Is a Project Schedule of Availability Really Needed?

As I continue my research on what executives need/want in a project management tool, one snippet that I periodically hear is the desire for a tool that helps with resource management. It sounds like executives think they need a tool that will tell them how much resource availability (and in this case, we are talking about people) they have in their organization, so they can make appropriate project selection decisions. It sounds like a reasonable idea. In this blog, I will explain what the schedule of availability is, when the premise of its use fails, and why we should consider an alternative.

As a quick aside, let me say that I strongly prefer the word people, over resources and stakeholders. We all need to continue to remind ourselves of the humanity in our organizations, and the terms resources and stakeholders feel so clinical. But I understand that these words have their place in the discussion.

We all need to continue to remind ourselves of the humanity in our organizations, and the terms resources and stakeholders feel so clinical. Click To Tweet

Maybe we need to start with some definitions. In this context, I will use the word capacity to indicate an organization’s ability to execute a new project or set of projects. Executives obviously need to know whether they have the bandwidth to take on a new initiative before they get going.

What is a schedule of availability?

A schedule of availability is a calendar that indicates who is available and when. Businesses that rely on people to show up on time and perform their jobs use them to organize the shifts. They are vital to the way a restaurant, for example, operates. The wait staff and kitchen staff must show up and be there.

But most business projects require more than just making sure people show up to do their jobs. They need their people to produce results. And that means their brains have to be firing. As research is starting to confirm, the human brain is not turned on by a time clock.

Let’s back up a bit and try to understand where we got the notion of a schedule of availability, and its importance to a project. While project management and the Gantt chart have been around for over a century, they have their origin in an engineering world — a world that is a pretty linear.

Microsoft then introduced its Project software, and in doing so, codified the Gantt chart approach. Project management professionals began building Gantt charts for projects in the business world, without really questioning the validity of a well-entrenched tool.

One of the foundational pieces in the Gantt chart approach, and Microsoft Project, is this schedule of availability — which the project manager builds into the software. Once that data, and the many different tasks and their estimated durations are entered into the software tool, the Gantt chart can be automatically created and edited.

I would argue that spending hours to create a schedule of availability is a waste of time. It may or may not tell you whether you have the capacity to execute a new initiative. Here’s why.

The traditional schedule of availability doesn’t work in the 21stcentury professional world.

Most professionals today don’t work in a time clock environment. They expect some flexibility and some kind of work — life balance. They often work in a rapidly changing and unpredictable environment, so a large competitor or supplier’s announcement from the night before can change an organization’s direction quickly.

Many professionals work on multiple projects at the same time, and an unexpected development on one could derail progress on another.

In law firms, the situation is even worse. Not only do the attorneys have to focus on the needs of the client and what the other side might be doing, they have the law to think about. Who knows when a judge might render an opinion that could turn their case upside down, or direct a lawyer to show up in court on short notice?

The best professionals have strong wills and opinions. They are busy people. Their schedules are often not entirely theirs to control. They juggle lots of priorities, with many commitments, including families. So, the idea that professionals can or will give you a true schedule of availability is rather ludicrous.

And when they are required to do so, the project manager will be constantly editing and tweaking the schedule to account for the changes. So, do we really need a schedule of availability for the people on the team? Or do we need people to commit to getting the work done?

I don’t care how many hours of availability the schedule shows. What I want to know is whether that person will look me in the eye and commit to getting the work (whatever it might be) done. I don’t care when she or he does it, unless someone else needs to be involved. But even then, why isn’t that her or his problem?

What I need is someone who can deliver value. It’s not about availability. It’s about results.

What I need is someone who can deliver value. It’s not about availability. It’s about results. Click To Tweet

A schedule of availability does not measure true capacity.

The second problem is that it is a myth that availability is any indicator of capacity.

I think my views on resource management, which I gather are rather contrarian, stem from the work I’ve done with non-profits while raising five children. Whenever I wanted something really important done I would ask the busiest person I knew. And if he or she said yes, I knew I could count on him or her to deliver results. Yet, the Gantt chart approach to project management depends on a schedule of availability.

Creating a schedule of availability and keeping it accurate requires a lot of work. And it does a lousy job of predicting capacity. We need an alternative. Next week, I’ll outline some ideas. Stay tuned. Sign up for my newsletter if you don’t want to miss this. I also include a book review each week.

Writes on project management, leadership, team building, and value delivery. Imagining work management in the future. Smartprojex.com