Schedules specify the sequence of project tasks.
Can you imagine starting a long car trip to an unfamiliar destination without a map or navigation system? You're pretty sure you have to make some turns here and there, but you have no idea when or where, or how long it will take to get there. You may arrive eventually, but you run the risk of getting lost, and feeling frustrated, along the way.
Essentially, driving without any idea of how you're going to get there is the same as working on a project without a schedule. No matter the size or scope of your project, the schedule is a key part of project management. The schedule tells you when each activity should be done, what has already been completed, and the sequence in which things need to be finished.
Luckily, drivers have fairly accurate tools they can use. Scheduling, on the other hand, is not an exact process. It's part estimation , part prediction, and part 'educated guessing.'
Because of the uncertainty involved, the schedule is reviewed regularly, and it is often revised while the project is in progress. It continues to develop as the project moves forward, changes arise, risks come and go, and new risks are identified. The schedule essentially transforms the project from a vision to a time-based plan.
Schedules also help you do the following:
With that in mind, what's the best way of building an accurate and effective schedule for your next project?
Project managers have a variety of tools to develop a project schedule – from the relatively simple process of action planning for small projects, to use of Gantt Charts and Network Analysis for large projects . Here, we outline the key tools you will need for schedule development.
You need several types of inputs to create a project schedule:
A project manager should be aware of deadlines and resource availability issues that may make the schedule less flexible.
Here are some tools and techniques for combining these inputs to develop the schedule:
One of the biggest reasons that projects over-run is that the 'final' polishing and error-correction takes very much longer than anticipated. In this way, projects can seem to be '80% complete' for 80% of the time! What's worse, these projects can seem to be on schedule until, all of a sudden, they over-run radically.
A good way of avoiding this is to schedule projects in distinct stages, where final quality, finished components are delivered at the end of each stage. This way, quality problems can be identified early on, and rectified before they seriously threaten the project schedule.
Once you have outlined the basic schedule, you need to review it to make sure that the timing for each activity is aligned with the necessary resources. Here are tools commonly used to do this:
After the initial schedule has been reviewed, and adjustments made, it's a good idea to have other members of the team review it as well. Include people who will be doing the work – their insights and assumptions are likely to be particularly accurate and relevant.
Scheduling aims to predict the future, and it has to consider many uncertainties and assumptions. As a result, many people believe it's more of an art than a science.
But whether you're planning a team retreat, or leading a multimillion-dollar IT project, the schedule is a critical part of your efforts. It identifies and organizes project tasks into a sequence of events that create the project management plan.
A variety of inputs and tools are used in the scheduling process, all of which are designed to help you understand your resources, your constraints, and your risks. The end result is a plan that links events in the best way to complete the project efficiently.
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