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The PERT Model for the Distribution of an Activity Time

Author(s): Charles E. Clark

Source: Operations Research, Vol. 10, No. 3 (May - Jun., 1962), pp. 405-406
Published by: INFORMS
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George J. Minty 405

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Charles E. Clark
System Development Corporation, Santa Monica, California
(Received December 11, 1961)

AN EARLIER PAPER describes the PERT analysis of a network of activi-

ties*; its analytic details, not written by a mathematician, are confusing to
many analysts who continually request elucidation. This note is intended to
answer the question most frequently asked, namely, whence the statements in that
paper concerning the distribution of an activity time?
The paper is misleading to some extent. For example, it mentions the beta
distribution, but this distribution does not appear in the PERT model. Partly
for this reason it seems desirable to start this note with some fundamental orienta-

* D. G. MALCOLM, J. H. ROSEBOOM, C. E. CLARK, AND W. FAZAR, "Application

of a Technique for Research and Development Program Evaluation," Opns. Res. 7,
646-669 (1959).
406 Letters to the Editor

The PERT analysis was constructed for a specific problem. Plans had been
formulated for the creation of the Polaris weapon system. A schedule for the de-
velopment of Polaris had been made, but as time progressed, scheduled dates dif-
fered from dates of accomplishment. It was proposed to estimate when one could
expect the occurrences of scheduled milestones.
The PERT solution of this problem is to break down the development of
Polaris into a number of activities, to determine for each activity the prerequisite
activities, and to obtain estimates of the time required to carry out each activity;
with such information the remainder of the analysis is mechanical.
Each time estimate is to be made by a technician who understands the per-
formance of the activity (the estimates by management had been obtained and had
been incorporated into a schedule). Clearly, expected values and variances of the
activity times are required, because there must be much addition of independent
times. But expected values and variances seem too complex for immediate ap-
praisal, and it is necessary to decide what information can be obtained from the
sources available. One aspect of this information gathering is that estimates must
be made periodically, formally, and at low cost for thousands of activities. It is
felt that when one tries to conceive the time span of a future activity, the first time
estimate that naturally comes to mind is likely to approximate the mode of the
distribution of possible times. Hence a most likely time is requested. After the
most likely time, it is felt that the next information that most informants can give
with some reliability is an idea of the extreme times that would be required in cases
of good or bad fortune. With estimates of the most likely time and of the ex-
tremes, we would seem to have all the information that can be obtained easily in
an extensive survey.
With this information it is necessary to convert the estimated mode and range
of a distribution into an estimated expected value and variance. The author has
no information concerning distributions of activity times; in particular, it is not
suggested that the beta or any other distribution is appropriate. But the analysis
requires some model for the distribution of activity times, the parameters of the
distribution being the mode and the extremes. The distribution that first comes
to the author's mind is the beta distribution. However the beta distribution still
has a free parameter after its mode and extremes are designated. Suppose we
select one-sixth of the range as the standard deviation (the normal distribution
truncated at :?2.66 has its standard deviation equal to I the range, and we feel
that this truncated normal distribution is an appropriate simple model for specify-
ing the ratio of the standard deviation to the range). Then a beta distribution is
determined, and one can convert the mode and extremes into the expected value
and variance. This conversion requires computations, including the solution of a
cubic equation, which are ponderous relative to the reliability of the results. By
empirical numerical manipulation one can observe that the results obtained from
the suggested beta distribution analysis can be closely approximated by use of a
simple formula. This approximation is that the expected value is the weighted
arithmetic mean of the mode and the midrange, the mode carrying two-thirds of
the total weight. This together with the use of one-sixth of the range for the
standard deviation are accepted as the PERT estimates of the expected value and
standard deviation of an activity time.