Schedule Visibility Tasks

by Humphreys & Associates on October 1, 2022

Using Scheduled Visibility Tasks on DOE Projects

Implementing the use of schedule visibility tasks (SVTs) is one of the scheduling techniques we discuss in our project scheduling training workshops or assist clients to incorporate into their project scheduling procedures. SVTs provide a means to model any time intervals or external activities that can influence the driving paths or critical paths in a project’s integrated master schedule (IMS). The proper use of SVTs can increase visibility into the IMS and help to create an IMS that more accurately forecasts milestone or project completion dates. In this blog, we will discuss the purpose for using SVTs as well as provide insight into how SVTs are often used within Department of Energy (DOE) business environments.

What are Schedule Visibility Tasks?

Schedule visibility tasks (SVTs) are tasks/activities without any resource assignments. They are included to increase the usefulness of the IMS and identify potential impacts to the logic driven network as a result of “hidden” time intervals. These activities may be at a detail level below where the resources are assigned or represent activity critical to the project not performed by project resources. SVTs are often used to model workflow that requires external input or the passage of time without consuming project resources.

By modeling these dependencies as tasks/activities, SVTs provide increased management visibility as they clearly communicate a planned workflow in a sequence of activities such as the delivery time for a critical piece of equipment or time the customer needs to review a specification. They are often a better alternative to using schedule lags or constrained milestones because they can be separately identified to explain the time interval and why it is in the schedule. Figure 1 illustrates the typical use of a lag.

Figure 1 Example of using a lag of 20 days on a Finish to Start activity

The problem is it is not clear why that lag has been added. The purpose of the lag gets lost in the schedule details. Lags should be used with caution, especially longer lags, because they often represent time that is better modeled with a task. Answering the question of why the lag is there can help to identify instances where an SVT would be a better choice. Figure 2 illustrates how an SVT can improve visibility into those “hidden” time intervals.

Figure 2 Example of incorporating an SVT to explain why a time interval is included in the schedule

Using and Applying SVTs

During the project planning phase and construction of the IMS, the sequence of work is modeled to represent the project team’s approach to meeting the project objectives and deliverables. The project team defines the work, assigns resources, establishes target durations, and models the workflow within the critical path network based IMS. As they develop this plan, the project team identifies and includes activities that are critical to the project but do not require project resources to create a more complete plan. They label these tasks/activities as SVTs and include them in the sequence of work. In some instances, detail steps may be required to model the workflow. These steps may be below the level where resources are applied and would be represented as an SVT. These detail steps may also represent work being done by a subcontractor or other entities external to the project team. A project team could also use SVTs to model schedule margin or DOE owned schedule contingency.

As noted above, SVTs are often more desirable than using lags to represent time passage. When there is a known time interval for external processing or review and the project team has insight into the progress of that activity, an SVT makes it easy for them to record the status and update the forecast dates instead of adjusting a lag associated with the logic. Using a lag may make sense when the time interval is purely based on the passage of time and has limited variability such as paint drying or concrete curing. In these instances, the usage of a lag may be just as effective when there is a common understanding of why the lag was associated with an activity.

Manufacturing work could also be represented with SVTs. If a project includes fabrication assembly work effort, and that work is being planned and managed within a Manufacturing/Enterprise Resource Planning (M/ERP) environment, SVTs could be used as a way to model a summary level of the workflow. The labor and material resources for the workflow may be summarized into work packages with elements of cost within the appropriate control accounts. The use of SVTs in this case allows for a summary activity to reside in the IMS without having to duplicate the detail that is within the M/ERP system.

The main object of planning and scheduling is to model the project plan in the IMS and include enough information to communicate the workflow. When additional information is useful for defining and communicating the plan, so all stakeholders have a better understanding of the sequence of work, incorporating SVTs is an excellent scheduling technique to increase visibility.

DOE Specific Definition and Use of SVTs

For contractors that do business with the DOE, the DOE recently published a Planning and Scheduling Guide (413.3-24 released in April 2022) that includes more specific definitions and guidance for SVTs and related schedule modeling techniques. This new guide provides insight into the current DOE thoughts on SVTs. DOE recognizes three specific techniques for modeling unique situations in the IMS. Their usage guidance follows.

  1. Schedule Visibility Tasks (SVTs). SVTs account for time in a schedule without using a lag. Resources are not applied to SVTs.  SVTs may be used to represent work done by others and their resources or costs are not included in the IMS. Activities or milestones that are not a part of the scope of work for the project, but may potentially impact project activities, may be represented in the IMS as an SVT. When schedule margin is included in the IMS, it is represented in the IMS as an SVT.
  2. Zero Budget Activities (ZBAs). As the label implies, these activities do not have budget and are used to provide visibility. ZBAs are specifically used to represent subcontractor activity. The subcontractor effort is supported by a schedule of values to determine budget allocation and performance status. DOE limits ZBAs to activities that are supported by a schedule of values. The activities/milestones are assigned a unique activity code value of “PM” and “Payment Milestone” is included in their activity descriptions.
  3. ETC Only Activities (EOAs). DOE calls out three specific uses of estimate to complete (ETC) only activities. This includes:
    1. Activities reflecting changes in level of effort (LOE) duration when project teams may not change LOE activities in the baseline. EOAs are used to show the forecasted duration of LOE activities even when LOE earned value (the budgeted cost for work performed or BCWP) equals the budget at completion (BAC).
    2. Activities that represent workarounds, emerging work, urgent work, rework, recovery work, and resequencing of effort. These activities are a little different in that resources may be loaded for these activities. Workarounds and/or corrective actions are identified to circumvent or recover from problems. Workaround activities are added as emerging, urgent, or recovery work in the forecast IMS as “ETC Only” activities. These workarounds may warrant a change to the baseline IMS. Should these workarounds become approved baseline changes through change control, they are added to the baseline IMS and treated as a standard type of activity (no longer an EOA). Project teams identify these “ETC Only” activities by including “ETC” in their titles and assigning their activity code value “ETC Only.” Links associated with the workaround activities are included in the forecast IMS by assigning the same work package and control account the work supports. Some workarounds re-sequence or redefine the relationships between activities. Project teams are responsible for ensuring revised critical, near‐critical, and driving paths that incorporate workarounds remain accurate.
    3. Activities for support such as re-time phased Construction Support Services. This is very similar to the LOE specific use but is called out as a unique use in the DOE Planning and Scheduling Guide. There is a DOE whitepaper on Construction Support as LOE (Title III Engineering work scope) that provides additional details that is available on the DOE web site.

Thinking about updating your project scheduling procedures to include scheduling techniques such as schedule visibility tasks (SVTs) or schedule margin task to handle schedule risks on a project? H&A has the project scheduling experts to help you incorporate industry best practices that reflect specific government agency requirements such as the DoD, DOE, NASA, or intelligence community. We also offer hands-on scheduling workshops for Oracle Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project (MSP). Call us today at (714) 685-1730.

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Contract Performance – Variance Thresholds

by Humphreys & Associates on September 1, 2022

Variance Thresholds are an important part of EVMS Variance Analysis. Project managers can use variance thresholds to help identify potential issues with cost and scheduleperformance. By setting these thresholds in advance, project managers can gain visibility into when a cost or schedule variance is trending at a level that needs to be addressed. The goal is to identify issues before they become catastrophic, and while there is still time to correct them before they impact project objectives.

There are a few different ways to set variance thresholds. One common approach is to base them on percentages of expected cost variance over time. This allows project managers to track performance and take corrective action if necessary.

Variance thresholds can be a valuable tool for managing contract performance. By setting these thresholds in advance, project managers can gain visibility into potential issues and take corrective action before they become catastrophic.

Indirect costs can be a tricky topic to navigate, but we’ve got you covered with our in-depth three-part series that breaks down how to determine responsibility for indirect costs.

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