Scheduling is not Planning

ganttThe title of this post may sound strange to many. If you look up any standard dictionary, there isn’t much difference between the meaning of the two words. These are typically defined as under.

Planning means looking ahead and chalking out future courses of action to be followed. It is a preparatory step. It is a systematic activity which determines when, how and who is going to perform a specific job.

Scheduling definition, a plan of procedure, usually written, for a proposed objective, especially with reference to the sequence of and time allotted for each item or operation necessary to its completion

This article focuses on the interpretation of these words in the context of Construction project Management especially the perception of aspiring project planners and schedulers.

For managing the time of construction of a project, the planning consists of the following iterative activities:

  1. Deciding the broad methodology of construction
  2. Breaking the project into discreet work items [work breakdown structure]
  3. Developing dependencies of various activities and estimating the time required
  4. Assessing and assigning resources required to meet the timelines
  5. Putting all these in a PERT/CPM network
  6. Monitoring, controlling and course correction till completion

One of the many outputs of these activities is the project schedule. It is apparent that items 1 to 4 above are technical in nature and require proper understanding of the construction work (domain knowledge). The last two activities are what a so-called scheduling specialist does. However, a person who does not have domain knowledge can not produce an effective schedule; even if he/she possesses the expertise of putting the whole thing down in a software. In essence, without the domain knowledge, they are nothing but white-collar clerks, a product of the information age!

Unfortunately, many young Engineers do not understand this difference. Having acquired a professional qualification in ‘construction management’, they consider themselves expert in project scheduling. For these misguided persons, working at sites is often below their dignity.

Peeling vegetables is the first step to learn cooking. A person has to learn a lot before he is called a Chef. Likewise scheduling is akin to peeling vegetables while planning is a Chef’s job.