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Defining the Project Schedule Hierarchy

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 7/6/2011

This article discusses how to define the project schedule hierarchy.

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    When undertaking a new project, the first step to take is to define the project schedule hierarchy. Defining the project schedule hierarchy easily leads into defining the work breakdown structure.

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    Constructing Objectives

    First, a list of objectives must be constructed. Objectives are goals for the project. There are three levels of objectives:

    • Policy
    • Strategic
    • Operational

    An example of a policy objective might be to increase the growth of the company. An example of a strategic objective might be to increase employee productivity. An operational objective might be to implement a new project management software.

    The levels of objectives are not unrelated. In the above example, implementing new project management software (operational) leads to increased employee productivity (structural) and to increased company growth (policy).

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    Ask "Why?" and "How?"

    With objectives listed, the questions “Why" and “How" must be answered. For example, if the policy objective is to increase income by $10,000 per month, then ask the question “Why?" Perhaps the reason is to help fund research for a new product the company wishes to release next year. The second question to ask is “How?" This question could be answered by saying, “Find new clients" and “Charge more for services."

    Why is it important to go a step further with objectives? To create ease in crafting a workable project schedule hierarchy and a reliable work breakdown structure, it is important to understand the power behind the objective. By asking, “why," you can uncover the reasons behind the objective. This is a vital step to avoiding “meaningless" objectives. It also avoids questioning from team members. By asking, “how," you are offering a tangible solution, and thus making sure that your objective is a meaningful one. Your answer to “how" will bring you down to the next level in your project schedule hierarchy.

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    Identify Measurable Results and Underlying Assumptions

    Measureable results must be identified. In the above example, this can be done by tracking the income increases either in a ledger or through accounting software. As I have mentioned elsewhere, it is vital to track the right metrics. Metrics worth tracking will be continuous and will relate directly to objectives.

    Assumptions might include that payment will be on time, that more clients in your field can be found or that the market will bear higher rates. Assumptions are underlying factors that could become defects in the project if not carefully managed.

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    Work Breakdown Structure

    The work breakdown structure does not include actions. Rather, it includes the outcome. It allows the project team to visualize the steps and levels in the project schedule hierarchy. To create a WBS follow these steps:

    1. Begin at the top of a page with your policy objectives.

    2. Connect each policy objective with it’s “how" or strategic objectives. These will be the next level, underneath the first.

    3. Each strategic objective will have underneath it any operational objectives.

    4. Once all objectives have been mapped, it is time to number them. Numbering follows a decimal system. The first level will have the numbers 1, 2, 3…corresponding to each policy objective. The second level will be numbered 1.1, 1.2, 2.1 and the third level will be numbered 1.1.1, 1.2.1 etc. (See example below).

    By following this simple step-by step plan, you can define the project schedule hierarchy with relative ease.

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A Primer on Project Schedules

Need help creating your initial project schedule or looking for tips on how to keep your schedule on track? Check out this series of articles and find templates, examples, tricks of the trade, and more.
  1. Examples of Project Schedules
  2. Components of a Project Schedule
  3. How Good Is Your Project Schedule?
  4. Defining the Project Schedule Hierarchy
  5. Visio 2007: How to Design Project Schedules