Project Scheduling: A 4-Step Guide for Every Project Manager

Time’s a currency we often forget to count. If you think about it, it pays dividends, much like money does. So to speak, a project’s success is only absolute when it is well within predetermined deadlines, in addition to being profitable. The path to meet timelines, then, is directly associated with making the smaller chunks and tasks of the project, deadline compliant. After all, the sum of the parts is at times, greater than the whole!

The project schedule as it is called is the act of juggling resources such that they match the time and cost requirements. This schedule though suffers from being at the epicentre of the project’s mayhem, with everyone making edits, different opinions reflecting in different ways and the confusion that follows. All that can end though, when transparency, effective skill matches, scientific task breakdown and tracking take place.

Let’s find out more with the following points.

1. Understand the work breakdown structure of your project

Once you’ve landed the perfect project, planning the course it takes could be a fulfilling or frightening ride, all based on the route you take. In this regard, the work breakdown structure or WBS as it is popularly called is one of the most widely accepted formats of breaking down complex projects and their activities into smaller, digestible units. It is a user-friendly methodology beneficial for building real, tangible action plans for projects.

Essentially, a project gets broken down into tasks, further into subtasks, and then into smaller activities. This way, ownership, allocation and accountability all get a starting point.

The WBS proves to be a great solution because:

1.      It is a visually communicative approach that helps simplify complex projects;

2.      You neither leave behind anything nor include unnecessary tasks on the list;

3.      Accountability can be established for all tasks – irrespective of size or function;

4.      The structure will be the physical layout of your plan for all practical purposes;

5.      All estimates – be it financial or time centred, are based on the WBS.

Sequentially, you can dice the mountain that your project is, into smaller, seemingly possible chunks and then decide its owners and outcomes in the next few steps.

2. Plan tasks and milestones

Based on the WBS, the next step is then to spread out the tasks and make owners for the most important items. This includes understanding task dependencies, the logical course they must take and the effort hours that they each require.

For example, with a website development project, while the UX Design side of things can be decided through the WBS itself, the smaller milestones in terms of the pages to be designed or the physical attributes of the page can be tackled in this step. This helps plan your scheduled with centralized structure and prioritize tasks systematically. In addition, if your team subscribes to the agile culture, you can throw open the tasklist with the freedom to have individual owners. However, if you happen to have a traditional hierarchy, you can then opt to entrust respective team leaders with the WBS breakdown and expectperiodic updates, thereafter.

The key point to be aware of is how WBS and milestone stage differ from each other. While the former is also the birthplace of the project’s strategic goals, the latter is a purely operational one. The milestone stage lets everyone understand what they need to do and how.

3. Allocate resources in terms of skill matches

The next step addresses skill and task requirement matches. The task breakdown has to be matched with the bookings that you need to complete the project, in accordance with the chosen timeline. This is the crux of the project scheduling process. This process reaches its optimal best when you have a skill inventory that is constantly updated and reflects the current requirements you have.

It is particularly useful to have a visually communicative schedule such as a Gantt Chart. Such a schedule helps understand information and maintain transparency all at once. The project schedule, in addition, should let you accommodate all activities that can keep an employee’s schedule occupied. This includes projects, non-project activities, vacation and others. This way, the schedule will not lead to confusions or worse, a project timeline variance. In short, when done right, your project schedule will be the only version of the truth you have for resource and task timelines. And to make things easier, project managers are beginning to invest in tools that plug in all these components at one go.

4. Track bookings in accordance with deadlines

Finally, as you begin to close the planning stage, you’ll have the execution and tracking phase taking over. This step is crucial to not only access the success of your plan but also to accommodate the unforeseen delays and roadblocks that execution is likely to encounter. This way, you begin to get closer to perfecting your time estimates.

In order to track time estimates, you’ll need to plugin a robust time sheet that functions hand in hand with the schedule. With the access to edit and fill out this timesheet, users can go ahead and checklist task dependencies, one after the other. This way, there is both the proof of task completion as well as a detailed comparison of how the planning phase and execution phase differ. Such metrics help sharpen your planning process by giving you an absolute picture of your project roadmap.

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