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How Program Scheduling is different than Project Scheduling !

Program Schedule, Master Program, Roadmap
Program Schedule


Client Organizations often develops individual project schedules for independent contracts. This create a Silo effect on the Senior Management and Sponsors within Organization resulting into misleading KPIs. A well organized and profitable business should group the projects according its type under various programs for better administration, sharing resources across multiple projects and gaining cost effectiveness. For a long-term capital-intensive work, Clients or Owners often award entire Program Contract to the Main Contractor, Both the parties to the Contract viz., Client & Contractor should maintain a Program Management structure to conduct effective Program Scheduling & Budgeting using an Integrated Master Schedule (IMS).

The aim of program management is absolutely two-fold. It allows for that top-down planning, management, and coordination of projects, but it does so in a very rational and coherent way. And it ensures that the overarching goals are met, that their worth for investment is realized, risks are minimized, and benefits maximized.

Any Program Management must maintain an oversight on Construction Management activities through Program Manager. Program managers, particularly in emerging markets need to provide standards and guidelines for safety, quality, procurement in other areas. Program costs and schedule are central to the responsibilities of the program management team, but the program management team is additionally accountable for assisting the client in terms of public information. It is vital to discern between construction management, project management, and program management, at the intersection of these is construction management. Construction management is basically about delivering the development and shut out of a project; it's focused on the worksite. Program Management is responsible for completing all phases of project plus Benefits Transitions and Realization to Operating Organization. However, program management is about delivering multiple projects, but the differences are somewhat more complex

We often hear Projects and Programs in our mundane life. These words are used interchangeably by various stakeholders, however technically Projects and Programs are greatly distance when it comes to their planning & execution. As defined by Project Management Institute (PMI) -

Projects are often temporary endeavors, with fixed start and end with definite product, service or result.

While Program is defined as

it is a group of related projects managed in a very coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Programs may include elements of related outside scope of the discrete projects within the program

Both, Projects & Programs often includes their phase gates. It is also called as Stage gate or Phase end points. Organizations often perform performance health check and approve closure of each phase at such points. As shown in figure – 1. Project Phase Gates consists of five distinct Phase Gates as Initiation, Project Approval, Funding Approval, Launch Beneficial Use and Project Completion. It goes through various stages viz. Pre-Project preparation, Feasibility studies, Project Development, Project Execution and Post Execution Review & Closure.

Figure - 1 Project Phase Gates

(Source: Presentation on Program Scheduling, by Chris Carson at Project Controls Summit 2021)

Programs are conducted through three distinct phases as Program Definition, Program Delivery and Program Closure as shown in Figure - 2 Program Lifecycle.

Figure - 2 Program Lifecycle

The definition phase of a program often resonates with Initiation phase of a Project lifecycle. During definition phase, Program Formulation and Planning are conducted. The main Output for the Program Definition phase is the development of “Program Management Plan” as shown in Figure - 3

Figure - 3 Development of Program Management Plan

Program Lifecycle
Program Lifecycle

Once the Program is approved, Program Manager prepares a Program Roadmap as shown in Figure – 4. It is a graphical representation of the program execution direction. It shows various Projects, sub-programs, components, Rolling Wave planning, Decision points. Overall Time duration for the program is not fixed. Program can be closed only when required benefits are transitioned and realized by customers. Program Scheduling or Integrated Master Schedule often stems from Program Roadmap and all Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) for a Program should be consistent with Program roadmap.

Figure - 4 Program Roadmap

Program Schedule
Program Roadmap

Once the Program roadmap is reviewed and approved by Sponsor, A high level Risk assessment is conducted to identify Critical Risks and then decide Risk Mitigation strategies. Also, an Environmental Impact assessment is conducted for all External factors affecting the Program such as Organizations Culture, Market conditions, Political Climate, Economic conditions, Statutory and Legal requirements. The environmental impact assessment provides the analysis of factors which often out of control for Program Management team and hence, needs to be carefully monitored through entire Program Lifecycle. Finally, Program Management Plan is prepared incorporating the elements from Business Case, Program Charter, Strategies for Risk Mitigation and Environmental Impact Assessment.

Nowadays, all programs are incredibly complex with varied Stakeholders as shown in Figure – 5. The schedule allows for a top-level view of all projects within the program to incorporate their critical phases and the overall critical path of the program. There are some interdependent factors and relationships that require to be known and understood. This includes, but isn't limited to, client funding and budget milestones. Often, an oversized program isn't finalized during the initial start of the program, there are appropriations down the road. Program often involves logistics constraints. Since programs typically involve an outsized number of projects, there could also be competition for scarce logistic like steel or bitumen. In other cases, there are challenges like port capacity. The schedule will allow us to determine where the logistical constraints are, and where we, because the program management team, must influence the action to confirm that the correct logistics get to the correct place at the proper time. Those relationships must be known and wish to be addressed. Many external factors come within the execution of a program; hence it must be shown on a program schedule, and that they must be arrayed appropriately. Many of those don't typically impact a construction project. Many of them include key stakeholder activities, things related to the political processes, so risk gets complicated. Because there are such a lot of variables, the danger is usually very hard to quantify, and so makes it very challenging to mitigate it. The more factors that we visualize, the better it's to account for them, and assess their impact.

Figure - 5 Stakeholders involved in Program Management

Program Management
Program Governance

Scheduling Approaches for Projects and Programs

Program Master Schedule includes Project related activities, Administration, maintenance and supporting efforts assigned with resources. As shown in image - 1, Primavera scheduling software is implemented as a Scheduling tool for VDOT Program at ARCADIS, USA. Program Master schedule includes all project related activities as well as facilitative activities such as Training, Administration, Quality Control at program level etc. It includes all individual projects, various tasks performed by different teams, Level of details required by each discipline and Interfacing activities across all the projects.

Image 1 - VDOT Program (sample program arrangement in Primavera scheduling software)

(Source: Presentation on Program Scheduling, by Chris Carson at Project Controls Summit 2021)

A Program can include various data such as Design & Procurement activities, Equipment, Other Contracts & Exclusions. These exclusions are not considered under the scope of Construction scope estimation but only considered at Program level as shown in Table – 1. All the blue highlighted fields are not considered in Construction work scope, cost & schedule but managed at program level.

Table 1 - Program Cost Estimation

(Source: Presentation on Program Scheduling, by Chris Carson at Project Controls Summit 2021)

Program Schedule Development by Phases

Program Schedule development also follows a rolling wave planning method depending upon the information availability at each phase in the program. Program Schedule can provide various details such as initial funding request, useful for tracking design progression and provides forecast completion dates.

Table – 2 provides a Generic Schedule Development table as provided by AACE Recommended Practice 27R-03. It provides various Schedule class according to the degree of project definition and work to be carried out on site indicating scheduling method to be followed.

Table 2 – Schedule Classification Matrix

(Source - AACE RP No. 27R-03)

Schedule Class 5:

This schedule would be developed during Pre-project phase for Concept Screening. It identifies major deadlines as per contract, indicates major deliverables and goals for the project. It can provide start and end dates of funding, procurement phase, design and construction.

Schedule Class 4:

This schedule class is used in Pre-design for Feasibility studies such as Owner’s needs, funding sources, contract type selection and procurement suppliers. It can give a tentative idea about program or project completion.

Schedule Class 3 & 2:

This class schedule is used in Design phase for Budget Authorization and establishing control points. This is schedule can be used for Contract / Tender submission too. It allows for monitoring of design phases, includes major components such as Construction & Commissioning, project constraints & Long lead items.

Schedule Class 1:

This schedule class is used for monitoring Construction phase and can be used for subcontract works. It is a detailed schedule showing construction activities and crews required. It is used for analyzing impacts due to change orders on project completion dates.

the program schedule is usually called the integrated master schedule or the IMS. The aim of the integrated master schedule is to visibly display as a function of program’s time, the connection of key elements of the program to incorporate, projects, which are typically shown at the very top level. It allows us to know the complete project life cycle because it relates to a program. The program schedule could be a tool that's allow us to speak with stakeholders, even those who don't directly benefit or have an immediate touch to the program should be very curious about the progress of the program. The schedule goes to permit us to effectively communicate.

The programs integrated master schedule is additionally vital in terms of modeling with changing events. The program teams should continually look to try and do various scenarios just in case events happen and the way it'll affect the schedule. Often vendors and contractors must be sequenced across the program appropriately. It is important to understand that project detail is usually only necessary by project phase or at the beginning completion dates and key milestones. Though it's possible to point out all aspects of a project within the program integrated master schedule but an excessive amount of detail is confusing and can hide the relationships we want to be able to see.

Now we should always be ready to roll up project design and construction schedules from project teams. This may ensure we've got greater accuracy in alignment. There could be key challenge when both Program & Project schedules are managed on two different systems with two different software. In this case rolling up and having the ability to determine near real time change can become a challenge. we'd like to take care of the power to drill down into projects either directly or through links or via references to the acceptable design and construction schedules. To solve this challenge, there should be a consistent coding of the schedules and a standardized WBS. Integrated master schedules should make sure that key execution elements are displayed including long-lead items that may help drive the program. Integrated Master Schedule should always maintain links from Projects and Program milestones.

It should include a strong layer of external factors. This includes the key client actions or events that may impact the program, budget cycles and decision points. It is also important to indicate key stakeholder’s activities. Most of the times, stakeholder related activities are neglected. The lack to account for stakeholder activity that may impact the program has often surprised program management teams, hence they must be explored and therefore the relationship of these key stakeholder activity to the lifetime of the program must be called out. Oftentimes key stakeholders also will be interested into maybe one or two projects where relationship must be seen. It is important to use a consistent Coding structure amongst Program and projects for WBS, CBS, and Control Accounts.

Usually, Program cost cannot be fixed. However, programs become extremely controversial if they become grossly unbounded. therefore, the program manager must have an honest feel that when a specific project goes over budget. This can be done using continuous modeling of cashflows and Earned value over time to reduce the Cost overruns. the focus must remain the critical path & Key risk areas. Now, uncontrolled cost overruns in non-critical path projects can seriously damage the power to mitigate the prices and achieve program objectives. Mostly, those non-critical path projects can become the favorite projects of varied stakeholders; addressing those stakeholders may be done, but at the danger of the remainder of the program hence, the program manager must use the integrated master schedule to assist him maintain that balance as well as accounting decision points must be identified and incorporated into the schedule.

Program Progress Reporting

Program Reporting is vital element for the entire Program management effort to monitor and control the Program Scope, Schedule & Cost. A typical Program reporting is different than individual project reporting, just by summarizing all projects data in one report cannot prove to be a Program Reporting. Following elements should be included in the Program Reporting:

  • Program Critical Path showing on a Roadmap, indicating the subprograms, Projects and other efforts critical

  • It can include analysis for every project longest path for respective contractual completion milestones

  • A brief on Critical Path and top 3 near Critical Path of the projects

  • Required interfaces and dependencies amongst projects which can generate potential conflicts

  • It should include a section on Interdependency Report which is vital for Claims avoidance. This section can include:

    1. All activities in a project and all activities driving or being driven by another project connected logically by a Finish-Start relationship from driver activity to driven activity

    2. Run reports on individual Projects as well as All Projects

    3. Add a Level-of-Effort (LoE) activity to monitor the time distance (buffer) between the driver and driven activities. This LoE provides a measure of performance urgency. As LoE buffer approaches zero, Program is in a delay situation

  • It should include Trending reports which will provide continuous progress of program over time. It can be evaluated using Earned Value, Actual Duration Overruns (Tipper – TPR), Missed Starts/Finishes, Erosion of Float, Erosion of Interdependency buffers

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect or represent the official policy, position or recommendation of any individual or organization. Any written or verbal recommendation has a general nature and should not be used for any decision making without further assessment for specific project and organization requirements.


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