Use scheduling features to improve your processes

Why use Schedules?

Of the organisational workflow features in Consonance, schedules are probably the most complex. They are most suitable for long-running processes that can be broken down into many smaller tasks which are dependent on each other.

Typically, they are used for monitoring and managing an entire book production process, from acquisition through editorial and design work, to production, publication, and post-publication monitoring.

If you suffer from any of the following symptoms, you might consider the use of Schedules as a solution.

  1. Tasks habitually start late because something else was supposed to have been completed, and nobody noticed that it had not.
  2. You are not sure what the impact will be of a person taking leave for a month in November.

What is a schedule?

A schedule is a series of related tasks, each of which can be assigned to a person in the organisation, associated with contacts outside the organisation (e.g. authors, a printer, an editorial services company), have defined start and end dates, and dependencies on other tasks.

Tasks

A task is a record of a unit of work required to be completed to achieve an outcome.

The key attributes of a task are

  1. Its name and description.
  2. The person responsible for its completion. Not necessarily the person who will undertake the work, but possibly the person responsible for monitoring it.
  3. One or more third parties involved, who may be responsible for the work in completing the task.
  4. The task’s timeline, effectively defined by any two of the following
    1. The date it is expected to start.
    2. The date it is expected to end.
    3. The expected duration.
  5. Its dependencies, in terms of the tasks on which it is dependent, and the tasks which are dependent on it.
  6. Its status: unstarted, finished, etc.

What makes a good task?

We commonly see tasks such as Send proofs to printer, or Author delivers draft manuscript being used. This sort of event often does not make a good task, as they really represent transitions between other tasks.

For example, Author delivers manuscript is probably a transition between two tasks such as Author develops draft manuscript and First review of draft manuscript. These two tasks both represent a better unit of work than the delivery itself, and in a situation such as this it is better to state that the earlier task is not complete until the transition has occurred.

As I tell my children, your homework is not complete until it is on the teacher’s desk.

For every task you are considering, think about whether it is itself a substantial unit of work that can show progress, or whether it instead represents the end or the start of such a unit of work.

Dependencies

Dependencies between tasks express the idea that a particular task cannot begin until one or more other tasks have completed.

In technical terms, if task B is dependent on task A, then task A is known as a necessary precursor to task B. So Author writes manuscript is a necessary precursor to Proofreading of manuscript, and hence the latter is dependent on the former.

By adding dependencies between tasks, you establish the order in which they must be completed, and the minimum amount of time required for the project (see The Critical Path, below).

When dependencies are in place, the schedule will prevent a task from being estimated to start before all of the tasks on which it is dependent are estimated to finish. This gives you the earliest possible date on which work on a task can begin, and absolves you of worry that you need to being on it earlier than is possible.

It is not necessary to define dependencies for every task, but if a task is not dependent on another and has no other tasks dependent on it then the implication is that it can be done at any time, and if it is never completed then the project will be unaffected. It might as well be deleted.

The Critical Path

When you define a complex schedule in which multiple chains of tasks arrive at the same end-point, it is rare for both chains of tasks to take the same amount of time.

For example, consider the following simple schedule.

  Name Duration Dependent on …
A Get sudden interest in having a car    
B Save up for car 200 A
C Research types of car 2 A
D Find car 6 C
E Buy car 1 B and D
G Drive car   E

Note that there are two chains of tasks from Get sudden interest in having a car to Drive car: A-B-E-G and A-C-D-E-G.

The former, which requires saving up for the car, takes 201 days, while the latter, which requires researching cars and finding one, takes only 8 days.

The set of tasks through A-B-E is therefore the critical path, and you cannot complete the schedule any faster by speed-reading car magazines to reduce the time for task C. In fact, you can put off beginning task C until day 192 of the schedule without affecting its final completion date. Task C is not critical.