Interactive Planning for Portfolio Management with NetPoint
April 13, 2021
Portfolio and project planning occur continuously during the lifetime of a project to ensure a successful outcome. Effectively facilitating planning sessions among different stakeholders directly contributes to your project’s success by improving stakeholder communication and buy-in. With NetPoint, we can create and modify the schedule in real-time for interactive planning and dynamic communication among project stakeholders.
Buy-in to the plan in the process is essential to the success of your project. Often, a schedule is given to a subcontractor, and they have been told, “This is how you need to do the work.” After a few weeks, the planner hears, “Oh, progress is a little bit behind.” The planner goes to that subcontractor and asks, “Hey, what’s going on?” They respond, “Well, I never really agreed to that plan in the first place. I don’t know what to tell you. Yeah, progress is behind.”
Involving key stakeholders in the planning process allows the general contractor and project management team to understand what is needed for each trade and department to succeed. Developing schedules in NetPoint effectively promotes interactive planning. Our goal is to condense the planning and scheduling into one exercise.
This process doesn’t always have to start with a blank slate. Interactive planning can apply to both schedule development and what-if analysis. Much of planning development considers what-if scenarios. For example, what if you were to have to accelerate a portion of the work and put it on a six- or seven-day schedule? This is important if a project runs through a rough winter and the project team needs to make up some lost time.
Below is an example in NetPoint that resulted from an interactive planning session:
Here is the result of a planning session and some follow-up iterations of a permit and design process being developed for a utility, construction, and maintenance portfolio. The portfolio had roughly 400 projects occurring at one time and a yearly spend of approximately $1 billion.
The portfolio needed to standardize some templates that could be replicated for each of those projects. But the processes that they were looking to standardize never were never really laid out in a plan. The interactive planning session brought the key players together to discuss the scope required to receive a construction permit. This template was then distributed to the different PMs on the job, and the portfolio projects, which existed in Primavera P6, now consisted of a standardized process for the design and permitting phase.
Starting at the fundamental level, the use of GPM planned dates allows the planner to put activities anywhere within their flow range without having to apply a constraint, which in turn, does not sacrifice any flow within the network. The planner can take an activity in the network and move it around to instantaneously see the impact on the rest of the network, whether from just moving the activity or extending its duration.
In some interactive planning scenarios, the planner will be working with a longer time scale. While working in one portion of the schedule, what is happening downstream may not be visible. NetPoint has a feature that allows the planner to do vertical and horizontal splits. One portion of the schedule can be up on one screen and some downstream milestones displayed on the other portion of the screen. When moving an activity around, it’s possible to see what’s happening elsewhere.
The other notable aspect of this schedule is the way ordinal dates are used. In this case, the planners built a template that applied to several projects within a capital portfolio. Here dates were almost irrelevant, and ordinal dates made sense. But ordinal dates can also be beneficial for specific interactive planning scenarios where the planner doesn’t want to introduce data bias. Sometimes, when working with less schedule-savvy stakeholders, there can be a tendency to rely more on dates, projection, and durations to help satisfy those dates rather than focusing on the underlying logic and productivity that will allow the planner to drive durations.
All dates can be turned off within the network, and an ordinal calendar inserted by clicking a button from the schedule properties dialogue. This eliminates date bias as much as possible and focuses on network logic and durations. Then, with just a couple clicks of a button, ordinal logic can be turned off. If the start date is set before turning off, this can be turned back on at the end of the session, and the planner can see where things are falling into place.
The most important aspect of the planning session is the ability to adjust on the fly. With NetPoint, the planner can see the results provided in real-time so participants can understand this effect. This is crucial when dealing with what-if scenarios. The plan is laid out, and if it doesn’t work within that desired timeframe, adjustments can be made right then and there.
The point of using ordinal dates is to make a realistic plan. During the interactive planning session, it can be a struggle to get people to give you real durations, so make sure that you take that bias out of the question. For example, let’s say you put up the dates, and they say, “Oh, we’re two months late.” Well, now you start planning differently. Maybe we could sequence work a little differently. Using that ordinal date is very important in those planning sessions, and I recommend it. There will be times where it occurs after the date that you expected.
We can also create the deliverable right in front of each party. With the deliverable being created during the process, trust can be established that the plan will work. This also will promote accountability between each party, which is desired by the project team. The ability to plan in different units of times, from minutes to days to months, allows the planner to define the level of detail that the stakeholders want to plan to.
The GPM planned dates allow for greater flexibility in the planning process. For example, when simulating a pull planning session, it is possible to start from the finish line and plan backward, which cannot be accomplished with CPM-based scheduling software. Activities do not always occur on the early dates, especially for non-critical items. The use of GPM will also give the stakeholders a more accurate picture of when work will happen and that in turn, sets reasonable expectations for performance measurement.