Scheduling Challenges in Agile


& Distributed Projects



By Patrick Weaver

Melbourne, Australia


Critical path theory is based on an assumption that to deliver a project successfully there is one best sequence of activities to be completed in a pre-defined way. Consequently, this arrangement of the work can be modelled in a logic network, and based on an analysis of the resulting schedule the project’s critical path, overall duration, sub-critical paths and float can be calculated. Then, as work proceeds, and based on this schedule model, the effect of actual progress, and the consequences of any delays can be reliably calculated.

The Critical Path Method (CPM) of scheduling has been in relatively wide-spread use for more than 60 years and the theory of CPM scheduling has underpinned the way:

  • Contracts are drafted, particularly in the defence, engineering and construction industries
  • Legal precedents have been set, based on expert opinion derived from CPM analysis, and
  • Project controls practices have evolved.

However, while CPM has proved to be an effective controls tool for many types of projects, it is equally apparent the CPM paradigm does not apply to a wide range of other project types including soft[1] projects and distributed projects. For this non-CPM class of project, there may be a high-level road map outlining the desired route to completion and/or specific constraints on the way parts of the work are sequenced, but a lot of flexibility remains in the way the rest of the work is accomplished.

The constraints on how the work of a project should be sequenced ranges from very few constraints in some soft and distributed projects (the work can be done in almost any sequence), through to highly constrained projects where there really is only one best way of doing the work.

The challenge facing many project controls professionals, and the organizations that employ them, is a misplaced assumption that CPM scheduling is the best approach for implementing schedule control on all types of projects. This paradigm is being increasingly challenged and in in many cases there is a deliberate management intent not to follow any predetermined sequence of activities, other approaches such as agile and lean are preferred. Arguably these methods can and do achieve better outcomes in the right situation, but their ability to provide management oversight and controls appears to be limited to a few visual charts.

The use of simple visual charts for an internal project may be acceptable. The lack of consistent and verifiable calculations in the agile and lean methodologies, that predict the current expected completion date, or assess the effect of imposed delays and/or scope variations, are not likely to be an issue. Everyone works for the same organization, in theory have the same strategic objectives, are interested in delivering value, and can be expected to engage in constructive discussions to resolve issues and reframe priorities. This is essentially the message in the Agile Manifesto, and achieving a culture that allows this approach to managing projects to flourish is a governance issue.

However, if the project is being performed under a more traditional fixed price, fixed scope, fixed duration contract, not having good controls information can be very detrimental to both the contractor and the project client. Proactive issues management and partnering to achieve mutual success is still desirable but ultimately the courts will determine contractual disputes based on applying the law to the terms of the contract.

The focus of this paper is to:

  • Briefly define the management assumptions that support the use of CPM scheduling, its origins, and limitations
  • Develop a classification framework of project characteristics to help define the potential usefulness of CPM scheduling
  • Briefly describe some of the management approaches currently used in non-CPM projects including agile and lean, their benefits and limitations
  • Consider the application of the framework discussed above applied to a typical wind farm project
  • Develop general recommendations for the management of non-CPM projects focused on optimizing the efficient use of resources.


To read entire paper, click here

How to cite this paper: Weaver, P. (2023). Scheduling Challenges in Agile & Distributed Projects; PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue II, February. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/pmwj126-Feb2023-Weaver-Scheduling-Challenges-in-AgileDistributed-projects.pdf

About the Author

Patrick Weaver              

Melbourne, Australia


Patrick Weaver, PMP, PMI-SP, FAICD, FCIOB, is the Managing Director of Mosaic Project Services Pty Ltd, an Australian project management consultancy specializing in project control systems.  He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building, Australasia (FCIOB) and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (FAICD). He is a member of the PMI Melbourne Chapter (Australia), as well a full member of AIPM, and the Project Management College of Scheduling (PMCOS).

Patrick has over 50 years’ experience in Project Management. His career was initially focused on the planning and managing of construction, engineering and infrastructure projects in the UK and Australia. The last 35 years has seen his businesses and experience expand to include the successful delivery of project scheduling services and PMOs in a range of government, ICT and business environments; with a strong focus on project management training.

His consultancy work encompasses: developing and advising on project schedules, developing and presenting PM training courses, managing the development of internal project control systems for client organizations, and assisting with dispute resolution and claims management.

In the last few years, Patrick has sought to ‘give back’ to the industry he has participated in since leaving college through contributions to the development of the project management profession. In addition to his committee roles, he has presented papers at a wide range of project management conferences in the USA, Europe, Asia and Australia, has an on-going role with the PGCS conference in Australia and is part of the Australian delegation to ISO TC258.

Patrick can be contacted at patw@mosaicprojects.com.au or at www.mosaicprojects.com.au.

To view other works by Pat Weaver, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library.net at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/patrick-weaver/ or visit his website.

[1] Soft projects are defined as ones where the majority of the work has a degree of flexibility on how the required functionality is achieved. Soft and distributed projects are defined in more detail later in this paper.