Is your schedule worth the paper it is written on? It’s a cliché – especially these days when an online project management tool means that you don’t have to carry paper around with you anymore. But whether you print it out for comfort or access it on your mobile device, a good schedule makes it easier to manage the project. You know where you are and what everyone is supposed to be doing.
However, a project schedule is only as good as the data you put in it. If you enter rubbish data, your schedule won’t be worth any amount of paper and you’ll have no idea what is supposed to happen when. Worse, you won’t be able to advise your team about what they are supposed to be doing next and you’ll have no idea what to tell your project sponsor when asked whether the project is on track.
There is a skill to project scheduling, but you can make life easier for yourself by avoiding these 5 scheduling mistakes.
1. Failing to Take Scope Changes Into Account
Projects change as they go along – we all know that. Schedules must change to reflect any changes in scope. There’s no point trying to deliver to your original project plan if you have just added in another 20 days of development time or expanded the scope to include a whole new department.
Most changes will have an impact on the project schedule. Changes typically add something to the scope of the project, although sometimes a stakeholder will request a change that takes something out of scope. You could also face a change which alters a key milestone. All of these will have an impact on the dates in the project schedule.
Your change management process should be the link (and the catalyst) that joins your existing project and the new change together. When you assess the change, work out how many days extra effort it will be to do it – this should already be part of the change management process. That will give you an idea of what impact this change will have on your schedule. If the change is approved, update your schedule immediately. The way the dates move on the schedule will be a big warning sign to team members as well, so everyone will know that something is different.
If you do add additional work into the scope, make sure that the new tasks are at the same level of granularity as the existing tasks. It’s not much help to add in a big 20-day task that says ‘Design and implement Change 6’. Break down the bigger task into smaller ones and aim for a task duration that makes sense to track. Don’t go too small though. Tasks that are about a week long are about right, although go smaller if it makes sense for the team and the project.
2. Failing to Mark Tasks as Complete
Don’t you love ticking off things on a list? Which project manager doesn’t? There’s nothing more satisfying than going into your project management software and marking tasks as complete. It is instant gratification and a visual sign that the project is making progress.
If you don’t mark tasks as complete your project schedule starts to look as if you are behind, even if you aren’t. It also makes it look as if you don’t know what your project team is doing and that you aren’t up to date with the project status.
Even if you are getting regular status updates from project team members and you know that you are not behind, it’s important to still mark tasks as complete when the work is done. Don’t assume that everyone knows what progress you are making towards the end goal. Checking off tasks makes it obvious to the rest of the team. It is also a subtle opportunity to make the point that you are expecting work to carry on in a forwards direction and that people shouldn’t be going back to amend that task anymore.
3. Failing to Update Tasks as You Go
Failing to tick off completed tasks is one thing, but do you also update tasks as you go? Or do you wait until the task is complete and then make the changes to the schedule. Project managers should be tracking the progress of tasks that are in-flight. If your project management software has the option for time tracking, you might find that your team members are doing this for you through their time entries. You’ll be able to see how much effort they have already spent on a task and how much there is still to go.
This data can be really useful for project scheduling because we all tend to be a little bit too optimistic, especially when it comes to our own work and how much we think we can realistically do in a day. How often have you written a to do list for the day and it has got to going home time before you realize that there is no possible way that you are going to get everything done? Project scheduling is no different. Team members can be too optimistic about the time it is going to take to complete their project tasks, so they think they will make up for any slippage later. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case.
Using the data about past performance will help you update the duration of tasks when they are starting to slip. Better to do that before the task ends than get to the due date and wonder why it hasn’t completed on time. Having said that, don’t be too soft with your team! If they provided the estimates, they should work all out to try to get the task done on time. But sometimes even with all the good will in the world they can’t get things finished as they expected.
4. Failing to Record Dependencies
Projects don’t happen in a vacuum. You will have dependencies on other projects or business initiatives, and these should also be recorded in the schedule. On top of that, you’ll have dependencies between project tasks. Nearly every task leads into something else or enables something else to start or finish.
If you don’t put these dependencies on your schedule you are missing a big chunk of data that will help you plan more accurately. No dependencies means you can’t easily tell what has to happen in what order. It could lead to you missing things if you can’t see what a later task is waiting for.
The project team can help you work out what tasks are dependent on each other, so don’t feel like you have to do it all yourself. Once you have identified the links between tasks add them to your schedule.
5. Failing to Plan for When Resources are Available
Unless you have a dedicated team just for your project, you will be reliant on people to be available at a time that suits your schedule. And in the real world that doesn’t always work out. People have other commitments, their day jobs, they go on training courses or they quit (although that could happen even if they are dedicated to your project).
The dates on your schedule soon become unachievable if the people are not available. Add holiday time into your plan, and schedule your resources in around the hours that they can work on the project, especially if they are part-time. The more accurate you can get this, the more notice you can give them about upcoming tasks and the more likely they are to be free to pick up their project work when you need them.
Scheduling can be a time consuming job, especially when you have to keep plans up to date across a large team. When things change all the time it can be particularly disheartening to have to do all your project planning again, but the oversight and control that a good schedule gives you is definitely worth the effort.
Make scheduling and progress tracking easy by using an online project management tool to manage your plans and teams online. Sign up for a 30-day free trial of our software and you’ll be well on the way to avoiding these scheduling mistakes.