Professional project schedule: key takeaways
After reading this article, you should be able to:
- define the project schedule, its types and choose the one that best fits your company and your project management style,
- create project schedule from scratch,
- use the best practices to improve your project schedule and find errors in previous ones.
What is the project schedule? Definition
Project schedule in project management is a detailed timetable that shows how all the parts of the projects are related to each other on a project timeline outlining the entire length of the project, from start to finish.
What elements should be included in project scheduling?
To put things into perspective, project schedule contains and shows connections between different elements of the projects project managers should know about, such as:
- duration of the project and its consecutive stages or even tasks,
- resources required to complete tasks and stages of the projects, along with their skills and capacity,
- relations between the stages and their deliverables,
- customer requirements for both the entire project and its consecutive stages,
- project milestones,
- wages and costs related to the consecutive stages of the project.
Types of project schedules
Of course, project schedules may differ depending on the purposes they serve. That is why we can divide them into a few categories.
Project schedules by granularity
Some project schedules are more detailed than others - and there’s a good reason for it. Depending on the target audience, such timelines can be shown to customers, managers, or used for the company's internal purposes.
That is why project schedules are commonly divided into:
- master project schedule - a very general overview of operations included in the project. It summarizes crucial tasks with their duration and skills necessary to complete them. Usually master project schedules are delivered to executives or customers.
- milestone schedule - a timeline that focuses on key project milestones necessary for the operation to be successful. It shows general progress of the project to senior managers and allows them to act should something go wrong.
- detailed project schedule - an in-depth schedule that shows individual specialist what they should be working on and when. It also helps their managers to stay on top of the project progress.
Project schedules by type of design
Still, even the most general project schedule can be misleading when not interpreted correctly. That is why project schedules can also be divided by types of design commonly used in project management.
Most popular project schedules are shown in a form of:
- task list - the list of every single action to be completed in the project. It is a characteristic feature in Jira project portfolio management.
- Gantt charts - timelines with allocations assigned to a given project,
- calendars - classic tables with dates and stages supposed to be completed on a given day.
Of course, that list does not end here - many project scheduling tools, such as Primetric, offer more advanced visualizations of project schedules. For example, Primetric combined Gantt charts with a calendar to provide managers with a comprehensive overview of planned allocations, their progress and key deadlines, along with information on holidays, time offs, and more.
What’s the difference between project planning and project scheduling?
At this point of our deliberations you probably have a very simple, yet essential question on your mind: isn’t the project scheduling and project planning the same thing?
The answer to this question is no, they are not.
What is project planning?
Project planning focuses on more theoretical elements of the project. During the process, the main principles behind a given operation are chosen. That includes: methodologies, policies, procedures, requirements and very general estimates that will affect the work of team members, but do not specify their responsibilities. It doesn’t define neither the project scope, nor the task dependencies or resource availability.
What is project scheduling?
Project scheduling, however, is characterized by a more practical approach. In this process, the plans are converted into reality. At this point, project managers define the project scope in detail, divide the project into stages and tasks, assign project teams to them and create an in-depth schedule that can be put to work right away.
Who should use a project schedule in their work?
The answer to this question is very simple: every company which profits from scheduling their employees’ time should always have a project schedule at hand.
Project plan allow managers to divide the project into stages, specify the requirements for each of them and complete resource forecasting (and, consequently, resource allocation) as accurately as possible. Then, it also helps them monitor project progress. As a result, no resources are wasted and the project is delivered on an optimal schedule.
For the reasons above, creating a schedule management is particularly recommended for IT companies, marketing agencies, law firms, or any other businesses that deal with long-term operations on a daily basis.
What are the benefits of creating a project schedule?
Alright, but why should these types of companies even consider creating a project schedule in the first place?
The answer to this question is simple: because a project schedule can be beneficial both for the project and for the company.
How can a project plan help you?
With it at hand, you can:
- improve the communication between project team and customer and manage their expectations,
- accurately determine resource availability, estimate the time and resources needed to complete the project,
- create a realistic timeline for all the stages, project tasks and individual allocations, and optimize worforce,
- provide specialists with reliable information on the work they are expected to complete in a given time period,
- avoid overbooking, vacancies or other mistakes that could be damaging to the project and ensure that all the operations are completed on time,
- show the project team how the task and stages are related to each other and how these relations affect their work,
- find the mistakes in planning or in executing the plan and reacting to them when necessary.
Sounds good? We agree.
But let’s get down to business: how do you create a project schedule in the first place?
How to create a project schedule? Step by step guide
1. Plan the project
You already know what is the difference between project planning and project scheduling - and now you can put this newly acquired knowledge into practice.
In a project planning phase, the project manager should prepare all the processes and basic information for the project. That includes: methodologies, policies, procedures, requirements and very general estimates that will act as a base for the critical path of your project. Create a document that gathers all of that information and share it with other interested parties, including your teammates, other project managers (if necessary) and critical stakeholders.
2. Create a hierarchy of project activities
You already know the main objective of your project, and you have an outline of the critical path that leads to it. Now it’s the time to figure out what operation can help you achieve that goal and come up with a work breakdown structure.
What should the hierarchy look like?
To do so, divide the project into smaller units from the top town. You should:
- divide the project into stages and define their milestones,
- divide stages into operations or tasks (depending on the level of granularity you aim for),
- divide the tasks or operations into individual allocations.
Having done that, you will know exactly what needs to be done, and who is supposed to do that - in other words, your critical path will now be much more detailed. Pay great attention to the process - work breakdown structure will affect the entire plan in the end!
3. Define the dependencies
No project can be deemed complete if only its last element has been properly delivered. That is why, before you turn your hierarchy into a schedule, you need to find out where the dependent tasks are - and how you can manage such task dependencies without destroying your critical path.
Task dependencies step by step
Analyze the work breakdown structure, the task list and all the connections between different activities and evaluate the risk involved. If possible, think about solutions you can introduce to the project to prevent the worst case scenarios from happening. You can also try to separate the tasks as much as possible - that will lower the chance of things going sideways.
Additionally, use the Gantt charts or scheduling software to make things easier, or ask other project managers for advice, should you have any problems.
By the end of this step, sequence the tasks based on their dependencies and create a first draft of the project timeline - it should show you the order in which consecutive actions should be done.
4. Estimate resources needed for project scheduling
You now know what should happen, and in what order. If you discussed the deadlines with your customer, you should also know approximately when the project should start and end. Therefore, you have all the information you need to begin a resource planning process.
How to manage the scheduling process?
For each task or stage in your project, evaluate the number of hours each type of specialist will need to spend in order to complete the operation. Then, check the availability of employees in your company and calculate their capacity (use the capacity planning tools or a project scheduling software to avoid mistakes). Having done that, create draft allocations.
5. Confirm and expand the project schedule
After creating a draft of a project schedule, you need to see how it matches the reality. You should also keep an eye out for any problems that may affect your specific tasks and a timeline as a whole - you will save each and every team member a lot of trouble.
How to improve the project scheduling?
To do so:
- confirm whether your draft allocations can be completed. Make sure the specialists you have chosen for the job have the capacity to do it (and that they do not plan to leave on holidays in the middle of the project!),
- assign final start and finish dates to each stage or task,
- include national holidays and other events that affect capacity in your plans,
- make sure there are no vacancies that may interfere with your project,
- level your resources when necessary.
Having completed that, you should have an accurate project schedule you can now put to work.
6. Monitor and adjust project schedule
Of course, the work does not end when the project schedule is available in the system. As long as the project continues, you should monitor its progress and solve any problems that may arise.
How to monitor project timeline and manage the schedule?
Naturally, you do not have to do that by asking each and every specialist about their progress. If your company already tracks its hours for particular tasks, you can use the information to both check the status of the project and calculate the costs the working hours generate. Here’s how it looks like in Primetric:
Can a project scheduling software help me do all that?
The answer is: of course it can!
Let’s be honest: professional services companies rarely have only one project on their hands. They deal with Gantt chart, project plan and task dependencies on a daily basis. Still, managing them all in Excel is simply impossible without making serious mistakes in project management - that is why the majority of IT companies use advanced tools for project portfolio management, such as Primetric.
What can Primetric do for you?
With Primetric, you can:
- draft, edit and verify a critical path of your project using scheduling software,
- create time and budget estimates for your entire project and all its phases,
- find the right task member for your project using skill management module (you can also integrate it with Jira resource management!),
- calculate the capacity of resources you are planning to use for the project in our scheduling tools,
- draft tentative allocations and see whether your assumptions are right without actually affecting other active projects,
- view all the time offs and holidays that may affect your project schedule,
- create an accurate project schedule with allocations, budgets and more.
Additionally, Primetric also offers a variety of other tools that could help you with the scheduling process itself, as well as your project team. That includes: skill and resource management, project accounting, timesheets and time tracking, and more.
Creating a project schedule: best practices
What if you already have a project schedule, but you are still wondering what you could do to improve it? Or maybe you just want to make your project management better as a whole?
Here are some tips that will help you do that!
Perfecting the project scheduling: practical tips
- Get maximum amount of information from customers. Define not only the general scope of the project, but also all the details that may affect its final look. Project management will be so much easier if you do that!
- Rely on expert’s experience. If you are not sure how long a project all its parts will take, or what resources it requires, do not be afraid to ask other people in your organization for their opinions.
- Focus on identifying tasks. Analyze the scope of the project, ask other experts for their input and make sure that no operation goes missing - later on, it may be damaging to the entire project. Do not forget about dependent tasks, too!
- Make realistic plans. In project management, we all like to think that a given task could be completed in a matter of a few hours. However, that is not necessarily the truth. Consult organizational experts or people responsible for the task to keep your forecasts real.
- Take risks into consideration. Every project has some critical issues that have a huge chance of going wrong. Do not underestimate them; instead, prepare for any problems they may cause and add some additional time to your project schedule - just in case.
- Monitor the project and its scope. Project schedule is not something that remains unchanged throughout the duration of the project. Sometimes customers change their mind; sometimes minor tasks turn into major challenges. Should any issues arise, be prepared to spot them right away and act on the information.
- Allow float on activities. Some tasks will be finished sooner, while others will be delayed. Leave some wiggle room for such situations - they are inevitable! If you can’t do that in Excel, we recommend using Gantt chart for the purpose.
Do you want to become a master of project scheduling and project management?
Good - we have a few sources that will help you dive deeper into the topic.
Feel free to read our articles about:
- resource forecasting for project management - perfect for estimating the resources in project schedule,
- workload management process that will help you optimize your plans,
- project scheduling and its techniques you can use to make things easier,
- critical project success factors you have to keep in mind while preparing your project schedule,
- perfect resource planning process you may use in your project,
- project control software you can use to monitor your progress.