Project scheduling in Organiser
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*** NOTE: this functionality will become available with Organiser v5.0 ***
Organiser v5.0 adds important functionality to assist you with actually scheduling the work to be done over available working days. Whereas in Organiser v4 you could only provide start and end dates manually, version 5 will now be able to move around action start- and end dates to create a day-by-day overview of when to do exactly what.
You may want to skip this section if you are not interested in the technical background of the scheduling algorithm that Organiser uses.
When studying the art of scheduling and project management, the de facto way to approach these things is to use a scheme such as PERT/CPM. PERT stands for 'Program Evaluation and Review Technique' and CPM is short for 'Critical Path Method'. These are methods you will find implemented in programs such as Microsoft Project, and a lot of papers are based on it. In short, the inputs are activitities, where you have something to be done (a 'task'), a duration (often described in days or weeks), an earliest start date and dependencies.
These standard methods then search for a minimum path ('makespan') in which the project could be finished, by searching for the shortest path of sequential activities. Each activitity can depend on one or more other activities, which must be finished before the next one can begin. There are sequential (serial) and parallel activities. The longest path for all these activity 'strings' is the Critical Path, which indicates the minimum time a project can be finished. Other paths within a project make take less time, but ultimately, they all come together to form a 'finished' project.
A problem with this method is that parallel tasks are handled quite simple; they take place in the same time, only constrained by the capacity of the resources required to finish them. The activities are stringed together, from tail to head, whereas sometimes you may want to split activities in two or more parts. For example, suppose you have 2 weeks of work (let's call it Activity 1), which needs to be done in 3 weeks time. After 1 week, you will be at a customer for an entire week, and not be able to work on activity 1. Let's call this week Activity 2. Now when trying to string these activities together, you can quickly see that you could split activity 1 into two parts; 1 week before the customer visit, and 1 week after. Activity 2 then takes place in the 2nd week, right in the middle.
Something supposedly simple as this does not seem to be handled gracefully by the PERT/CPM methods.
Organiser takes a different approach; it determines ranges of time where the work to be done must fit, then distributes the work over the available working days. This way, it is able to fit multiple activities into the same time ranges (as long as there are enough working hours (or resources) available). It will display the resulting work distribution visually in Organiser's Gantt Chart. See Figure 1 below.
Figure 1 - an example schedule with distributed work as light-green rectangles
Creating a schedule in Organiser is not complex, but it is good to understand the principles behind it. The following rough steps are involved in creating a scheduled project:
When an action changes (for example due to another estimate of the amount of work), you can just recreate the schedule, and a new distribution is created within seconds.
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