Project Practitioners > Lessons in Setting a Project Schedule

Lessons in Setting a Project Schedule

By Jerry Perone

Deadlines! They can be like quicksand. The harder we fight to meet deadlines, the more of them we seem to miss. The anxiety practically whispers in your ear, "you're about to miss another deadline."

If your current project life is an anxious one where you feel like you're trying to swim out of quicksand, I can relate. I remind myself of what that felt like often so I don't forget the importance of a project schedule. When I've found myself in project quicksand it's usually because I didn't create a detailed, well thought out, and accurate schedule or because my project schedule started slipping.

My first lesson for project scheduling – make one! Use any project planning tool that you understand and are trained on – try MS Project. Create the list of Work Packages (groups of tasks) and Activities (individual tasks in the work package). Schedule deadlines and identify your critical path. Generate milestones and work toward achieving each one. This will help prevent the bigger element, the project, from slipping.

I try to remind myself to keep project schedule creation as simple as possible – remember, simple does not always mean easy. If the project is initiated inside the company, I use the project charter to create the schedule. If the project is for a client, like a contracted project, I use the statement of work (SOW). First things first, I want to know when things are due, my deadlines. I want those dates on the schedule, immediately. Then, work packages and activities evolve and find their places on the schedule around those mandatory due dates.

Remember, a project schedule is a representation of a project using a graph, also called a Gantt chart, showing planned time periods for performing work activities. The schedule presents planned dates for meeting milestones. Milestones are listed chronologically. Usually, my schedules include start and end dates. I like the reward of knowing my team and I have finished a project on time for our clients.

It’s equally important to keep projects on schedule. I use the Management Concepts proprietary automatic project plan analysis software application. This verification tool helps me ensure that our client’s projects are where they need to be when they need to be there. It’s all about taking care of clients and their projects. And, if I do ever find myself in trouble, I quickly call my team together, identify problem areas, and implement corrective action to get projects back on schedule quick. I’ve found that this may mean the occasional late night. However, thanks to careful planning and verification, late nights are few and far between.

Next week – a major breakthrough in thought leadership helps you manage your projects!

Until then,

JP



Comments
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Thanks for the personal lessons and advice on setting project schedules and how to use them - and for the admonishment to keep it simple and focus on what matters in the situation. I believe this is an area that people either get lost in (the schedule takes on a life of its own and sucks down time at odds with the amount of benefit it's really delivering) or avoid altogether (because they're AFRAID it will such down time out of proportion to its benefit, or just in general be of little use in a fast-paced changing world.) I think it's important to encourage PMs to strike the right balance. I'm thinking back to situations where someone in management mandated certain use of scheduling tools that just didn't add commensurate value... Will come back to post on a few of those.

Meantime, interested to know if anyone reading has their key tips and advice for using and not abusing the whole scheduling process and related tools!


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