Time Saving Secrets: How to Use the Laddering Technique in Project Management (With Examples)
Have you ever had one of those days where you had around ten hours of work to do, and only four hours in which to do it? Even if you wear yourself out by going into speed-mo, there’s seemingly no way to get it all done.
At times like these, it’s easy to just throw your hands in the air and give up.
We all wish, from time to time, that we had a few more hours in the day, or an extra week or two in a big project.
Although we can’t create more time, there often is a way to meet a big project deadline, or complete all the errands on our to-do list. It has to do with carefully arranging work in the most time-efficient way possible.
Utilizing a project management technique called laddering helps to find the wiggle room in a tight schedule. How does it work? That’s what we’re about to lay out.
Before looking at how laddering improves project efficiency, let’s first define some key project management concepts and terms.
This is identifying all the steps in a project, and arranging them in their proper sequential order. For example, in a building project, first you build the frame, then add insulation, then put in drywall, then paint and finally add appliances.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS):
This is breaking down projects into smaller components of work, from beginning to end, and then arranging them according to the project sequencing.
Work packages are individual components of work on the work breakdown structure. For a construction project, “installing drywall” and “painting” would be individual work packages.
Hammocks are the smaller individual tasks that make up one work package. For example if “buying land” is the work package, the hammock activities are to research properties, view properties, secure a loan and close on the property.
This is the order in which work packages need to happen for the project to be completed on time. The critical path is the longest path on the work breakdown structure. It is measured in units of work packages.
Lead time is the minimum necessary time between the start of one activity and the start of a related one.
For example, let’s say you have two tasks: digging a ditch then laying pipe. The ditch digging takes eight hours, and laying the pipe takes four hours. You can start laying pipe four hours after the ditch digging has started, so the ditch’s lead time is four hours.
Lag time is the required time between two jobs. For example when painting a wall, there is lag time between applying the first and second coat of paint, so that the first coat has time to dry.
Laddering is when activities proceed in lockstep with each other, so as to keep the project on schedule. The activities are linked to one another like rungs on a ladder.
How to Use Laddering in Project Management
In order to schedule a project in the most efficient way possible, it’s necessary to understand how all of the tasks relate to one another, and identify any lead and lag time between tasks. Once you know this information, it’s possible to scrutinize a schedule and apply the laddering technique. Here are the steps to take:
- Select two work packages adjacent to each other on the critical path.
- Break each work package down into smaller hammock activities. Determine the order in which the hammock activities need to happen, and whether they have any lead or lag time.
- Arrange the hammock activities in such a way that they are completed in lockstep with each other and decrease the total units on the critical path.
In order to select work packages suitable for the laddering technique, identify those that can be broken down into hammock activities, and especially those with lead time.
An Example of Laddering
We use the laddering technique all the time in our daily life. Here is an example of typical errands on a Saturday afternoon. Let’s say you have five hours, and a list of errands and chores that take six hours. Each item on this list represents a work package:
- Purchase Groceries – Half an hour
- Get a haircut – One hour
- Visit the Dentist – One hour
- Do Laundry – 2 hours
- Make Dinner – 1.5 hours
How can we fit the six hours of work into only five hours?
Let’s start by selecting two adjacent work packages and determining their hammock activities. In this example, the first three activities cannot easily be broken down, so let’s focus on the last two.
Laundry Hammock Activities
Washing – 30 minutes
Drying – 60 minutes
Folding – 30 minutes
Dinner Hammock Activities:
Preparation – 30 minutes
Cooking – 45 minutes
Serving – 15 minutes
Here is how to arrange these hammock activities in order to save time:
- Prepare dinner at the same time that laundry is drying. This saves 30 minutes.
- Fold laundry while dinner is cooking. This saves another 30 minutes.
- Now the laundry is complete, and the cooking is finished. Time to serve dinner!
Viola, you’ve saved an hour by laddering the tasks within the work packages of “laundry” and “making dinner.” Notice how these tasks were completed in lock step with each other—you needed to be folding the laundry at the same time as dinner was cooking, and to prepare dinner while drying laundry, otherwise the time wouldn’t have been saved.
Laddering works in all sorts of projects where work packages can be broken down. In software design, for example, design usually precedes development, and development precedes testing. However, when you identify the project sequence, work packages and the critical path, it’s possible to identify where to break packages into hammocks and ladder to save time.
Project scheduling is pretty tricky, especially when you have a tight deadline to meet. Laddering is one way to reduce the time it takes to complete a project.
In order to apply the technique, it’s necessary to know the sequence of a project, each individual work package, and the work breakdown structure. Laddering comes into play when you break down the work packages into smaller “hammock” activities, and look closely at how to arrange the sequence of these smaller tasks.
Knowing lead and lag times between tasks is helpful, as well as identifying ways to overlap work.
In laddering, tasks are completed in lockstep, in the same way you climb a ladder: first one leg, then the other, over and over again. It’s applicable in most any project, including construction jobs, software design and even in creating daily schedules.
Can you identify a time when you recently used the laddering technique?