Tag Archives: Project Controls

GAO Schedule Assessment Guide released

GAO-TimeOn 22nd December, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued the final version of its Schedule Assessment Guide: Best Practices for Project Schedules (GAO-16-89G), this guide is a companion the GAO Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide published in 2009. The Government Accountability Office is an independent, nonpartisan, agency that exists to support Congress in meeting its constitutional responsibilities, and works to improve the performance of federal government programs.

The Schedule Assessment Guide applies to civilian and defence projects managed by either government entities or private contractors in the USA; it is also an extremely valuable reference for all projects world-wide. On its release, Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO said “A well-planned schedule is an essential tool for program management. The best practices described in the guide are intended to help agencies create and maintain schedules that are comprehensive, well-constructed, credible, and controlled.”

Over the last 5 years, the GAO has worked with experts in cost estimating, scheduling, and earned value management from government agencies, private industry, and academia to develop and formalise scheduling the best practices outlined in the Schedule Assessment Guide. The ten best practices associated with a high-quality and reliable schedule defined in the Schedule Assessment Guide are:

  1. Capturing all activities. The schedule should reflect all activities necessary to accomplish a project’s objectives, including activities both the owner and the contractors are to perform.
  2. Sequencing all activities. All activities must be logically sequenced and linked. Date constraints and lags should be minimised and justified.
  3. Assigning resources to all activities. The schedule should reflect the resources (labour, materials, travel, facilities, equipment, and the like) needed to do the work.
  4. Establishing the duration of all activities. The schedule should realistically reflect how long each activity will take. Schedules that contain planning and summary planning packages as activities will normally reflect longer durations until broken into work packages or specific activities.
  5. Verifying that the schedule can be traced horizontally and vertically. The schedule should be horizontally traceable with “hand-offs” defined. And vertically traceable; lower-level schedules are clearly consistent with upper-level schedule milestones.
  6. Confirming that the critical path is valid. The schedule should identify the program’s critical path.
  7. Ensuring reasonable total float. The schedule should identify reasonable total float on activities.
  8. Conducting a schedule risk analysis. Using a statistical simulation to predict the level of confidence in meeting a program’s completion date. Programs should include the results of the schedule risk analysis in constructing an executable baseline schedule.
  9. Updating the schedule using actual progress and logic. Progress updates and logic provide a realistic forecast of start and completion dates for program activities. Maintaining the integrity of the schedule logic is necessary to reflect the true status of the program.
  10. Maintaining a baseline schedule. A baseline schedule is the basis for managing the program scope, the time period for accomplishing it, and the required resources. Program performance is measured, monitored, and reported against the baseline schedule.

In its 224 pages the Schedule Assessment Guide provides detailed explanations of each of the best practices, supported by case studies and includes ‘key questions’ and the ‘key documentation’ to be used by auditors in assessing schedule compliance.

The development of the Schedule Assessment Guide has been lead by 2014 PGCS keynote presenter Karen Richey, her presentation to the symposium outlining the challenges faced by the USA government auditors can be downloaded from: http://www.pgcs.org.au/index.php/download_file/view/116/
(see more on the Project Governance and Controls Symposium).

The Schedule Assessment Guide validates many of the concepts defined in our scheduling papers and the CIOB Guide to Good Practice in the Management of Time in Complex Projects , see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/Planning.html

To download your copy of the Schedule Assessment Guide go to: http://www.gao.gov/products/gao-16-89g

Scheduling Acronyms – use the correct terms!

Critical path scheduling has only been around for 60 years, is well documented by the originators of the discipline and central to the practice of project management. However, through ignorance, overt commercialism or laziness, far too many scheduling professionals continue to confuse the terms and degrade the practice.

If we can’t use the same correct term consistently for a function or process in scheduling why should anyone else take us seriously. The originators of the various concepts knew what they called each of the items discussed below, it is both professional and polite to respect their intentions and legacy.

CPM = Critical Path Method. (Also called CPA – Critical Path Analysis) This term emerged in the 1960s to describe the two variants of CPM, ADM and PDM. CPM uses a single deterministic duration estimate for each activity (or task) to calculate the schedule duration, activity start and finish dates, various floats and the ‘critical path’. CPM focuses on the activities.

ADM = Arrow Diagramming Method. Also called AOA (Activity on Arrow).  ADM was the first of the CPM techniques developed by Kelley and Walker in 1957.  This style of network diagramming has largely faded from use.

Activity-on-Arrow Diagram

Activity-on-Arrow Diagram


PDM = Precedence Diagramming Method. Also called AON (Activity on Node).  PDM was the second of the CPM techniques developed by Dr. John Fondahl, and published in 1961.  PDM is the standard form of CPM networking used today.


Precedence diagram


PERT = Programme Evaluation Review Technique. PERT was developed by the US Navy in 1957 in parallel with CPM and used an identical ADM network.   PERT differentiates from CPM in several ways.  Its focus in on the probability of achieving an event (eg, the completion of a phase or activity), the expected duration of each activity is calculated from three time estimates using a ‘modified Beta distribution’ (optimistic, most likely and pessimistic).  The ‘PERT Critical Path’ is calculated using the ‘expected’ durations and very simplistic probability assessments can be made based on the variability in the three estimates (but only on a single path).  PERT calculations for the ‘expected’ durations can be applied to PDM networks but are only of value if all of the links are ‘Finish-to-Start’. PERT is simplistic and significantly less accurate than the modern Monte Carlo analysis. For more on this see: Understanding PERT.


Calling any deterministic CPM schedule a PERT Chart is simply wrong; PERT is defined by three time estimates! Using PERT when you could use Monte Carlo is stupid – the information generated is less accurate. And inventing new names for existing processes is confusing and damaging.

Guild of Project Controls Compendium and Reference (GPCCAR)

GPC-LogoThe global community of time and cost practitioners / managers are collaborating to develop The Guild of Project Controls Compendium and Reference (GPCCAR) .  The GPCCAR is a suite of process-based documents that demonstrate what 1000’s of contributors believe constitutes Project Controls.

The GPCCAR is intended to be an evolving global statement as to what we, the practitioners, believe constitutes our role as “project controllers”. The exciting part is that anyone with an opinion (and justification) is free to propose amendments and additional references.

The first section has been released; each week ‘The Guild’ be releasing the next module. At the footer of each of the Modules there are details of how you can get involved to change or improve upon this initial baseline.

To access the GPCCAR see: http://www.planningplanet.com/guild/GPCCAR/

Registration is required, membership of the Planning Planet web community (free – you just need to create a profile), or the Guild of Project Controls.

The Guild of Project Controls will be using the GPCCAR to underpin its emerging project controls certification framework.

The Guild of Project Controls – free Beta Test Examination

The Guild is calling for employers / companies to open up their office or conference room on Wednesday the 5th August 2015 and to supply a minimum of 10 junior level planning & scheduling candidates who have approximately 1 to 3 year’s planning / scheduling experience to sit the beta version of the Foundation Level Certification in Planning & Scheduling examination and set a world-wide benchmark.

If you are interested, read more at: http://www.pgcs.org.au/about/news/

Governance and the Magna Carta

On the 15th June 1215 the Magna Carta (Latin for “the Great Charter”), was sealed by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor. Drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons.

Magna carta

Unfortunately, neither side stood behind their commitments, leading to civil war with the rebel barons receiving active support from France. After John’s death, the regency government of his young son, Henry III, reissued the document in 1216, stripped of some of its more radical content, and at the end of the civil war in 1217 it formed part of the peace treaty agreed at Lambeth, where the document acquired the name Magna Carta.

The 1297 version of Magna Carta

The 1297 version of Magna Carta

Short of funds, Henry reissued the charter again in 1225 in exchange for a grant of new taxes; and his son, Edward I, repeated the exercise in 1297, this time confirming it as part of England’s statute law. But as important as this document is in English history, it was not ‘unique’ – the Magna Carta is based on a long Anglo-Saxon tradition of governance.

The 1215 Magna Carter was based on The Charter of Liberties, proclaimed by Henry I a century earlier. Henry I was King of England from 1100 to 1135; he was the fourth son of William the Conqueror and came to the throne on the death of his bother in a hunting accident. The Charter of Liberties issued upon his accession to the throne in 1100, and was designed to counteract many of the excesses of his bother William II and shore up support for Henry.  Among other things the Charter of Liberties restored the law of Edward the Confessor one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England.

Anglo-Saxon law itself has a long history; the Textus Roffensis currently held in the archives at Rochester, Kent, documents Anglo-Saxon laws from the 7th Century. These laws and practices suggest the rights of individuals were fairly well protected and the King was responsible for governing within the law (see: Arbitration has a long history).

The Norman Conquest of 1066 brought a more imperial style of governing that flowed from the Roman Emperors (post Julius Cesar), based on ‘the divine right of kings’ and a feudal system that placed the King at the top of a hierarchy of power based on the control of land – the King owned all of the land and granted it to Barons in return for allegiance and taxes.  The only limitation on the King’s power was the willingness of his barons to accept the King’s rule and if they did not, rebellion was their only option. This type of ‘absolute’ power was wound back a little by the Magna Carta which guaranteed the rights of Nobles and the Church but did little for ordinary people.

However, during the course of its repeated ‘re-issuing’ the Magna Carta did pave the way for Parliamentary government and stood as a powerful counter to attempts by monarchs to assert the divine right of Kings as late at the 17th Century. By the end of the 17th century, England’s constitution was seen as a social contract, based on documents such as Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, and the Bill of Rights. These concepts were taken to the Americas by the early colonists and formed part of the underpinnings of the USA constitution.

The governance message from the Mana Carta is the need for the ‘governor’ to respect the rights of the people being governed. The closer a governor gets to absolute power the greater the tendency to despotism and corruption. Effective governance systems balance the needs and rights of the governor and the governed, operate within an open framework, incorporate checks and balances, and adapt to changing circumstances. ‘Absolute systems’ are almost incapable of changing progressively, the usual course is the governors apply more and more coercion to stay ‘in power’ until eventually the whole system is destroyed by revolution or catastrophe; damaging everyone.

Following Magna Carta, the English constitution evolved and adapted to change and certainly since the restoration of the Monarchy after the English Civil War and Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell has been designed to adapt and change. Corporate and organisational governance has followed a similar trend and evolved from its inception in the early 17th century into its modern form (see: The origins of governance).

However, whilst the concept of governance has been evolving and the purpose of good governance is to balance the needs and expectations of all stakeholders to the common good, governance failures remain commonplace.  Our last blog post Governance and stakeholders highlighted three recent governance failures; the discussion on FIFA in particular highlighting the danger of concentrating nearly absolute power in the hands of one person.

There are some interesting parallels, eight hundred years ago on the banks of the Thames an embattled King John met the English barons who had backed his failed war against the French and were seeking to limit his powers. The sealing of the Magna Carta, symbolically at least, established a new relationship between the king and his subjects. Eight days ago, Sepp Blatter met his advisors near the banks of Lake Genève and sealed his fate by announcing his resignation from FIFA. If FIFA survives, it is highly likely the powers of his successor will be similarly limited by a new ‘charter’.

The bigger question though, is how can these excesses be avoided in future? History tells us that transparency and good information is one of the keys to avoiding excess, as is making the ‘governors’ accountable to the governed.  Another is the affected stakeholders being willing to assert their rights before a situation gets out of hand and more desperate measures become necessary.

On two separate occasions I’ve been lucky enough to see one of the four remaining copies of the original Magna Carter, once at Lincoln in the UK, and once as part of an exhibition in Canberra. As we reflect on this document and its 800 year history its worth considering its key message, that good governance requires both limits on power and for the governors to consider the interests of their stakeholders; if these two elements are present, the likelihood of governance failure is going to be significantly reduced. This is equally true for national governments, organisational governance and the governing of projects, programs and portfolios.

Certainly, as far as the governing of projects, programs and portfolios is concerned, both the EVA18 Project Controls Conference in England and our local Project Governance and Controls Symposium are organised by people who believe one of the keys to good governance is having open, effective and robust reporting system in place that deliver accurate information to all relevant stakeholders. The challenge we face is persuading more organisations to invest in this key underpinning of good governance – hopefully we won’t have to wait another 800 years…

PGCS 2015 is declared an outstanding success

The outstanding success of the 2015 Project Governance and Controls Symposium (PGCS), held in Canberra last week, builds on 25 years of similar events and has been the subject of a news story posted on the APM website (UK) about Steve Wake’s travels to Australia and his presentation at the PGCS:  https://www.apm.org.uk/news/apm-chairman-highlights-contribution-project-controls-global-scale

L to R: Kym Henderson (PGCS), Yvonne Butler (AIPM), Steve Wake (APM) and Pat Weaver (Mosaic)

L to R: Kym Henderson (PGCS), Yvonne Butler (AIPM), Steve Wake (APM) and Pat Weaver (Mosaic)

The PGCS is designed to make the connection between organisational governance and project controls.  Project controls cannot operate effectively without the protection of senior management. Frank and fearless reporting of status and issues cannot be assumed if the middle levels of management have the capability to restrict negative information.  Conversely, executive management decisions depend on accurate and realistic assessments of risk, schedule and cost.  Creating a culture where this type of information is not only available but accepted and used properly is the key governance issue within the project, program and portfolio domain.

To facilitate this objective, the PGCS invites prominent international and Australian speakers to its annual conference, and then works to build connections and make the knowledge available through both personal contacts and the resources section of the www.pgcs.org.au website which now has all of this years presentations uploaded.

You may have missed the Symposium, but you, and everyone on the project controls and governance communities are invited to make use of this resource, join in the conversation, and start planning for the 2016 Symposium, scheduled for the 11th and 12th May 2016.

Project Governance and Controls Symposium (PGCS) Canberra

Four years ago I was looking for a name to describe the governance and controls ‘conference’ we were intending to spin out of the PMOZ conference.  There appeared to be a real opening for a ‘focused event’ looking at the mutual interdependence and almost symbiotic relationship between governance and project controls, and Canberra seemed to be the ideal location.

The synthesis between good governance and effective controls is obvious, if not well understood or implemented:

  • Project controls cannot operate effectively without the protection of senior management. Frank and fearless reporting of status and issues cannot be assumed if the middle levels of management have the capability to restrict negative information.
  • Conversely, executive management decisions depend on accurate and realistic assessments of risk, schedule and cost. Creating a culture where this type of information is not only available but accepted and used properly is the key governance issue within the project, program and portfolio domain.

Finding a name was a different challenge….

The first bit was easy if the KISS principle is applied.  ‘Project governance and controls’ – we knew the program was intended to cover a lot more than just ‘projects’; at a minimum, programs, portfolios, benefits realisation and change management were in the mix but can all fit under the general umbrella of ‘projects’.

More challenging was deciding on what type of event we wanted and therefore what name to use……   Symposium is a slightly old fashioned word but it has a long history and a quite specific meaning that fitted perfectly with the type of event we were planning.

The modern definitions are a good starting point:

  • A formal conference or meeting at which several specialists deliver short addresses on a topic or on related topics or a collection of essays or papers on a particular subject by a number of contributors. Fits perfectly, we have a clearly defined topic, internationally recognised experts, and after May, will have most of the presentations from the last four symposia indexed and freely available on our website.
  • A social gathering at which there is a free interchange of ideas or a convivial discussion. One of the key elements in the PGCS design is facilitating the exchange of ideas both within Australia and with the wider international community.

The origins of the term are slightly less focused on knowledge transfer and learning.   Symposium originally referred to a drinking party or convivial discussion, especially as held in ancient Greece after a banquet (and notable as the title of a work by Plato).


Certainly in the late 16th century a ‘symposium’ denoting a drinking party: via Latin

  • from Greek sumposion, from sumpotēs ‘fellow drinker’,
  • from sun- ‘together’ + potēs  ‘drinker’.

The annual PGCS reception at the ADFA Officers Mess fits here although we do expect professional behaviour. The reception flows on from the conclusion of day one’s formal presentations – the hot topic for discussion this year should be the ‘One Defence’ presentation by Ms. Roxanne Kelley, accompanied by Air Vice Marshal Neil Hart.

After the reception, here is plenty of time for visitors to Canberra (not to mention locals) to move ‘down town’ and enjoy one of the many excellent restaurants in Civic or further afield. Whilst not a formal part of the conference, I can recall a number of memorable evenings for the first three years and I’m looking forward to what eventuates this year…… (but reporting on attempts, if any, to emulate the ‘Ancient Greek’ version of ‘symposium’ is proscribed by Chatham House Rules).

Certainly the three events to date have lived up to the modern concept of a ‘symposium’ and have demonstrated that both ‘governance’ and ‘controls’ can be usefully discussed in a convivial atmosphere.

It’s not too late to sign up for the next PGCS, hosted by Platinum Sponsors, UNSW Canberra; the symposium will be held at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) on the 6th and 7th May, more information see: http://www.pgcs.org.au/