Ever known someone with a once-beautiful old car that’s been left to rust away — their once prized possession now forgotten in the weeds? Often, a project manager’s schedules succumb to a similar fate.

Consider what would happen if you were to tow that car out of the weeds and take on the project of restoring it. Once restored, it would be very valuable, indeed — a vehicle you’d be proud to own and drive. Reworking and restoring a project schedule, the vehicle that moves the project along, can be similarly rewarding.

In this article I share basic steps for picking up an abandoned project and restoring it.

Examine the Logic of the Project

First, you’ll want to take an inventory of what you have. Open your schedule and really look at it. Far too often, owners of schedules treat them like spreadsheets, never expanding the view over to the right to include the Gantt view. They’re caught up in the numbers and dates, failing to look at the logical flow and relationships. Try rolling the sections up to highest level and begin to expand each level. Does it make sense? More often than not, what I frequently see at this point are more lines going up and down than left to right, in some cases almost completely covering up the Gantt bars (as shown in Figure 1).

Figure 1. An example of the “bar code” project schedule.

How to Restore an Abandoned Project Schedule

This is what I like to call a “bar code.” I even had one client who tried to scan it thinking perhaps some higher power was at play sending a message of pending doom or that there was some hidden master plot to sabotage the project.

This generally crops up with schedule owners who know just enough to be dangerous. They’ve heard that constraints can be bad; so in an attempt to avoid these, they manipulate the links tying everything back to anchor dates (usually the start) while abusing lead and lag in order to force the dates where they think they should be. It has been said that nearly 75 percent of all links in most schedules are redundant in nature.

If your schedule looks like this, its time to strip the whole thing down to each individual part, just like when you restore an antique car. Remove the rust, moss, and weeds by deleting many of the relationships. Now its time to reexamine each part. Do the hours, durations, and resources make sense? Do these need to be revised More often than not, they do. Time is your friend here. Think about what you’ve learned from the onset of the project. Now is the time to start applying some of that hindsight.

Peel Back Resource Assignments

Over-allocation is another area to scrutinize. This can potentially be even worse if you’re working in an enterprise environment. Switch to the resource usage view and change the time scale to weeks or months. Look for the weeks or months that show up in red. Many people get too carried away here trying to solve at too granular a level. If you see one week with 60 hours followed by one with 20 hours, for example, its best to assume some averaging will occur. Resources will work according to their schedule rather than some mandate your schedule has assigned to them. Theyre likely smarter than we give them credit for.

Most people get themselves into trouble from the very start by using the default, out of the box task type (Fixed Units). When you assign by this method, everything is assigned at 100 percent. Before long, you have a resource assigned more than a thousand hours in a month. Given that the average work month is around 160 hours, how do you imagine the work will get done? Short of being able to instantly clone people, its not going to work.

Here’s something else to consider. Who works on only one task at a time, 100 percent of the time? I don’t know anyone who does, so why assign work that way A better way is to use fixed duration, non-effort driven. You can always change it after the schedule is complete. Most people can estimate how many hours something will take. Keep in mind; your resources more than likely have other things they’ll be doing already, so give them more time (duration) to get work accomplished. Let Project do its job and calculate units. If you did a good job, you should see something, I’d hope, less than 75 percent units at most. This amounts to about 30 hours a week which, with everything else on someones plate, is a reasonable number provided they have no other major assignments at the same time. In summary, always book your resources to less than 100 percent units.

Last Step: Reassembly

After you’ve cleaned up each task, begin reassembling the pieces starting with the highest level first and working your way down to the lowest level. Last but not least, be sure to reschedule your unfinished work and update your schedule to current status date.

Figure 2. The same project’s summary outline, after restoration.

How to Restore an Abandoned Project Schedule

Reworking your project schedule by completing these steps will reward you with a beautifully restored vehicle you can proudly drive around the organization.