Project Planning and Timetabling
The following lecture will provide knowledge on how to apply basic project
management techniques to help plan a dissertation project. Planning is important as it
Predict the start or end of a project
Communicate what we intend to do in our project and how we intend to do it
Highlight any problems at an early stage
MS-Project is a widely used tool from Microsoft to help plan projects. This tool has
much more functionality than you’ll ever need for your project but contains one key
function – Gantt Charts.
2.1 Gantt Charts
Gantt Charts are named after Henry Gantt and have been around since the 1st World
War. They are the commonest graphical representation of plans. Here’s an example:
Figure 1 - A Gantt chart in MS-Project
They are easy for novices to construct and interpret and they also show the critical
path (see below) for a project but they are not great at showing precedence.
MS-project provides other charts and views to represent your project but none are
more commonly used than the Gantt chart.
For help getting to grip with Gantt charts go to Microsoft’s website at:
and click on the “Training” link in the top left hand corner.
Figure 2 - Website
Alternatively, some older versions of MS-Project may have built in tutorials under the
Help > Getting Started menu.
Figure 3 - MS-Project help
The first challenge in project planning is identifying tasks. The first thing you need to
Brainstorm main tasks, e.g.
o Literature review
o Hand in portfolio
o Design experiments
Estimating task durations can prove tricky so here is a hint to help you:
Once you have identified the main tasks try to subdivide them until each is
about 1 to 2 weeks in duration
o If you can get down to days then great, but beware of the need for
contingencies (see later)
3.2 Dependency/Precedence Relationships
Dependency and precedence relationships between tasks describe what activities must
be done before another activity can take place, e.g.
Boil the kettle before adding water to the cup
Pick up hand set before dialling number
Buy computer system before installing it
Write dissertation before submitting it
Once you have identified tasks and durations, add dependency/precedence
relationships between them where required.
4 Time Management
Managing your time on a project is critical to its success. This section outlines some
concepts to help you manage your time.
4.1 The Critical Path
The critical path is a chain of sequential activities that determine the minimum time
required for the project. The critical path passes through activities with the least float
If you mess with critical tasks (tasks on the critical path) you mess with the
project’s end date!!
You might wish to show your critical path on your Gantt chart. MS-Project
can help you with this.
4.2 Float (Slack)
Float represents the spare time available for your use throughout the project. There
are two different types of float.
o Total float is the amount of time a task can be delayed without
affecting the end date of the project
o Critical paths have zero total float, i.e. no spare time available between
tasks – individual tasks must meet deadlines or you could risk not
meeting the deadline for the entire project.
o Free float is the amount of time a task can be delayed before affecting
the next task.
o Free float is used for managing resources without impacting on future
5 Project Management (PM) Tips
Don’t feel too daunted by the idea of project management. There is one person who
can provide valuable help in this area – your supervisor.
5.1 Meetings with your supervisor
Meetings with your supervisor provide valuable project management opportunities.
Check your progress
Agree changes to your plan
Make good use of meetings with your supervisor as they have good experience of
managing projects such as yours.
Don’t schedule supervisor meetings into your plan unless you have agreed on
them with your supervisor.
The frequency and duration of supervisor meeting will vary from supervisor to
supervisor and student to student. Their duration will also change as your
5.2 Pragmatic Realities of PM
All projects are unique
No project will run exactly to plan – so don’t worry if yours doesn’t
All involve people
PM involves change and decision making – people like neither
A structured approach to PM and tools (MS-Project) will help to make things
Do not be a slave to your plans
o They should be living artefacts
o Change them as necessary
All projects have an element of risk
6 Risk Management
We may have created a project plan but there are events beyond our control, or simply
events we haven’t foreseen. It is impossible to eliminate risk from our projects
completely, risk taking is in human nature but what is risk?
Risk is the chance of adverse consequences occurring
o It is inherent and inevitable
o The degree of risk varies widely
However, we can attempt to minimise any risk in our projects. Firstly we need to
answer these questions:
What risks are there in the project?
How likely are they to occur?
What will their impact be on the project if they do occur?
What can we do to minimise their occurrence?
6.1 Consequences of Risk
If we do not try to remove risk from our projects, we could end up suffering the some
of the following consequences:
Lack of time to fix problems, investigate issues, develop solutions, etc.
Lower marks than expected
Stress, heroics and late nights
6.2 Prediction, Evaluation and Control
We should attempt to predict any risks and control them. But how do we do this?
We can draw on various sources of knowledge and techniques to predict risk:
o Your experience - you may have experienced risk before on a similar
o Your supervisor’s experience – your supervisor will have supervised
many projects over the years similar to yours therefore they are a very
important source of knowledge on what risks may occur.
o Experiments – prototypes may help predict risks during early stages
o Planning - Work through each activity and try to identify what could
go wrong and what the consequences would be.
Once you have predicted possible risks in your project you should perform a
risk evaluation. This will help you to quantify their potential effects. There
are various techniques for doing this:
o Risk Maps - By plotting the probability of a risk occurring against the
impact of the risk the Risk Map helps us determine how to handle the
Figure 4 - Risk Map
o Risk Matrix – Another common approach is to construct a project risk
matrix utilising a checklist of possible risks and to classify each risk
according to its relative importance and likelihood.
Figure 5 - Risk Matrix
Once you have predicted possible risks in your project you can attempt to
control them through:
o Contingencies – Plan B’s in case your main plan goes wrong. Often
each risk will have an associated contingency plan.
o Planning – By being prepared for risks in advance you can minimise
6.3 Risks to Watch Out for…
New technology – you may not understand how to use it properly and tasks
will take longer than expected
Lack of customer/user involvement
Unspecified qualitative requirements
Growing feature/bug list.
“If a project has no risks, don’t do it”
“Risk management is project management for adults”
o De Marco and Lister
You are required to produce a project plan using MS-Project
This plan should include a Gantt chart
o You can experiment with other views if you like (e.g. PERT), but make
sure you have the Gantt view in your plan.
You should provide a discussion of the plan including consideration of risk