The Basics of Project Scheduling

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Last updated on
08th Jun, 2022
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16th May, 2017
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The Basics of Project Scheduling

Project scheduling isn’t to be confused with project planning; in fact, it is only one part of the plan and yet, it is a critical piece for delivering your project on time (how do you know what is considered on time without a schedule?). This your starting point and shouldn’t be taken lightly – a well detailed schedule will guide you through the entire project lifecycle and keep you on track.

Here are the steps required for putting together your project schedule:

  1. Develop your project scope

This process is carried out with all the stakeholders. The project scope outlines the intended result of the project and what’s required to bring it to completion. In this scope, you’ll include all the resources involved and cost and time constraints. With this project scope, a work breakdown structure (WBS) is developed, which outlines all the tasks and breaks them down into specific deliverables.

  1. Sequence of Activities

Once you have your Project Scope and Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), you can extract the list of tasks that need to be completed. To be clear, the WBS outlines what needs to be done – not how or when. Once you have the list of tasks, you can sequence them in the right order and estimate the time and resources required to bring them to completion.

  1. Group Tasks Into Phases

Once you have your Project Scope and Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), you can extract the list of tasks that need to be completed. To be clear, the WBS outlines what needs to be done – not how or when. Once you have the list of tasks, you can sequence them in the right order and estimate the time and resources required to bring them to completion.

  • Project conception (the idea)

The project idea is evaluated to determine if it benefits the organization, what the benefits are and how feasible it is to bring this project to completion.

  • Project definition and planning (scheduling is part of this phase)

The project scope is written, outlining the work to be performed. This is also the phase when budgets, schedules and resources required are calculated.

  • Project launch (this is the execution of the project)

Resources start working on their tasks, deliverables are completed, meetings are held and status reports and development updates are submitted during this phase.

  • Project Performance (comparing expectations to results)

Using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), project managers will determine if the project is on track.

  • Project close (project delivered to client and further evaluated)

This phase marks the completion of the project. Often, project managers will organize a post mortem (meeting), to discuss project successes and failures.

  1. Map Dependencies

After you have a clear view of all the deliverables and what’s required to complete them, it’s time to start mapping out the dependencies between the tasks, ie. which tasks require another task to be started or finished before it can be performed. The dependency map will outline the relationships between tasks.  There are 4 types of dependencies to consider:

Finish-to-Start:

An activity must finish before the next activity can start.

Start-to-Start:

An activity must start before the next activity can start.

Finish-to-Finish:

An activity must finish before the next activity can finish.

Start-to-Finish:

An activity must start before the next activity can finish.

  1. Outline Your Critical Path

With all this information, a Critical path can be developed to schedule the project activities. A task is potentially critical if the time between its end date and the subsequent task’s start date is zero. It becomes critical when it cannot be delayed without delaying the whole project.

The critical path is then a sequence of linked tasks whose intervals are zero, and this critical path will determine the duration of the project.

  1. Define Project Milestones

Milestones are like checkpoints along your project lifecycle that mark important activities, which ultimately help the PM to see if the project is on track. Milestones have a duration of 0 and are not tasks in and of themselves – they are progress points for project completion and delivery.

You might want to have 2 kinds of milestones in you project :

Internal milestones: those directly used to help your project team follow the project progress and their own schedule.

External milestones: those meant to be communicated to stakeholders/marketing teams/press, etc., which should be linked to global phases of your project

      7.Plan Your Human Resources

Now that you have a clear outline of all the essential activities and the timeline, you can start adding people to the plan. Match people with the right skills sets to the appropriate activities. A wise assumption is that people will not be 100% productive or focused on the project – so don’t schedule all of their time. A common rule is to allocate 80% of their time to the project and 20% to administrative tasks, etc.

  1. Select Start/Due Date

Once you go through all these steps and you create your project schedule, you’ll have a fairly accurate estimate of the milestone dates and how long it will take to bring your project to completion. At this point you can set a well-informed due date and start date.

Remember to:

  • Include public holidays and employees’ days off
  • Take the time to properly understand and map out task dependencies
  • Define milestones
  • Make realistic task duration estimates
  • Determine the project duration before setting a project due date
  • Assign people for 80% of their working hours
  • Build in contingency time
  • Be prepared to reschedule (This may happen when one or more resources are unavailable (illness, unexpected activities,etc)
  • Include these “surprises” or manage risks with a B plan

For a kick start on the topic of Project Management & Scheduling, check out Genius Project’s Beginner’s Guide to Project Scheduling. 

 

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Diana Deskander

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Diana Eskander is a copywriter for Genius Project, enterprise project management software. Diana loves reading, writing and sharing her knowledge on interpersonal skills.