Whether you’re leading a small project or a larger one, keeping track of all the moving parts can make you feel as if you’re trying to collect confetti in a windstorm. All the shifting schedules, changes in scope and task management is, well, hard to do.
It’s easier with scheduling software, of course. You might already be using a tool, or you might be trying to do it all in Excel. But even with the tools you have, you might still feel like there’s just got to be a better way.
Having the right software tool – and, importantly, the right features – let’s you can control scheduling rather than letting it control you.
Obviously you need featured like easy drag-n-drop scheduling, calendar integration, email alerts and reporting functions in your scheduling software. But then there are those features that take you from reaction to pro-action. The following are the five most crucial features you’ll need in your scheduling software and why they will truly make your job easier.
How you allocate your resources is key to your productivity. Surprisingly, however, not many scheduling tools have robust resource management features. You need to know who you have assigned to specific tasks, true, but you also need to know their hourly, daily & weekly availability, as well as their working days and holidays, in order not to over- or under-allocate them on critical tasks.
This feature is increasingly important as more and more teams are distributed. People are frequently working in different locations, time zones and countries. Those countries often have different holidays and even working days.
A good resource management tool enables you to factor in individual’s working days and holidays, in addition to global or country-specific holidays, so you can set it and forget it, and not have to rely on email reminders from your overseas team on when their holidays are going to impact your well-designed plan. And having great resource management tools also helps you create and maintain a realistic schedule.
The one constant is change, as you’ve heard, and therefore your best laid plans (and people) are always changing, too. As they change, you’ll be moving resources from one task to another to increase efficiency.
That’s why you also need Workload Management features.
Workload and resource management are similar, but where resource management is about tracking your team’s time, workload management is about managing and monitoring their allocation of work. And they are equally important when it comes to the feature set you’ll want on your scheduling software.
You need a tool that can not only allow you to see your resources availability, but re-allocate their work simply when there are impacts on the tasks or their time. Therefore, find scheduling software that allows you to both easily see all of your team’s availability in relation to the tasks they’re working on, but also reallocate work from one person to another while in the midst of your project as needed.
Don’t forget to account for non-project work. You’ll want a feature on your scheduling software that permits you to note the administrative time, personal time and the vacation time that your project and team needs.
The feature should give you the ability to set up reminders and schedule check-ins with individual team members as well as the full time in order to see where there are problems and what is running smoothly and on target. Along those lines, you’ll want to automate to get notifications when tasks are complete and add milestones throughout the project.
If you’ve been trying to schedule projects on Excel, you know how complicated and just plain time-consuming spreadsheets can be. There are many reasons to stop using Excel, but the number one reason is to get an online, interactive Gantt charts.
The Gantt chart provides a better perspective than a common spreadsheet to see which tasks are connected as well as providing a visual representation of the whole project schedule. It can be the backbone for scheduling a project.
But not all Gantt charts are created equal.
You’ll want to find a scheduling software that features a drag-and-drop functionality to updating the schedule in your Gantt, but also one that has more advanced features like creating a project baseline, adding milestones, planned and actual dates columns, work breakdown structure, and task-level collaboration features like adding comments and attachments. These Gantt scheduling features are easy to use in most online scheduling tools and help you track your project performance over time far more simply than Excel ever could.
The other major feature your scheduling software should to be able to do is list and update all the tasks in your project. And, like with the workload feature, you’ll want to have the power to manage those tasks by adding due dates and prioritizing each day.
But tasks aren’t completed in isolation on a team. Usually one team member’s work is related to another, and oftentimes Bob can’t get started on his work until Suzanne has finished her task. When you link tasks to create task dependencies, then you can automate your scheduling, so you don’t have to keep updating your task lists or Excel spreadsheet manually.
On your Gantt chart, linked tasks are typically identifiable with a connecting arrow, so you can see at-a-glance where you have dependencies, and if the primary task is delayed, the linked task’s start and end date will also change. This takes us back to our workload management feature. Now that Suzanne has time available because Bob is still working on that task, you can reallocate other work to Suzanne in seconds.
Reminders and notifications are essential to set up for your team. The less you have to think about small stuff the more you can focus on managing and leading the project. Therefore, anytime you can automate what is basically busy work, you want to do so.
Just like you collaborate on projects, you can collaborate on scheduling. Yes, it’s your responsibility to set the schedule and manage it, but you’re not working in a vacuum. It’s important to seek the help and guidance of those team members who are going to be your eyes in the field when you’re coming up with a schedule.
A collaborative feature on your scheduling software gives you a platform on which to collect input from the team, where they can offer their expertise and give you new perspectives on productivity and efficiency when scheduling the work.
With a collaborative tool, the team can also update tasks as they go along to help give you a real-time picture of where the project is. You can also build better communications with your team by having them participate throughout the course of the project.
If you use a software that gives you all these features, then you’re going to find that the work you do is greatly simplified and your headaches will be kept at a minimum. As the project leader you shouldn’t get bogged down with details that can easily be assigned to your software to give you the time to pay attention to the things you’re being paid for.
ProjectManager.com offers you an easy-to-use online scheduling software solution that includes all these 5 features and so much more. Take the free 30-day trial today to get better project scheduling.