What Is Project Scheduling?
Project scheduling is a mechanism to communicate what tasks need to get done and which organizational resources will be allocated to complete those tasks in what timeframe. A project schedule is a document collecting all the work needed to deliver the project on time.
But when it comes to creating a project schedule, well, that’s something few have deep experience with.
What and who is being scheduled, and for what purposes, and where is this scheduling taking place, anyway?
A project is made up of many tasks, and each task is given a start and end (or due date), so it can be completed on time. Likewise, people have different schedules, and their availability and vacation or leave dates need to be documented in order to successfully plan those tasks.
Whereas people in the past might have printed calendars on a shared wall in the water-cooler room, or shared spreadsheets via email, today most teams use online project scheduling tools. Typically, project scheduling is just one feature within a larger project management software solution, and there are many different places in the software where scheduling takes place.
For example, most tools have task lists, which enable the manager to schedule multiple tasks, their due dates, sometimes the planned effort against that task, and then assign that task to a person. The software might also have resource scheduling, basically the ability to schedule the team’s availability, but also the availability of non-human resources like machines or buildings or meeting rooms.
Because projects have so many moving parts, and are frequently changing, project scheduling software automatically updates tasks that are dependent on one another, when one scheduled task is not completed on time. It also generates automated email alerts, so team members know when their scheduled tasks are due or overdue, and to let the manager know when someone’s availability has changed.
Project scheduling is simple when managed online, thankfully, especially since the software does all the hard part for you!
How to Schedule a Project
Before going deeper into project scheduling, let’s review the fundamentals to project scheduling. Project scheduling occurs during the planning phase of the project. You have to ask yourself three questions to start:
1. What needs to be done?
2. When will it be done?
3. Who will do it?
Once you’ve got answers to these questions, then you can begin to plan dates, link activities, set the duration, milestones and resources. The following are the steps needed to schedule a project:
What are the activities that you have to do in the project? By using a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and a deliverables diagram, you can begin to take these activities and organize them by mapping out the tasks necessary to complete them in an order than makes sense.
Now that you have the activities defined and broken down into tasks, you next have to determine the time and effort it will take to complete them. This is an essential piece of the equation in order to calculate the correct schedule.
Tasks are not an island, and often one cannot be started until the other is completed. That’s called a task dependency, and your schedule is going to have to reflect these linked tasks. One way to do this is by putting a bit of slack in your schedule to accommodate these related tasks.
The last step to finalizing your planned schedule is to decide on what resources you are going to need to get those tasks done on time. You’re going to have to assemble a team, and their time will need to be scheduled just like the tasks.
How to Maintain Your Schedule Once the Project Is Initiated
Once you’ve got all the pieces of your schedule together, the last thing you want to do is manually punch it into a static document like an Excel spreadsheet. Project management software can automate much of the process for you. But not all project management software is the same.
There are programs on the market that are great for simple scheduling duties, but when you’re leading a project, big or small, you need a tool that can adapt to the variety of scheduling issues you’re going to need to track. Like noted above, there are three tiers of scheduling: tasks, people and projects.
What you want when scheduling tasks is not a glorified to-do list, but a smart software that gives you the flexibility to handle the variety of responsibilities attached to each tasks in your project.
An interactive Gantt chart is crucial. You can add tasks and dates into your Gantt chart to have a visual representation of each task’s duration. Better still, as dates change—as they inevitably do—you can simply drag and drop those changes and the whole Gantt chart is updated instantly.
Related: Free Gantt Chart Template
There’s also automating processes to help with efficiencies. Email notifications are a great way to know immediately when a team member has completed a task. When they update, you know because your software is online and responding in real-time.
Continuing with automation, it’s one way to scheduling tasks more efficiently. If there are recurring tasks on a project, they can be scheduled in your PM tool so that once set you don’t have to worry about scheduling the same task over and over again.
Your tasks aren’t going to complete themselves. That’s why you have assembled a team, but if that team isn’t scheduled the way you have carefully scheduled your task list, then you’re not managing your project.
Over the course of a project’s lifecycle team members are going to take off for holidays, personal days or vacation. If you’re not prepared for these times, and have scheduled other team members to pick up the slack in their absence, your schedule will suffer.
Integrating your calendar into a project management software is a simple way to stay on top of your resources. There’s no reason to use a standalone calendar that sends you to another application every time you need to check on a team member’s availability.
Another way to stay on top of your scheduling is by integrating your task scheduling view on the Gantt chart with resource and workload scheduling features. You can schedule your team’s workload through color-coding, so you know at-a-glance who is behind, ahead or on schedule with their tasks.
We’re gone from the task level to the resources level of scheduling, but there’s no law that says you’re not working on a portfolio of projects. How can you keep on scheduling when juggling so many balls in the air at once?
The project dashboard is your best friend, whether you’re working on one or many projects. The dashboard is collecting all the real-time data collected by you and your teams, and then it’s organizing it according to any number of metrics to show you a picture of where you stand in real-time on the project or many projects.
With a project dashboard you can note where tasks are being blocked and immediately adjust your schedule to resolve delays before they become a problem. You can also use the graphs and charts the dashboard automatically generates to drill down deeper and filter or customize the results to get the information you need, when you need it.
And that’s just a fraction of what we could say about project scheduling. Our ongoing series explains and explores new and relevant terms in project management, focusing on a specific definition and summarizing what it means for anyone leading a project.
But to really get to know scheduling, it’s best to dive in with a project tool, your tasks and your team and create a new project schedule today.
Scheduling is one of the more difficult jobs in project management, but coordinating delivery dates on your estimates can be streamlined and made more efficient when you employ the tools in ProjectManager.com. From interactive Gantt charts, resource and workload management that can be easily integrated to a real-time reporting dashboard, you’ve never had a tighter hand on your project schedule. Ranked #1 by Gartner’s GetApp in project management, ProjectManager.com offers a free 30-day trial by clicking the link below.