It’s no secret that good management is essential to project success, but proper scheduling is the foundation that sets it all in motion. Just like a ship without a map will never reach its destination, a project without a solid scheduling plan will fail.
So, how do you master this essential skill? It all starts with understanding the different scheduling techniques available to you. The more you know, the stronger you’ll be.
What is scheduling in project management?
Put simply, it’s the process of breaking down a project into its component tasks and assigning them to team members or stakeholders. By setting clear deadlines, you can ensure that your project runs on time and within budget.
Generally, scheduling involves the following seven stages:
- Plan the schedule: This is where you lay out the overall plan for your project, including the scope and a rough timeline.
- Define project activities: List every task required to complete your project and assign them to the appropriate team members.
- Sequence activities: Determine which tasks you need to complete and in what order.
- Estimate resources: You’ll need to know what you need and by when. Your schedule will directly impact resource estimation, so you’ll need to give both some serious attention.
- Estimate durations: Calculate the time frame for each task and add up the total duration of all tasks to get an estimated timeline for your project. Make sure to factor in any potential delays or challenges.
- Develop the schedule: Once you have a list of activities, resources, and timelines, create a visual representation that includes start and end dates for each task. This could be a timeline, Gantt chart, or other visual representation of what needs to happen by when.
- Monitor and control: Review progress regularly and make adjustments as needed.
Now that you understand the basics of scheduling in project management let’s look at the different techniques available to help you master this skill.
What are the benefits of project scheduling?
- Reduced risk of project failure: By scheduling tasks and monitoring progress, you can identify potential problems before they occur and address them accordingly.
- Improved resource utilization: Seeing all your tasks laid out makes it easier to allocate/reallocate resources as necessary.
- Enhanced customer satisfaction: Managing expectations and meeting deadlines are always important. By properly managing your resources, you can guarantee satisfied customers.
- Better communication between stakeholders: By providing a clear view of the project timeline and progress, stakeholders can easily track the project’s status and make informed decisions.
- Enhanced visibility into the project’s progress: With scheduling tools, you can track the progress of each task and identify potential delays or issues.
- Improved accountability among team members: When everyone knows what they’re doing, they’re more likely to take ownership of their work.
- Enhanced organizational efficiency: By setting deadlines and ensuring you complete tasks on time, you can improve the efficiency of your entire organization’s operations.
Project scheduling terms you need to know
Before we get into the methodologies, here are some key terms
- The master schedule: This is the primary schedule that outlines your project tasks, their duration, and dependencies.
- The baseline schedule: Your project baseline is a benchmark; manage changes by comparing actual performance against the expected timeline to stay on track.
- The rolling wave schedule: As a project progresses, you can use rolling wave planning to focus on upcoming tasks while still keeping an eye on the big picture.
- Milestones: Milestones are important points within the project timeline that signify certain key events. It’s essential to identify these points so that you can monitor progress and have something to aim for (besides that far-off finish line).
Three essential project scheduling techniques (and how to use them)
When it comes to scheduling in project management, there are three main options: Gantt charts, critical path analysis, and PERT diagrams. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Gantt charts visually represent task scheduling in the form of a bar chart. They’re great for tracking progress, identifying bottlenecks, and helping you to identify areas where delays are likely to occur.
• Easy to read and understand
• Useful for managing multiple tasks
• Will help you track progress over time
• Difficult to use if you have large or complex projects
How and when to use them: Gantt charts are ideal for smaller projects with fewer tasks. They allow you to quickly and easily track progress on a single project, but they’re unsuitable for larger or more complex projects.
Critical Path Analysis
This is all about analyzing the sequence of tasks in a project while considering their dependencies and duration. It’s useful for creating an effective schedule that minimizes delays and optimizes resources — which is what every project manager wants, right?
• Useful for analyzing dependencies and potential delays
• Helps you identify areas that need resources
• Helps you create an optimized project schedule
• Requires detailed knowledge of the project
• Difficult to use for large or complex projects
How and when to use it:
Critical path analysis is best when you understand the project and its components well. It’s not suitable for small or simple projects but can be invaluable in larger, more complex projects.
PERT diagrams are a graphical representation of the different path options available for completing a project. Use them to illustrate the sequence of tasks, identify resources required for each task, and track progress.
• Can be used to identify the fastest route for completing a project
• Useful for tracking progress over time
• Can help you see potential problems before they occur
• Time-consuming to create and update
• Not suitable for small or simple projects
How and when to use them:
PERT diagrams are best used for large and complex projects. They provide invaluable insight into the project’s structure, allowing you to track progress as things develop.
Tips for successfully scheduling projects
1. Define clear objectives and deadlines: Setting realistic deadlines for your project is essential. Push your staff too hard, and you’ll have stressed, unhappy employees. Go too slow, and you’ll have a bored team.
2. Break down tasks into smaller, manageable chunks: Breaking down large tasks into smaller ones makes assigning team members and tracking progress easier. A work breakdown structure (WBS) can help with this.
4. Track progress: If you don’t keep a close eye on things, it’s very easy for issues to snowball. It also makes conversations with managers and stakeholders a little awkward — so track, monitor, and record every step of the way.
6. work out your critical path: The critical path is the longest sequence of tasks you’ll need to complete to finish the project on time. Identifying your project’s critical path will help you to manage resources more effectively and ensure the timely completion of every job on your to-do list.
7. Include key milestones: Milestones help you stay on track — but they also provide impetus, not to mention something to celebrate every time you tick one off.
8. Adjust for resource constraints: Flexibility is important. You’ll need to adjust the project schedule if you have limited resources. Consider which tasks require fewer resources and whether you’ll need extra staff or contractors.
9. Keep everyone informed: Make you keep all team members and stakeholders (internal and external) up to date on the project’s progress. This helps build a sense of ownership and gives team members a clearer understanding of their role in the project.
10. Be flexible: Things sometimes go differently than expected, so it’s important to remain flexible and adjust the schedule when needed.
11. Use project management software: Using project management software can make a huge difference to the success of any project. It allows you to assign tasks easily and identify dependencies, making it easier to create an effective schedule. Better still — the tracking is all done automatically, meaning less admin and more time freed up for managing.