idea to make frequent backups of your project's .mpp file. You might at some point decide that the changes you are making to the schedule are not working out. Rebuilding the plan without a good backup can be painful if you're not careful.

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Special Edition Using Microsoft Office Project 2003
Special Edition Using Microsoft Office Project 2003
ISBN: 0789730723
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 283
Authors: Tim Pyron

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