What Is a Project Schedule?

A project schedule communicates 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.

It’s quite a lot to manage. If you don’t want your project to quickly fall off the rails, you’ll want to understand and practice proper project scheduling. 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.

ProjectManager.com, for example, has online Gantt charts for scheduling tasks and resources, but also team management features and reporting tools for a comprehensive project management platform. Sign up for a free trial today to make a project schedule quickly and easily, without sacrificing other robust project management functions.

Gantt chart with tasks on a project timeline

How to Make a Project Schedule

Project scheduling occurs during the planning phase of the project. When beginning to put together a schedule for your project, you should ask yourself four things to start:

  1. What needs to be done?
  2. When will it be done?
  3. Who will do it?
  4. Where will it be done?

The answers to these four questions will greatly inform your project schedule moving forward, as you’ll use this information to plan dates, link activities, set the duration, create milestones and manage resources.

Follow these steps to create a project schedule of your own!

1. Create the Project Scope

The project scope is created during the initial planning. It’s a document that contains the specific goals, deliverables, features, budget, etc of your project. All of the tasks needed to complete the project successfully are listed here (which requires understanding the stakeholder’s requirements.)

Be thorough when putting a task list together, you don’t want to leave anything out. By using a work breakdown structure (WBS) you can organize these activities and lay them out in order of completion.

Related: Work Breakdown Structure Template

2. Establish the Sequence of Tasks

Tasks are the small jobs that lead to the final deliverable, and it’s fairly crucial to map out the sequence of those tasks before diving into them. Oftentimes a task will be dependent on another to start or finish. You don’t want to get halfway through a task before you realize you can’t complete it due to hanging objectives.

3. Group Tasks

Once you’ve collected your tasks and have them in proper order, you should take the opportunity to divide your tasks by importance. You need to know which is critical to the project and must be done first and those less important that can be done if there’s time.

Then, break your tasks down with milestones that relate to the five project phases—initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and close. Organizing your tasks with milestones makes it easier to track progress, and gives your teams a sense of accomplishment that boosts morale and productivity.

4. Link Task Dependencies

Some tasks can be done simultaneously, but some tasks are dependent on others to start or finish before they can start or finish. These task dependencies must be mapped out in your schedule to keep you aware of them, or you risk bottlenecks and blocking your team.

5. Find the Critical Path

The critical path is a method for scheduling tasks in a project to find those which are critical to the success of the project. This allows you to make smart choices about tasks that can be ignored if time and costs become constrained.

6. Assign Resources

Every task on your schedule should have the related resources and costs associated with completing it. Tasks aren’t done on their own, and without mapping the proper resources to each task you’re in danger of going wildly over budget. With resources attached to tasks, you can more accurately plan your team’s time and keep their workload balanced.

How to Maintain Your Project Schedule During Execution

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.

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. Watch the video below to learn how scheduling software can help you lead your project to a successful conclusion, or continue on to read our full walkthrough.

What Are Project Scheduling Tools?

Project scheduling tools are used to help managers organize and execute their project’s tasks and resources within a given budget. Software offerings range from rudimentary to sophisticated, and provide users with a wide spectrum of features that facilitate the scheduling of their project.

Project management training video (lskvjzjyc3)

Software devoted to scheduling a project can assist in the larger role of planning and estimation of the duration of each task. Outside of scheduling, software can also include tools that manage costs, budget, resource allocation, collaboration, communication and reporting.

Depending on your needs, there are many offerings and certainly one will fit your organizational objectives.

Desktop vs. Online Tools

Project scheduling tools can be put into two categories—either a desktop or a cloud-based online variant. There are benefits and drawbacks to each, which we will outline here.

Desktop Tools

Desktop software is the more traditional version. Before the ubiquity of the internet, software was locked to the computer within which it was installed. Offices would then network these individual computers and create an infrastructure (or intranet) that allows each terminal to communicate with the other.

Today, desktop project scheduling tools remain competitive. One advantage compared to online software is the ability to keep it’s users focused on the task at hand. Without a web browser tempting you to check social media or some news outlet, you’re like a workhorse with blinders staying on its route.

There’s also speed to think about. You’re not connected online, and are therefore not at the mercy of your internet connection. A desktop software tool relies only on the performance of your computer. You can access it quickly, and its performance will not vary depending on connectivity.

Online Tools

Online software for project scheduling has improved greatly as web-based technology has advanced—but it doesn’t just mimic desktop software. There are many things that an online application provides that a desktop is incapable of doing.

Being cloud-based is a boon for teams who are working in the field or collaborating in different regions or timezones. They can take their laptop or tablet with them to the site, and work with team members who are in the office. Online project scheduling software gives them the flexibility to work how they want.

More than that, the data they’re working with is live. That is, the information they read on the tool is the most current possible, and shared with all other members of the team. This means you can catch issues quickly and give stakeholders presentations on progress that are up-to-date.

Benefits of Online Scheduling Tools

Using online scheduling software means that managers can make data-driven decisions. When they see that there’s a bottleneck or some block preventing team members from moving forward on their tasks, they can quickly reallocate resources and keep the project on track.

Managers and teams can work better together with the right online scheduling software and manage resources and budgets to keep the project running smoothly. Those are the big benefits, but not the only ones when using online scheduling software. Here are others:

  • Build detailed plans for your projects
  • View all your work on task lists and calendars
  • Get status updates to stakeholders
  • Create task lists for yourself and your teams
  • Manage workload and reallocate work
  • Monitor performance in real-time
  • Edit with drag-and-drop scheduling

Must-Have Scheduling Software Features

Scheduling software that has the following features will give you the most power to effectively manage your project.

Get Tasks Organized on a Timeline

Projects have lots of tasks, and they need to be organized on a timeline to create a workable schedule. Gantt charts are a visual tool that can collect all your tasks, prioritize them, link those that are dependent on one another and even break the larger project into manageable phases.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s gantt chart

Monitor High-Level Progress

Once your project schedule is executed, you need to keep a close watch on performance to stay on track. Dashboards are a window into progress that act like an instant status report, showing percentage of tasks complete, project variance, workload and more.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s dashboard

Balance Your Team’s Tasks

Keeping on schedule means allocating your resources smartly. Knowing how many tasks your team is assigned is crucial. If some are overallocated and others have too few tasks, the schedule suffers—as well as morale. You want to be able to reallocate their assignments.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s workload page

Generate Fast and Insightful Data

Stakeholders have a vested interest in the success of a project, and must be regularly updated on its progress. You do that by quickly creating reports on tasks, costs, project variance, etc., and sharing them at stakeholder presentations. Filtering shows the information you want to see.

A screenshot of a report generated by ProjectManager.com

Facilitate Teams to Work More Productively

Teams need the right tools to execute the schedule on time and within your budget. Getting them to work better together is important. Look for features that allow team members to comment at the task level, attach files and share data with each other.

A screenshot of two team members communicating on a task in ProjectManager.com

Have a Centralized Repository

Projects have a lot of paperwork. These documents are referred to throughout the life cycle of the project, and need to be easily accessible. Having a scheduling tool with unlimited file storage means you can keep everything in one place, and get to it fast when you need it.

A screenshot of a list of files attached to a project in ProjectManager.com

Creating a Project Schedule in ProjectManager.com

Project scheduling software organizes your tasks on a timeline, considers the resources you have to complete the project and manages all those parts to keep the project on track.

ProjectManager.com is an award-winning scheduling software that integrates plans, timelines, budgets, communication and more to give you greater control over your project schedule. Sign up for a free 30-day trial of our software, and follow along to build an ideal project schedule.

Initiate Your Project

Set up the project before you start scheduling. In this initial phase, you set up your budget, and the general timeline in which you have to produce your final deliverable.

Add the budget to create a baseline to compare to what you actually spend when executing.the project.

Popup window to start a new project

Define Tasks

Project scheduling is all about managing your tasks. As we covered earlier, tasks are the small jobs that lead to your final deliverable. Defining those tasks is the first step towards proper project management.

Import a task list from any spreadsheet, or use of our built-in templates to get started. Add durations to those tasks to set them on a timeline on the Gantt.

Task list with due dates, status, etc. to start a project schedule

Block Calendar

Take note of the dates that your team can or cannot work. These are your holidays, paid time off and other such dates that must be established before you can create your schedule.

Set holidays in the software, both global and local, to know your team’s availability. This is most helpful in managing remote teams. Outlining your typical working days is the best first step if you don’t have the other information readily available.

Holiday popup to set working days, holidays and paid time off for teams in project

Set Dependencies

Avoiding bottlenecks and getting the work done on time are the primary reasons you’re thoroughly scheduling your project. You’ll want to link dependent tasks to ensure the work flows smoothly.

Connect the dependent tasks in your project by dragging one task on the Gantt onto the other. A line will appear, and from there, you can set what type of dependency these two tasks have.

Linked dependent tasks on a project schedule

Assign Team

Teams are your most valuable resource. They do the work that gets the project to the finish line. For optimal efficiency, you need to get the right team member working on the right set of tasks.

Assign team members tasks from any of the multiple project views. For further direction, you can attach detailed descriptions, priority levels and costs associated with tasks to help your team track and complete them.

Board view of card showing team members who have been assigned to a task

Monitor Progress

Once the schedule is set and the project is in the execution phase, managers will want to stay attuned with what’s going on without getting in the way of their team. Tracking project metrics allows you to catch issues and resolve them before they become projects.

Get a high-level view of the project with our real-time dashboard. We collect project data on time, cost, workload and more, and automatically calculate and display it in colorful, easy-to-read graphs and charts.

Real-time dashboard with graphs and charts showing project progress

Manage Resources

Knowing your resources and keeping them balanced leads to a more productive and happy project team.

Use our workload page to see how many tasks your team is assigned. The color-coded chart makes it easy to see who is overallocated, and you can reallocate their workload without leaving the page.

Workload page with color-coded chart showing task allocation across team

Adjust Plan

Schedules are living documents. As internal and external forces play on a project, you need a fast and easy way to adapt. Being flexible helps you prevent slippage.

Drag and drop tasks to new start or end dates on our online Gantt chart to easily edit your schedule. All changes are instantly reflected throughout the software.

Gantt chart with calendar popup to edit start and end date of task

Keep Stakeholders in the Loop

Stakeholders are the people with a vested interest in the project. They need to know what’s happening, and keeping them informed of your progress is one of your key responsibilities.

Generate reports on project variance, tasks and more with a single click. You can quickly filter through results when presenting the report to stakeholders to assist in responding to their questions.

Project status report with overall health of project and summary data

Best Practices for the Project Scheduling Process

Keeping your project on track and within budget requires a good schedule. That means creating a schedule that is both reliable and that meets the requirements of your project. To make sure your schedule is the best it can be, follow these best practices.

Thoroughly Collect Project Tasks

The last thing you want is to miss a critical task after you’ve created your project schedule. Making sure every task is accounted for and lands in the right place to get the project done on time is hard enough, without trying to squeeze in tasks missed. A work breakdown structure is a great tool to make sure you capture every step on the road to your deliverable.

Be Realistic

When developing your project schedule, it’s important to set reasonable durations for your tasks. It should be measurable, of course; short, if possible, but with room for changes if needed. To do this, you need to take a deep look at your resources and your team’s capacity to complete the work. The more you do this on the front end of a project, the less issues you’ll have once it starts.

Have Float in Your Schedule

Float is the amount of time a task can extend before it negatively impacts the final deliverable. You want to have some amount of float in your schedule to give you the wiggle room you’ll need as changes occur. But you don’t want too much float! That’s usually an indication that there is something amiss with your schedule.

Constantly Assess the Critical Path

The critical path is the way to see which of your tasks are essential to reaching the final deliverable, and which can be sidelined if time and cost become issues by charting the project’s earliest possible completion. But know that the critical path can change during the execution of your project, so you need to go back and check it regularly.

Keep Track of Project Scope

Things change is a project. That’s unavoidable. Not responding to these changes, however, is irresponsible. Monitoring your project scope, and adjusting tasks and schedules to keep your project on track, is what managing a schedule is all about. Take note of how scope changes impact your project timeline, and if the change gets in the way of meeting your final deliverable.

Project Schedule vs Project Plan

To wrap this up, we’ll end with some disambugation between two related concepts; though related, a project schedule and a project plan are two different things. The project plan is the larger, grand-scheme blueprint on how the project will run. The project schedule focuses on the details on how that will get done.

The project plan is an outline that explains how the project will be managed. The project plan comes first, and the project schedule often falls under its larger project umbrella. You can’t create a project schedule without first having the large strokes of the project painted out in your project plan. Once the plan is approved, then the schedule can be added, with specific dates, duration, assignments, resources, etc.

The project schedule is made up of the specific tasks and due dates for each. It’s a timeline for the project for when the tasks will be started and completed. The schedule is more an estimation based on historical data, experience, etc. The schedule is fluid, and changes throughout the project. The plan remains the same. It defines the project goal, scope, resources needed, costs, etc. Only once these have been established can work on a schedule begin.

Another difference between the project plan and schedule is that the plan doesn’t necessitate the use of project management tools. Since the project plan is mostly a series of documents, you can just use a word processing program. However, project schedules usually run on project management software tools, with features such as Gantt charts.

Get a Free 30-Day Trial of Our Project Scheduling Software

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, a cloud-based software.

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.

See why tens of thousands of project teams in organizations as diverse as NASA and the Bank of America use our tool to keep on schedule. Take a 30-day free trial of our software today to try these powerful tools for yourself.

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