Professional Practice Skills

PPS-6: Project Planning (Scheduling)

(Adapted from MPS 23, Don Woods 2003)


Pre-class assignment

  1. Read sections What is It?, New Concepts, Why Do It?, How to Do It, and Learning Objectives
  2. Establish your Baseline on this skill on the Project Planning Feedback Form.
  3. Be able to describe Work breakdown and Gantt charts when asked in class.


What is It?

Project planning includes the prediction of the tasks necessary to achieve a goal, the estimation of required resources to accomplish the tasks, and the scheduling of people and tasks to meet the deadline.  Project completion requires commitment of time from individuals to make steady progress by completing the checklist of tasks.


New Concepts

Gantt Chart, PERT/CPM, Work Breakdown, Time Commitment, Progress Reports


Why Do It

Engineers typically spend more of their time managing projects than writing and solving equations.  Successful project management is one of the primary paths to increased responsibility and rank in companies.


Project management skills are also useful in personal life or community service projects.  Rave organizers are famous for using these techniques.


How to Do It

If you are considering a major project, let’s say building an addition on a house, you will want to know several things:


We are going to answer those questions at a relatively simple level that will get you through many small and medium level projects.  Beyond that, there are a wealth of resources regarding project management in the form of books, software, and short courses.


The question, “What has to be done?”, is answered by your original statement of goals (PHPS-3 Goals and Assessment).  You can assess when you are done because you can compare with the clear, measurable criteria you developed in PPS-2.


The question “How long will it take?” is the main focus of this unit.  First we’ll break down the task into specific activities.  Second, we’ll estimate the required time for each activity, and schedule them using a Gantt Chart.  Alternatively, we can use PERT/CPM as a tool to analyze the schedule of activities.


The question “Who is going to do it?” also depends upon a good task breakdown.  We can use the list of activities to match talent with task.  The Gantt chart or PERT/CPM chart can also be used to determine how many people are needed, especially at different stages of the process.


The question “How much will it cost?” can also be addressed using the task breakdown.  We can estimate the costs of the people and equipment for each task.


Work Breakdown

In the Work Breakdown step, general tasks are broken down to specific tasks to make it easier to estimate time, costs, required expertise, and to plan the best sequence of events.


For example, suppose we are adding a room on to the house, and one general task is to frame the walls.  Unless you have framed a lot of walls, estimating the time and cost will be difficult.  Some of sub tasks are listed below.

Breaking the main task in into smaller subtasks makes easier.  We can more easily get a handle on how long it takes to get a load at Menard’s,than how long it takes to frame a room.  The work breakdown also gives us a start on cost estimating, since it will be the basis for a material list and prediction of person-hours.


We also need to determine which tasks are sequential and which are parallel.  For our room addition example, the walls must be framed before the roof is put on (sequential), but the roof trusses could be constructed at the same time as the wall framing (parallel). 


The sequential tasks generally control the time to complete a project, since work on one task can’t begin until the previous task is complete.  With parallel projects, you may be able to throw more people at the problem to speed things along (more wall framers and truss builders).  With sequential tasks, more people are a smaller advantage (there is no point in paying roofers to watch the masons complete the foundation).  Note that adding more people to a task doesn’t always make work go faster.  If you are trying to bake a cake, you can imagine putting so many people in the kitchen that work stops completely.


One way to organize the work breakdown is in spreadsheet form, as shown below.  The information entered in the columns (Time to Accomplish, Depends On, Needed For), are useful for constructing the Gantt and PERT/CPM charts




Task #


Time to


Depends On

(has prerequisites)

Needed For

(is prerequisite)












Estimating time

Once you have the list of sub tasks, you can total the number of person-hours required for the project.  Unfortunately, this is only part of estimating how long the project will take.  We have to consider the sequence of events (PERT/CPM can help here), the availability and number of people (especially those with specific expertise), and how much time you will be waiting.


Much project time is spent waiting – waiting for response to e-mail or phone calls, waiting for dies or parts to arrive, and waiting for approvals from on high.  While we are waiting for other people to do stuff, we still need to make progress, so it is important to plan for those waiting periods.


If you tell me (or your boss) that you can’t meet a deadline because you are waiting for someone else, I (they) will ask, “Was this an unpredictable delay?, When did you request the info/part?, When and how did you follow-up to expedite receipt?, What did you do in the meantime.?”  Humans are fallible, so be persistent in following up request for information or orders.  For situations in which you rely on outside parties, you should develop contingency plans.


Gantt Chart

A Gantt chart (example shown below) is simply an organized graphical schedule.  It can help you get an overview of the project and see relationships between tasks.  To fill it out, you consider deadlines, required person hours, available people, delivery times, and sequential tasks.  Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get it right the first time.























Define Problem























Analyze Alternatives











Make Drawings











Build Device












Prepare Oral Presentation











Write Report













The Gantt chart does a good job of showing deadlines and can show some of the sequential nature of the tasks, but is not so good at identifying mid process deadlines and bottlenecks in the process. 



A PERT/CPM (Program Evaluation Review Technique, Critical Path Method) chart is more like a flow chart with lines representing tasks and nodes representing events or milestones. By convention, the arrows go from left to right.  Nodes represent the end and beginning of sequential activities.  Arrows diverging from a node indicate parallel activities.  For example, a portion of the PERT/CPM chart for the room addition is shown below.


This chart tells us several things:


It is particularly useful when planning large projects.  One can follow the sequential tasks to determine the critical path, and therefore predict total project length.  Developing and interpreting PERT/CPM charts involves more than the overview we are discussing here.  A simple place to start is with the following link.  Other links are at that site if you want to learn more.,,sid9_gci331391,00.html


Who does it?

The Gantt and PERT/CPM charts tell you the start and end of each task but do not tell you about the people assigned to each task.  For that, an additional chart like the one shown below can organize the people assigned to the project.



Time Commitment

Define Problem

Johnson-3hr, Adonski-3hr, Mathers-3hr


Johnson-3hr, Adonski-20hr, Mathers-15hr


Each task may be the responsibility of a different “expert” (e.g., mason, carpenter, roofer).  In that case, the project manager coordinates and oversees the experts to keep the whole project on track.


In the case of student projects, individual members may wish to “contract” to be the expert for a specific task.  They will then be responsible for that portion of the project.  Formal written agreements regarding responsibilities should be recorded in the meeting minutes.


Keeping Track

Supervisors often ask project managers or teams to write periodic reports (Progress Reports) so management can keep track of progress.  These are often viewed as “make-work” that distracts from the “real” work of the project. 


If the supervisor’s mission is to “serve and protect”, the progress report can be a tool for making life better for the guys in the trenches.  The supervisor can call in “air strikes” to eliminate barriers, can re-supply with additional people or equipment, or can remove the wounded or incompetent.


The progress report need not be long.  It should:




Learning Objectives

You should be able to:

  1. Take a task and break it into smaller subtasks for which you can estimate time to accomplish.
  2. Determine which tasks depend upon other tasks and which can be done in parallel.
  3. Create a Gantt Chart.
  4. Create a PERT/CPM Chart (advanced).
  5. Develop a time commitment chart for group members.
  6. Write a progress report.




Exercise 1 (10 min.): As an individual and as part of a small group, break down a task into component parts such that you can estimate the time required for each


Exercise 2 (10 min.): As an individual and as part of a small group, examine a list of tasks and determine which depend upon completion of others, and which can be done in parallel

Project Planning Feedback Form


Name _______________________                     


1.       At the outset of this unit, place a “B” in each category to indicate your self assessment of your initial, or baseline skill level.

2.       At the end of the unit place an “A” in each category to indicate your self assessment of your skill level after practicing the skill.  Be prepared to provide documentation for your assessment.



(less successful)


(shows few expert behaviors)



Good Start

(some expert behavior)


Getting There

(many   expert behaviors)


Almost There

(mostly expert behavior)



(shows all expert behavior)




(more successful)

Just do the project with considering individual tasks






When planning a project, break it down into parts to make a work checklist

Don’t plan for amount of time or cost






Use the checklist to estimate time and cost

Don’t worry about deadlines or sequence of tasks






Schedule the project using Gantt chart or other calendar of events

Just continue to work, monitoring progress takes time from task






Monitor progress of project periodically by comparing results with plan




What did I learn from this?




Which of the skills do I do pretty well?  (List Evidence)




Which skills could use some work? (List Evidence)




PPS-6 Project Planning

Assignment 1

Group Project: Work Breakdown


For your project, break the work down into small enough parts that you can estimate the time for completion. 



  1. Complete a chart with the format shown below.


Task #


Time to


Depends on

(has prerequisites)

Needed For

(is prerequisite)












  1.  For each task
    1. Assign a task number
    2. Estimate the time to accomplish
    3. Enter all task numbers that must be done before this task can be started
    4. Enter task numbers for which this task is a prerequisite




Evaluation (by instructor):

Work Breakdown

Excellent (10)  - Task list is sufficiently detailed to predict times; times are believable; task dependencies are correct and thorough

Mediocre (5)  - Task list lacks detail; times are unlikely; task dependencies are not all listed or incorrect.

Weak (0) -  Task list lacks detail; times are fictions; no dependencies or appear


PPS-6   Project Planning

Assignment 2

 Group Task: Gantt Chart


Use the Work Breakdown chart from Assignment 1 to create a Gantt chart.  Note that not all of the individual tasks should show up on the chart.  For this chart, include no more than 10 general tasks.




Make a Gantt Chart


Make a Time Commitment Chart

·         For each general task on the Gantt Chart, list the time commitment of each team member.  If a team member has been assigned responsibility for that task, indicate that also.

·         Use one of the formats shown or other pre-approved format.



Time Commitment

Define Problem

Johnson-3hr, Adonski-3hr, Mathers-3hr


Johnson-3hr, Adonski-20hr, Mathers-15hr



Time Commitment (hours)





Define Problem






20 (leader




Evaluation (by instructor):

Gantt Chart

Excellent (10 pts) –5-10 general tasks shown. Start finish dates are clear and realistic,

Mediocre (5 pts) – <5 or >10 tasks, dates aren’t clear or realistic, hand written.

Weak (0 pts) - missing chart, missing dates, scribbled


Time Commitment Chart

Excellent (10 pts) – Reasonable times (for task, and for course), chart shows all tasks and group members and is standard format

Mediocre (5 pts) – unreasonable times, missing tasks or people, non standard format

Weak (0 pts) – missing chart, times, people, format



PPS-6   Project Planning

Assignment 3

(advanced, see additional handout)

Group Task: PERT/CPM Chart


Use the Work Breakdown chart from Assignment 1 to create a PERT/CPM Chart.  Note that not all of the individual tasks should show up on the chart.  For this chart, include no more than 10 general tasks.




Make a PERT/CPM Chart



Evaluation (by instructor):


Excellent (10 pts) –Neatly drawn, 5-10 general tasks shown as labeled arrows. Times are clear and realistic, parallel and sequential nature clear.  Milestones clear and labelled

Mediocre (5 pts) – Not so neat, <5 or >10 tasks, Tasks and/or times aren’t clear or realisitic, milestones are unlabelled.

Weak (0 pts) - missing or very messy chart, missing times, tasks, milestones


PPS-6   Project Management

Assignment 4:

Group Task: Progress Report


Using a Memo format write a progress report to you supervisor.  The listed tasks could represent Headings (Status, Assistance, Potential Problems, Dealing with Problems)



  1. Write Memo including Project Name and Group Designation
  2. Report Project Status in words and with a Task Checklist.  This task checklist should look more like the Work Breakdown list than the abbreviated Gantt chart list.  (e.g. “We are in the third week of a ten week project and are 2 days behind schedule.  The attached checklist of tasks shows that tasks 5 and 7 were completed since the last progress report and work continues on 6 and 8.  ”)
  3. Request Supervisory Assistance, if any (e.g. “Material selection is delayed to lack of response to e-mails by Dr. S___.  We have been e-mailing him every day for a week.  Please ask him to respond.)
  4. Provide heads-up for Potential Problems, if any (e.g. “We were informed by ___ that the MTS servo-hydraulic tensile tester in Moench is down and a technician is coming next week.  If it is not functional by next Thursday we will miss our testing due date.)
  5. Report plans to Deal with problems, if any (e.g.  We were informed that the accelerometer we ordered has gone on back order and will not be available befor the end of the term.  Therefore, we plan to measure velocity and differentiate to get acceleration.  We are discussing the issue with Dr. L___, to overcome computational errors of this approach)


Sample Task Checklist




Due Date

Completion Date/

In Process














Evaluation (by instructor):

Progress Report

Excellent (10 pts) –  All categories addressed, clear checklist, solid progress and/or plan to deal with problems

Mediocre (5 pts) – Missing categories, can’t tell exactly what you have done, poor progress,

Weak (0 pts) - missing memo, no checklist, whined about rather than solve problems, made no progress.


Writing Mechanics

Excellent (10): Neat, mistake free (spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.)

Mediocre:(5)    Two mistakes.

Weak:(0)         More than two structural mistakes.