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 helps us
• 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
• Manage risk
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
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 do is:
• 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 (see below).
• 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.
• Total 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.
• Free Float
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
5.1 Meetings with your supervisor
Meetings with your supervisor provide valuable project management
opportunities. You could:
• Check your progress
• Make decisions
• 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.
• Grumpy supervisors
• 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?
• Predicting Risk
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.
• Evaluating Risk
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
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
• Controlling Risk
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
• New processes
• New domain
• Lack of customer/user involvement
• Overestimating productivity
• 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