The project timetable (Rule 20)
During archaeological projects, a number of specified activities are carried out within time and budget constraints. In this respect, archaeological project management is no different than project management in other fields. Nevertheless, archaeology has its specificities.
One of the major aspects of archaeological project management is the ability to control the use of time and money. It needs to be ensured that all tasks and activities that will be undertaken during a project are adequately resourced and carried out in the correct order and with appropriate use of the available resources. The timetable is a tool that enables the monitoring and assessing of the progress of a project throughout its duration. In this way, a timetable assists with identifying unforeseen circumstances that could affect the development and successful outcome of the project.
The complexity of an archaeological project requires that some of its tasks be performed sequentially, while some can be performed in parallel with other activities. This combination of sequential and parallel tasks can be presented through a project timetable.
Without a timescale for the different activities, it is likely that time and resources will be wasted, and a project could face problems that might result in its early termination or its failure to achieve the planned objectives. Such problems can be avoided if a realistic project timetable is formulated.
The necessity for a project timetable also arises from the fact that an ideal project, where unlimited resources are available and every piece of evidence is recovered and studied, is unattainable.
Establishing a timetable
There are three main elements in a project timetable:
- The activities to be carried out during the project: A timetable should consider all project tasks and activities from initiation through to completion. This should include fieldwork, assessment, analysis, conservation, dissemination and curation considerations. Accordingly, the timetable will be significantly influenced by the project scale, the type of site, the different methods used for data-gathering and the expected post-fieldwork activities.
- The time and resources required to carry out a project’s planned activities: To draw up a project timetable, the timescale and different resources (funding, personnel, equipment, etc.) necessary to undertake each of the project's tasks need to be estimated. Also, the logistics related to carrying out the different activities (permissions, health and safety requirements, etc.) should be taken into consideration. Therefore, an assessment of the human, material, and financial resources, including any particular facilities and expertise, is necessary for drawing up a project timetable.
- The order in which a project’s activities should be carried out: In an archaeological project, certain activities have to be carried out before others. Therefore, in order to create a project timetable, the relation between different tasks and activities and the sequence in which they are executed has to be properly determined.
Drawing up a timetable for an archaeological project is not a job to be done solely by the project director. It should be a collaborative act that involves the senior specialists in charge of the different aspects of the project. Therefore, before creating a project timetable, the project director should adequately consult with the key members responsible for the excavation, geophysical investigation, conservation, finds handling, photography, administration and other relevant activities associated with the project. For example, if the project involves diving, consideration should be given to health and safety regulations and the limitations of diving operations. Failure to collaborate with the relevant specialists could result in the establishment of an unrealistic timetable and cause many hours to be wasted in trying to solve problems that could have been avoided with proper planning.
The success of an archaeological project relies completely on teamwork. Therefore, it is important for each member of the team to become familiar with the project timetable. Once the timetable is compiled, and prior to the start of the project, each team member should have a clear understanding of his/her role in the project, of the timetable and of the order in which their tasks are to be undertaken, and ideally completed.
The best way for making the timetable accessible and clearly understandable to those who are involved in the project is by presenting it in a clear and simple graphic format.
This graphic representation should show:
- all the tasks to be undertaken
- the correct sequence in which the tasks will be undertaken
- the inter-relatedness and interdependence of these tasks
- time-critical elements and considerations
- the length of time allocated to each task
- the personnel allocated to each task
- agreed monitoring points
There are a number of different ways to represent a project's timetable visually, such as cascade charts, Program Evaluation & Review Technique (PERT) and Critical Path Analysis (CPA). The size and complexity of the project will influence the method best suited to presenting the timetable. However, one of the most widely-used methods is the Gantt chart, named after the American engineer Henry Gantt (1861-1919).
The Gantt chart
A Gantt chart is a useful tool for planning and scheduling projects and monitoring their progress. It consists of a bar chart that graphically represents the duration of tasks against the progression of time. Along the y-axis of the chart individual tasks and activities are identified and arranged, while along the x-axis the time is represented. It can also include the allocation of project team members to specific tasks.
According to the nature of the project and the activities performed, the timetable on the chart could extend over a day, weeks, months and even years. The chart can be broken down into smaller time allocations for specific tasks. Putting a project timeline in a visual format can be an important outcome of the project planning stage and is good management practice.
In addition to the general timetable for the project as a whole, more detailed timetables should be created for specific activities. For example, a specific timetable can be developed for field conservation which is carried out for excavated artefacts, prior to their transportation to a specialized conservation laboratory. The process of field conservation, also known as first-aid conservation or preventive conservation includes a number of tasks, such as cleaning, desalination, consolidation and packing. A timetable could be created in order to prioritise the treatment process of the excavated objects according to their material and condition, given the time and resources available.