Depending on the complexity and length of your project, your project management schedule can range from a simple chronological task list to a complex web of interrelated tasks and dependencies. Still, there are concrete steps you can take to develop a solid project schedule and ensure all aspects of your project are properly planned and accounted for.
Once you get the steps down, then you’ll want to have the right tools to make sure you are able to implement and maintain this process in your project scheduling. With a scheduling software tool you can schedule all your projects online, create task lists for your team and manage their schedules as well as using a calendar view to stay on top of deadlines.
Here’s our quick guide to effective project management scheduling.
Step 1: Write Down Your Tasks
First, you’re going to work out what it is that you have to do. It might sound obvious, but this is the stage where you are likely to forget a couple of activities, and once the project schedule is produced, you won’t remember to add them in until you realize that no one has done them.
The best way around this is to involve the team in constructing the list of tasks. You could start off the list with everything that you know needs to be included (like all the broader project management activities such as risk management meetings and key reporting dates). Then get the team together to add to it.
Use their specialist knowledge to ensure that every element of the project is comprehensively planned. You may find it easier to do this with a few short meetings over a couple of days to allow people to reflect on what needs to be done. It’s amazing what you’ll remember on the commute home, so plan in some time to update the project schedule before it is finalized.
Be sure to keep project scope in mind as you’re working on your tasks. Tasks are one of the main culprits for taking projects off-track. As you do this, also estimate the resources these tasks are going to demand, to further assist in your scheduling.
Step 2: Establish the Order of Tasks
One of the key things when working on a project management schedule. After all, you wouldn’t drive off without putting your seatbelt on first, and project scheduling is the same. You can’t schedule everything to start at the same time. For one thing, your project team would be too busy to do it all!
There’s more about adding tasks to people in Step 5 below but for now let’s look at managing the links between tasks.
A Gantt chart is a graphical representation of a project schedule and it shows you the links between tasks. These are called dependencies and are normally marked with a black line. Your project management software will probably draw the links in for you if you enter the dependency information – in other words, which tasks need to be done before or after this task.
Elizabeth Harrin has an excellent article on managing different types of task dependencies, if you want to learn more.
Work with your team to plan out the order of tasks. It’s easier to do this on sticky notes and a big piece of flipchart paper before you start typing it into your software. Remember to highlight any dependencies related to external teams, too, as well as client and vendor dependencies. It’s not uncommon to invite representatives from key groups to these meetings to establish the clear dependencies for the overall project at the outset.
Step 3: Create Some Milestones
A project milestone is a particular point in time that marks the completion of something or another significant moment on the plan. For example, the end of a phase, the start of a product build, or a date that the factory is available for manufacturing to begin.
Put milestones on your project schedule in appropriate places, and link them to the relevant tasks. You’ll want milestones to appear regularly on the schedule as they will help you identify if you are still on target to complete all the work on time. Milestones are a great way to make project scheduling less of a hassle.
Step 4: Calculate the Timescale
Once you have a list of linked tasks with milestones, you can add in any fixed dates. For example, many project management applications will automatically schedule your project to start today, but you might be planning some work that won’t start for a few months. So go through the dates and make sure that they are all as you would expect. You can alter them manually or add in any additional dates as required.
This is also the point to review how long each task will take. Software will generally set the task duration to whatever the default is, which could be as little as one day. Make sure that each task lasts for the right amount of time by manually changing the duration.
Step 5: Allocate People to Tasks
Your plan is nearly complete! But first you have to add in the details of the people doing the work. This is important because if you don’t work out who is doing what when you might inadvertently book an individual to work on too many things at the same time.
Go through the task list and allocate your project team members to the appropriate tasks. Ideally you would have gotten informed estimates from your team before putting them into the planning tool, as usually team members get alerts when new tasks are assigned to them. You also might want to check out Devin Deen’s excellent video on how to get realistic estimates and schedules for more in-depth advice on how to get proper estimates from your team.
Check that you haven’t got anyone overstretched or anyone sitting around doing nothing. If you have, look at changing the order or dates of tasks to better fit the times that your resources are available. This analysis can take a while, so check to see if your software has a report that will do it for you.
Step 6: Review Regularly
It’s impossible to create the perfect project schedule on the first attempt. Your schedule will also change as the project evolves, especially if you make amendments to the project scope. Have a formal review at least once a month, although you’ll probably be looking at and tweaking your plans much more frequently than that.
A final tip is to make sure that any stakeholders, and the project team, know that your schedule is likely to change so that they don’t expect that the document they get given on Day 1 is the definitive version! However, you should always aim for the schedule to be as accurate as possible, and knowing that changes are likely is never an excuse to do a poor job at the start.
The project management schedule is an essential piece of documentation for the project manager and the whole team. It sets out exactly what is to be done in what order, by whom and is the guide that the team follows to get the project done. Knowing how to create a schedule is a core skill for any project manager, so hopefully this six step guide will help you build the perfect schedule for your next project.
ProjectManager.com is powerful online tool that allows you to create great Gantt charts, allocate resources to tasks and send automated alerts to your team so that everyone knows what tasks to work on at all times. Because ProjectManager.com is cloud-based, you get real-time data that allows you to adjust your project schedule quickly to avoid turning an issue into a problem. See for yourself by taking our free 30-day trial.