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Key Benefits and Common Mistakes of Project Scheduling

Jack Grabovski
January 31, 2013

Keep Your Schedule Accurate and Complete

The benefits and mistakes in project schedulingRight project scheduling makes it possible to determine when a planned activity is best to start and finish in terms of the resources and objectives this activity relates to. An accurate and complete schedule template captures durations, dependencies (predecessor tasks and their relationships), resource availability, and target completion date of the project, so it becomes easier for the team and other stakeholders to get a clear idea of what work items are to be done, in what sequence and when.  The benefits of good scheduling can be also derived by the project manager (PM) who is enabled to review work progress, comply the activities with business policies, and reach efficiency in program management. Meanwhile, there are several common mistakes in scheduling that often cause project failure. Let’s find out more about the key benefits and mistakes.

The Benefits for Project Manager

Defining Scope

An accurate template of schedule helps define project scope. Executives can use scheduling as the primary tool to determine durations and dependencies of tasks and relate them to a work breakdown structure. Time requirements for individual jobs can be accurately estimated and aligned with the scope.

A Powerful Tool for Progress Review

PM uses schedule templates as a powerful tool for sharing the time-relating data with senior stakeholders and team members. This tool lets communicate on work progress, review the current state of milestones and activities, and focus the reviewers on project issues and their potential impacts to schedule performance. The manager can also use the template as the key tool in status reporting.

Compliance with Business Policies and Procedures

When an organization wants to run a kind of project, obviously it tries to achieve a certain business goal. The schedule will be a great way to systematically realize the business objectives and keep the project aligned with the policies and procedures of the organization. Executives can use templates to comply the project activities with the strategic needs and to embed the critical steps of project management (such as requirements gathering, team building, activity scheduling, etc.) into the company’s business environment.

Scheduling as an Input into Risk Register

By creating and managing a complete project schedule, executives provide a fundamental input into risk management at all stages of the project lifecycle. This document helps keep the risk register up-to-date and log intervals for updating. The template also allows management to ensure that all remaining activities of the schedule are considered and evaluated from a risk perspective.

The Basis for Creating Program Schedules

Program management involves several or more executives in managing related projects running in parallel. The challenge here is that the executives need to carefully plan and allocate resources between the projects in order to keep alignment with the entire program. Accurate scheduling lets address the challenge by identifying resource availability, synchronizing project activities and creating a single schedule for the program. Resource bottlenecks and time constraints can be avoided.

The Benefits for Team and Other Stakeholders

Streamlined Communications between Stakeholders

When the schedule is developed and approved, the team is enabled to establish and streamline effective communications with the stakeholders including the customer. This document helps reduce the volume of requests with the stakeholders and ensure the team’s clear understanding of the customer’s expectations.

Better Resource Allocation

Many organizations run parallel projects, and for PMs it becomes challenging to allocate resources to the projects and operations and to plan for the peaks and troughs of daily activities. Project schedule template ensures some portion of predictability around resource allocation, providing the managers with improved visibility into the demand from their simultaneous projects.

Managing Unexpected Changes

The team is protected against situations when the stakeholders (the customer or sponsor) want to request an unexpected change that cannot be accommodated in the working environment without unnatural behaviors. The project schedule determines an exact timeline with specific actions that must be done, while any unexpected change should be managed accordingly throughout the change management process.

Right Focus

When the team gets stuck in the most immediate and important task, the project schedule helps shake up team members and remind them that the current task is just one small piece of a much bigger initiative. It lets switch to other predecessor tasks, while letting the team remember about the activities they can put on hold and complete later on.

Right Track

When the customer fully replies on what the PM is telling about the project, they are likely to face an unpleasant surprise sooner or later. The point here is that scheduling templates help them keep right track of what’s going on right away within the project, what tasks are done or delayed by the team, and what time is remaining till successful completion. Through scheduling the team can indirectly yet efficiently communicate on current issues with the customer.

Common Mistakes in Scheduling Projects

The Schedule is Out of Date

In any kind of project, schedule is a dynamically changing template that reflects the time-related data to date. This document should be updated immediately after relating docs were modified and new items were added. In case it is out of date this template loses its real value and turns rather into a simple task list with overdue events and irrelevant milestones.

Too Many or Few Tasks are Captured

A traditional schedule serves as a timeline model of what activities and tasks are expected for happening throughout the project and when. Milestones are used to track work progress, forecast team performance, and view results obtained to date. In case there too many tasks and milestones are captured, the schedule turns into an overloaded document that is hard to read and comprehend. On the other hand, when it is insufficient and poorly maintained, no adequate progress tracking can be done – an attempt to define every activity and measure performance will be failed or at least bring no positive result required for efficient decision making.

“Real-world” Situations are not Captured by Scheduling Constraints

By definition, the method of constraint-based project scheduling aims to get tasks to start and end on specific dates that are imposed during the planning process. The benefit here is that this method lets plan out the expected time frames and durations for work items. Nevertheless, the problem is that schedule constraints (all 3 types) make it very difficult for the planner to accurately map out the correct critical path. The method promotes use of artificial milestones and fixed dates that do not capture “real-world” situation and thus there is a higher probability that a growing risk will be hidden and not managed efficiently. Besides, too many constraints make use of slack inefficient.

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