Who hasn’t waited at an airport for hours before boarding, or arrived at a destination five hours later than originally planned?
Talk about an unpleasant beginning to your vacation, right?
Just like planning and managing your travel schedule, successfully delivering a project involves realistic planning.
In this article, we’ll discuss how you can successfully navigate a project within a realistic timeframe by utilizing project scheduling methods and key steps.
Table of contents
- What is project scheduling, and why is it important for project management?
- Project scheduling methods
- Key steps for project scheduling
- Advantages of effective project scheduling
- Project scheduling challenges and mitigation
- How to create a realistic and effective project schedule
- Softwares for scheduling and progress monitoring
- Project scheduling template
What is project scheduling, and why is it important for project management?
Project scheduling is the process of developing a detailed project plan that outlines the tasks, dependencies, resources, and timelines needed to complete a project.
Project scheduling allows you to anticipate and manage potential risks, identify critical paths and milestones, allocate resources efficiently, and track progress throughout a project lifecycle.
Project managers utilize project scheduling to ensure projects are completed on time, within budget, and to quality standards.
Project scheduling methods
When approaching a new project, there are various scheduling methods to choose from depending on your specific use case. As a project manager you should decide which of the following aligns best:
- Gantt charts
- Critical path method (CPM)
- Program evaluation and review technique (PERT)
- Project crashing and fast-tracking
- Resource leveling
The Gantt chart was first developed by Henry Gantt in the early 1900s. It was one of the first project scheduling tools ever developed and remains in use because of the way it visualizes a project timeline and tracks processes.
The Gantt chart shows the start and end dates of individual tasks, as well as their duration, dependencies, and progress in one visual space. This allows members of your team to collaborate and remain clear on the status and future of the project.
This method is especially useful for simple projects with straightforward timelines.
Critical path method (CPM)
The critical path method helps you to identify the essential tasks within a project and then allocate time appropriately. With CPM, tasks are sequenced and then deemed a critical path. Any delay in completing an individual task will delay the entire project.
For example, if your project requires materials and equipment, procuring them is a critical path activity. A mishap with procurement would throw off the entire project timeline.
The CPM method is useful for project managers dealing with complex projects that require precise sequencing.
Program evaluation and review technique (PERT)
PERT, developed by the U.S. Navy, is a method used to estimate project duration by analyzing the time required to complete each task. These tasks are then assigned an optimistic (O), pessimistic (P), or most likely (M) delivery estimation.
The expected time (TE) is then calculated using the PERT formula:
TE = (O + 4M + P) / 6
The method is particularly useful for projects with high levels of uncertainty and risk.
Project crashing and fast-tracking
Project crashing and fast-tracking are two strategies that you can implement during scheduling if you want to speed up the delivery time of your project,
Crashing reduces the duration of the critical path by adding more resources to the project.
While crashing can be effective, it requires additional resources and may also result in increased costs. Crashing should be used only when absolutely necessary to reach a deadline.
Fast-tracking, on the other hand, involves overlapping activities that you would preferably complete in sequence. While this can reduce the overall time needed to complete your project, there’s an increased risk that accompanies carrying out tasks at the same time. Because of this, fast-tracking best serves efficiency.
Simulation involves creating a model of the project that can be manipulated to test different scenarios and outcomes.
The method allows you to identify potential issues and risks before they occur and make adjustments accordingly.
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By simulating various scenarios, project managers can gain insights into the impact of different variables on the project schedule and overall outcome.
It is particularly useful for projects that are complex and carry high levels of uncertainty and risk.
With resource leveling, you optimize the allocation of resources to ensure that they are being used efficiently and effectively. You focus on balancing the workload across team members and avoiding over or underutilization.
Resource leveling also involves adjusting the schedule to account for any resource constraints, such as limited availability of personnel or equipment.
The method is beneficial when resources are limited or constrained, and when there are fluctuations in resource availability over time.
Key steps for project scheduling
Project scheduling isn’t rocket science. It is a process that involves logical thinking and a structured approach. Once the project scope is known, the key scheduling steps involve:
In task identification, you work with stakeholders to define the deliverables and expected outcomes. It is an effort that focuses on understanding needs and breaking down the project into smaller, manageable tasks to deliver the project’s scope.
Once you have an overview, determine the logical order to complete your tasks. This also includes identifying and managing their dependencies.
Dependencies can be between external, internal, mandatory, or discretionary. External dependencies are outside the project team’s control. Internal ones can be related to other projects or resources.
Mandatory dependencies are typically regulatory requirements or safety considerations. Discretionary dependencies are optional and can be adjusted or even removed.
When you know what tasks you need to deliver and how to sequence them, you are ready to estimate how long each task will take to complete. You should consider factors such as resource availability and project constraints.
For a good estimation, consider looking into prior initiatives and industry standards, as well as having workshops that bring experts together to estimate.
You probably aren’t delivering a project on your own. Because of this, you need to consider all the codependencies of the project and how to manage the relationships between each.
Resource allocation involves identifying the resources required to complete each task, including people, equipment, and materials. Adding additional resources could impact duration estimations, so keep an eye on that.
This step involves bringing all the prior steps into a cohesive and comprehensive plan. The project schedule includes all tasks, dependencies, and milestones.
It is a good practice to call the project schedule a preliminary one. Doing so helps manage expectations with stakeholders.
Advantages of effective project scheduling
We wouldn’t spend so much time discussing effective projects scheduling unless there were considerable benefits for your team.
Effective project scheduling can lead to:
- Better time management and increased productivity
- Improved coordination and communication
- Enhanced project visibility and better decision making
- More precise budget and time predictions for projects
- Improved risk management and mitigation
Better time management and increased productivity
Effective project scheduling enables you to identify critical tasks and allocate resources efficiently. It ensures that tasks can be completed on time, within budget, and to the desired quality standards.
Put simply, project scheduling enables delivery teams to work more productively and efficiently, resulting in better time management and increased productivity.
Improved coordination and communication
Project scheduling involves creating a detailed project plan that outlines the tasks, deadlines, and dependencies involved in successful delivery.
You can use it as a communication tool with team members, enabling them to understand their roles and responsibilities and collaborate effectively.
Project scheduling also allows you to provide transparency to stakeholders and keep their support for a successful delivery.
Enhanced project visibility and better decision making
Effective project scheduling provides you with visibility into project progress. It allows you to make informed decisions and take corrective actions if necessary, based on accurate and up-to-date information.
More precise budget and time predictions for projects
As we learned, project scheduling involves estimating the duration of each task, considering factors such as resource availability and project constraints. This enables you to create a detailed project timeline that is more accurate and reliable, which leads to better forecasting of timelines and budgets.
In addition, it helps you avoid over committing and allows you to manage your workload effectively.
Improved risk management and mitigation
Risk reaps reward. Effective project scheduling involves identifying and managing project risks proactively. By identifying potential risks early in the project lifecycle, you can take preventive actions to mitigate the impact of these risks.
This puts you in a great position to avoid delays, reduce costs, and ensure timely delivery within budget.
Project scheduling challenges and mitigation
As with anything, challenges will arise during project scheduling. Rather than shutting down when they occur, knowing what to expect enables you to anticipate problems before they come up.
The following are the most common issues you should attempt to mitigate:
- Lack of information or incomplete data
- Unclear project goals and scope
- Insufficient resource allocation or resource conflicts
- Changing project requirements
Lack of information or incomplete data
One of the common challenges in project scheduling is a lack of information or incomplete data.
This typically occurs in early stages, when stakeholders have not provided enough information. These knowledge gaps make accurately estimating the duration and effort required for each task challenging.
To mitigate this, collect as much information as possible and communicate regularly with your stakeholders. Think about conducting research, holding meetings with stakeholders, and collaborating with team members.
Unclear project goals and scope
The absence of distinct project goals and scope presents another difficulty. When the project goals and scope are unclear, it is extremely challenging to identify the tasks required to achieve the project objectives.
To mitigate this challenge, you should define the project goals and scope clearly. Also, make sure to communicate and collaborate with stakeholders to ensure that everyone understands the project objectives, the desired outcomes, and the key performance indicators.
Insufficient resource allocation or resource conflicts
There will always be tension around resource commitments. A resource might have conflicting priorities or work on multiple initiatives simultaneously. When resources are insufficient, it is challenging to complete tasks on time, leading to delays and cost overruns.
To mitigate this challenge, allocate resources efficiently and communicate with team members. Conduct regular meetings to identify potential resource conflicts early, and work with stakeholders to ensure that resources are available when required.
Changing project requirements
You may encounter changing project requirements or scope. These changes tend to impact the schedule and budget, leading to delays and cost overruns.
To mitigate this challenge, be flexible and prepared to adapt. Maintain open communication with stakeholders and keep them informed of any changes. Transparency and early identification help manage expectations and prevent surprises.
In addition, define a clear change management process. This process outlines how changes to project requirements will be handled. By having this in place, you ensure that changes are properly evaluated and acted upon.
How to create a realistic and effective project schedule
Beyond common challenges, there are a few methods and techniques for effective project scheduling. Below are the ABCDs of effective project scheduling:
- Assess your workload
- Build in buffer time
- Communicate with stakeholders
- Develop the confidence to say no
Assess your workload
Before committing to a deadline, take a close look at your workload and assess how much time each task will take. Make a list of all the tasks you need to complete, estimate how long each task will take, and prioritize them based on their importance and urgency.
Build in buffer time
Always add some buffer time to your estimates to account for unexpected delays or complications that may arise. This will help you avoid over committing and ensure that you have enough time to complete the task without feeling rushed or stressed.
Communicate with stakeholders
Create a communication plan to manage stakeholder needs throughout the initiative. Communicate with them about your timeline and any potential delays. Communication enables you to manage expectations and avoid misunderstandings.
Develop the confidence to say no
If you are already overburdened with work, learn to say no to new projects or commitments. It’s better to be honest and realistic about what you can handle, than to over commit and fail to deliver on your promises.
Softwares for scheduling and progress monitoring
Several tools and software can aid in project scheduling and monitoring progress. Below are 10 options you might find useful:
Project scheduling template
To help you get on the right track with your project scheduling here’s a basic template that you can adapt to your particular needs.
Project scheduling is critical to ensure projects are completed on time, within budget, and to quality standards.
There are various project scheduling methods that are useful depending on the specific needs and goals of the project you’re working on. Once you decide on a method, follow up with project scheduling, task identification, sequencing, duration estimation, resource allocation, and schedule development.
When managed correctly, project scheduling sets you up for success.
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