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black belt Black Belt Brief

Project Schedule Variance


Busy executives have limited time for monitoring multiple project schedules, and want timely and information-rich reporting. Most prefer effective graphical representations over textual methods, spreadsheets, simplistic stoplight charts, or Gantt / Pert charts.

A project's actual schedule achievement compared to its planned schedule performance (the variance) can be viewed like an airplane's glide slope during final approach to the runway. The landing approach begins at a certain altitude and distance from the runway, and the pilot strives to follow a glide slope to touchdown. Variances off the glide slope must be corrected or the plane will overshoot or undershoot the landing.

Similarly, project teams are accountable for the on-time and on-budget "landing" of a program. The project's planned duration is represented by the initial height of the glide slope. The project achieves certain progress each day or week. At each reporting point, the project is either on schedule, ahead of plan, or behind plan. The amount of any variance is plotted as a deviation off the planned glide slope.


To a busy executive, the meaning of such a chart is immediately clear. By plotting both the planned and attained schedule in a single graphical format, it is easy to spot the trouble.

Further, the project's history is retained (and visible) and its future delivery point can be visualized by projecting recent progress forward in time, until it crosses the X-axis. Annotations and re planning agreements are especially helpful to capture.

Once a project falls behind schedule, getting back on the original glide slope requires corrective actions. Sometimes, schedule recovery is impossible, but it is always better to know about schedule problems when there is more time to correct the situation.

The chart is easy to produce using Excel™ charts, and can be updated in seconds. The spreadsheet that created this representation is available on request.

Schedule variance is one of the most important concerns of executives. Projects often get into trouble a day at a time. But small variances are often invisible to management. Using an effective graphical representation can allow a busy executive to spend time on the situations that most need attention.