Design for Optimized Resource Scheduling

What if you really want the computer to assist you in developing an optimized, resource limited schedule? What should we be looking for, in the way of a practical and efficient method? It seems to me that all we would need is a combination of functions that are already available in various project management software packages. If we buy the premise that realistic resource leveling should be short term and interactive, why couldn't we have the following set of functions in our resource scheduling system?

• Use the Parallel method algorithm (or one of the best-fit processes).

• Specify the limited time span to apply the algorithm.

• Specify the preferred ranking criteria.

• Allow activity splitting as a task-level option (and overtime).

• Allow activity stretching or reprofiling, or contouring (selective).

• Employ an interactive window for user override.

• Provide a resource table or spreadsheet view (to view several resources at once).

• Provide an undo function, to facilitate what-if experiments.

• In a multi-project environment, it would be useful to be able to designate resources as assigned or available to specified projects, at specified proportions.

In operation, the interactive window would pop up whenever a decision is required, showing the computer's default recommendation and other options. An interactive window of this nature was available in Time Line for Windows, as the Co-Pilot feature. In addition to allowing the choice of the task to get the limited resource, it would also suggest when activity splitting, stretching, or overtime could be used, and allow the user to define the split or overtime parameters at that time. Splitting or overtime could be set to automatic or discretionary, for any task. However, this product is no longer available.

Trap No combination of resource scheduling optimization capabilities can be assured of delivering the best results for any situation. There are subtle conditions that cannot be considered by any software, especially far in advance of the assignment time. The various smoothing capabilities will usually deliver better utilization of resources (on paper). But the computerized solution might not actually represent the best use of the resources. For instance, splitting assignments on tasks could result in fragmentation of the effort, with loss of efficiency or quality. Splitting and profiling functions, if available, must be applied on a case-by-case basis, with expressed parameters.

If enough resource information is available on the screen (perhaps in an optional window) we might even offer the user the ability to substitute for a scarce resource, on the fly.

Isn't this essentially what resource managers do on a project (or projects)? They look at the planned schedule for the immediate future, and at the available resources. They try to figure out the best way to get the necessary scheduled work done, when required, within resource limits. When they find a situation that does not support these criteria, they look at slipping tasks, using overtime, or reassigning work to less loaded resources. Why shouldn't we be able to provide them with support for that process, within the software that they are using to develop the project plans?

Personally, I am a strong supporter of the use of computers for project planning and control. On the other hand, you just can't beat the old weekly planning meeting concept. When we had an important project, the project team met early each Monday morning to firm up a plan for that week's activities. We started with an updated plan based on status as of the end of the previous week (usually computer generated). Then, armed with data about what work needed to be performed and who was available to do that work, the team confirmed the plan for the current week.

The computer was a significant part of the process. But we just couldn't let the computer make the final decisions, which were better left in the hands of the project team. While it is in the realm of possibility to describe all the factors needed to make an electronic decision, it would not be practical to do this. Thus, a computer-assisted decision process, fine-tuned by the project team, on a short time frame basis, would appear to be the way to go.

SECTION 5

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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