Project scheduling in project management: 5 steps to success

If you're like most professional project managers, the main performance indicator for the projects you run is meeting their original goals. Still, 70% of the projects fail in one way or another despite their greatest efforts. So, how can we change that?

Arkadiusz Terpiłowski

Co-Founder

Project Management

20/8/2022

Project scheduling in project management

Table of contents

With solid planning and project scheduling techniques. Even Abe Lincoln recognized the importance of planning. He even famously said: “If I were to cut a tree in 4 hours, I would spend 3 hours sharpening my axe”. In our case, proper project scheduling is like sharpening your axe - the rest will go much smoother if we get it right. Let's see how to do that exactly.

How to define project scheduling? 

Project scheduling can be defined as creating a list of objectives, deliverables, and milestones for a project, and using them to prepare a comprehensive project plan with a detailed timeline and an outline of a critical path for the project. 

What are the types of schedules in project management? 

Scheduling in project management can be very granular depending on its purpose. Consequently, we can divide such plans into three categories: 

  1. General project scheduling that acts as an overview of all the activities needed to complete the project. 
  2. Milestone project scheduling that focuses on the main objectives for each stage or period of the project. 
  3. Detailed project scheduling that delves into the details of each part of the work, showing consecutive tasks and people responsible for each of them. 
Project scheduling with active, draft and settled allocations
Project schedule with allocations and phases displayed in Primetric

5 steps to create a perfect project scheduling process

Project scheduling does not have to be a chaotic experience fueled by inconsistent information flow and wishful thinking. In fact, the whole process can be organized in just a few steps - just like below. 

1. Identify the scope of the project

Before you start project scheduling, you need to know what you are scheduling your resources for. For that, you have to identify the scope of the project. 

Many sources define the scope of the project as a list of objectives for a project to fulfill. However, it is not that simple - that’s just wishful thinking. 

How to create a detailed description of the project?

To execute the project correctly, you need to have a very detailed description of the operation. It is necessary to identify a critical path for the project. The outline should include: 

  • list of specific goals and deliverables for the entire project and its subsequent stages, 
  • an overview of tasks and skills necessary to complete them, 
  • estimated cost of each and every operation included in the project, 
  • preferred deadlines for the entire project and its stages, 
  • acceptance criteria, 
  • project constraints. 

Scope of the project - how to improve its accuracy?

To add to that, for all these conclusions to be accurate (and for the project schedule to be accurate, too), identification of the project scope requires constant communication with stakeholders, excellent documentation, and open-minded approach. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that many project managers find this part of the project scheduling project very burdensome. 

However, the critical path method and work breakdown structure is essential for identification of the key objective of the project schedule, and it is one of major project success factors. Therefore, we highly recommend focusing on that part of the process for the sake of your team members! 

2. Prepare the estimates

Using the information you gathered in the previous steps with both critical path method and work breakdown structure, you can now put the milestones and main objectives on the timeline, creating the very first draft of the project schedule.  

Determining the right timeline

Still, creating a project schedule requires some more analysis. To complete it, first take a look at the existing operations and:

  • determine when the project can possibly begin and end, if that’s possible. That’s mostly the case for Waterfall projects that are finished after a certain period. If you struggle with that, read our article on capacity planning
  • determine how many hours a month your specialists are going to spend working on a customer's project. This approach is more popular in the IT industry, as it is common for Agile projects, such as software development or maintenance. 

At the same time, try to define the milestones both for the project and its finances, as they are the key to creating accurate estimates for project scheduling. 

Move on to forecasting

Having done that, create a forecast of the cost of all the operations on your part and compare them to the estimated income from the project. Remember to monitor the profit margin - otherwise you may end up with no additional revenue! 

Based on the forecast, you will know exactly what resources and skills are required to complete the project or a part of it. Therefore, it will be easier for you to complete a resource management process. 

Estimations can be used as a base for project scheduling
Estimated working hours with costs, average rates and predicted income displayed in Primetric

3. Resource management 

Having determined the time needed to complete a part of the project, you can also see what skills and, consequently, what specialists are necessary to bring the idea to life, and when they are necessary. That means you can start allocating resources. 

Resource management: key factors

However, resource planning is not an easy task. To complete it successfully, you need to take numerous variables into account. These include: 

  • public holidays, 
  • individual absences, 
  • pre-existing allocations in other projects, 
  • specialists’ capacity and utilization, 

and more. 

Holidays in Primetric's calendar allow for realistic project scheduling
Resource planning in Primetric is easier, because it already shows you the public holidays dates

Allocation of resources

After obtaining the information, you can assign team members to the consecutive stages of the project. We highly recommend you to use Gantt charts or calendars to do so, as they are perfect for displaying dependencies and connections between projects - even with some more complex data, such as part-time allocations and tracked hours. Project scheduling software such as Primetric can help you do that!

Additionally, Primetric also uses allocations to forecast the total cost of work in the project. As new people are added to it, the system uses their hourly rates or monthly wages to create real-time charts with cost calculations. Then, you can compare them to the estimates and act when necessary.

4. Create the final timeline

If you allocated the resources successfully with our project scheduling techniques and made no mistake, you can finally take a look at the final timeline of your project. 

If you are using a project scheduling tool like Primetric, the timeline will be generated automatically in the project calendar. If you do not use such tools, you can test them now or do it manually in Excel or in another tool of your choice. 

Project schedule displayed in Primetric
A sample view of project calendar in Primetric

5. Track progress and make necessary changes

Naturally, things don’t always go according to planand we can't avoid that even with the best scheduling techniques. Fortunately for you, with project scheduling included in your work, you can easily manage the change to the project schedule and use it to your advantage. 

Track time

The first step to do that is time tracking. As simple as it sounds, time tracking allows project managers to stay on top of the planned work, and see whether everything is working as intended. 

When worked hours appear in the system, you will be able to identify significant problems, such as overtime or lack of resources for the job. Of course, for that feature to work properly in relation to your work breakdown structure, you will need a high-end project scheduling software - we recommend using Primetric for that purpose.

Monitor the progress

Then, on a more general level, you can monitor the progress of the project and compare it to the project schedule. You can do that by analyzing both tracked and scheduled hours. Additionally, we also recommend you to do the same for the budget included in the project schedule - that may help you avoid minimum profits in case of any mishaps. 

Project progress can be monitored with reports
Advanced project progress report available in Primetric. The report uses the Estimate to Complete and tracked hours to visualize the progress of the project.

Using the information you gathered during analysis, you can now update your project schedule. Start with the budget - any issues in the field should require your immediate attention. 

Then, when you are certain that the financials satisfy your business requirements, you can also analyze the state of the project for other problems. The most popular ones include: overbooking, idle employees or unexpected absences that may cause delays in the project. 

Project scheduling - practical examples 

Alright, you know the theory - now it’s time for examples you can use in your project management right away. 

Project scheduling examples by methodology

Project schedule may, of course, differ depending on various circumstances. The type of methodology used for the project is one of them. Let’s take a closer look at it. 

Project scheduling for Waterfall projects 

Waterfall projects have their start date and end date set by the project managers even before they start. Therefore, they can be planned from start to finish as a whole. 

To successfully complete project management for the Waterfall project, you need to start with a detailed scope of the project. Then, estimate the time needed to complete each stage of the project during its entire duration, from start to finish - Gantt charts are a perfect tool for that. 

Having done that, allocate team members and calculate their costs (include company and project overheads as well). 

Estimates for Waterfall project scheduling
Estimations with costs for a sample Waterfall project

This will result in a comprehensive project schedule with a budget. With it at hand, you can check whether the profitability of the project is good enough for your business, and make changes accordingly. 

Project scheduling for Agile projects 

Agile projects are divided into sprints that mark its completion with the development of new features or other increments. Therefore, project management for them looks a bit different than for Waterfall projects. 

Project scope vs Agile project

Just like in any other type of project scheduling, your company needs to start off with a project scope. Then, the scope is divided into periods corresponding to the development of new features or any other milestones customers may find crucial. These are usually determined by using a critical path. 

After that, the project scheduling process focuses on the given periods instead of the entirety of the operations. Therefore, if you are using a project scheduling software, you need to divide your project calendar into periods you will use for program evaluation and review. We recommend using Gantt charts for that. 

Then, you can assign team members to particular sprints and calculate the budget for each consecutive phase, creating numerous smaller project schedules. After that, you can use that information to estimate the financials and timeline of the entire project. 

Project scheduling examples by billing type 

But what if the methodology is not the only problem? What if the budget also gets in the way? 

Project schedule can be adjusted to such a case, too. Let’s look at some examples. 

Project scheduling for T&M projects 

Time and Material projects may sound simple: we calculate the number of hours worked and we bill the customer for them. However, how does this approach affect project scheduling? 

For such projects, the project scheduling process is the same as the common one we introduced to you above. There is only one difference: the project schedule is created once every billing cycle, whatever it might be. 

Project management for T&M project

For example, for a Time and Material project that is paid for every month, the project scheduling starts before the month begins. Just like in previous cases, it begins with determining the critical path for the project and choosing its key objectives. It results in an outline of the work that needs to be done during that time, including people and their costs, to that phase of the project. Those are usually displayed in Gantt charts in a scheduling tool of choice. 

Then the information is combined with overheads to create a comprehensive timeline with budgeting that can be used as a project schedule.

Project scheduling for Fixed Price projects 

Fixed price projects have a limited budget that has to be enough to cover the work and leave the company with decent profits. Still, it’s easier said than done. 

A typical project scheduling for a fixed price project starts with a scope of the project. However, in this case project managers have to pay even more attention to it. 

That’s because the price of the project needs to cover all the expenses included in the scope. We recommend a detailed description of the operations for that purpose! 

The estimations and resource planning process are even more important for project scheduling in fixed price projects. That is because as people are assigned to the project, it costs rise, putting the profit margin at risk. 

Additionally, many project managers put their operations in jeopardy because they fail to include overhead costs in their project budget. It also needs to be done during project scheduling! 

Therefore, to avoid the expenses going through the roof, the estimations should be done with real-time reports at hand. They are the best way to identify any obstacles, or worse, underpriced operations! 

Project budget based on scheduled and tracked hours
Primetric offers a project budget report that shows costs of work, as well as the margin. It also includes company overheads.

Project scheduling for retainer projects 

Retainer projects usually include maintenance of a slow-paced development. In terms of finances, they are just like a subscription: a customer pays a sum of money every month to get a range of services included in his package. 

But how is this package reflected in the project timeline? 

On a very general level, project scheduling for retained projects works just like scheduling for T&M projects. However, instead of calculating the data for the entire project, project managers just need to focus on estimates for a single billing period. 

Project scheduling techniques: what to do to succeed? 

The base of project scheduling in project management is always the same. But what if you wanted to make even more sure that everything works out? 

Here are some techniques you can use to improve the schedule management process even further and avoid additional problems. 

  1. Rely on relevant stakeholders from the start. Do not negotiate with dozens of people vaguely interested in cooperation; find a single person responsible for the project on the customer's side to improve communication. 
  2. Use historical data to improve plans and estimates. Collect the information in planning and scheduling tools as you go and draw conclusions to improve in the future. 
  3. Include all stages, tasks and milestones in the plan. Do not assume that some parts of the project can be obsolete! Use Kanban boards or Gantt charts to create transparent task dependencies and project plans.
  4. Do not assume that things go 100% according to the plan. Book 80% of specialists’ capacity, add some time to every stage of the project and leave some more room for the unexpected events. 
  5. Define critical objectives. Some tasks are simply much more important than others. Identify them and focus on them as you go to achieve better results. 
  6. Include the organization overheads in profitability calculations. Costs of technologies, office equipment and support staff affect your margins, too! 
  7. Take the costs of people and resources into account. In the end, profits are the things that you are looking for, and to achieve them, you need to take the finances into consideration while preparing a resource management plan
  8. Use tools capable of visualizing the data such as timelines, workload and progress. You can test Primetric, if you don’t have anything else in mind!

Can project scheduling tools help me do all of that? 

The answer is yes, of course!

Project scheduling tools offer dozens of features that are perfectly suited to the needs of project managers. These include: 

…and many more. 

But you do not have to take our word for it here. We have prepared a comprehensive overview of project scheduling tools on our blog, so you could choose your perfect management software.

Alternatively, if you are still having troubles making your mind, you can also read our guide on how to choose the right project scheduling tool

Benefits of project scheduling in project management 

Project scheduling offers a number of advantages that can be used not only to complete the project, but also to improve the quality of work in the entire company. These benefits include: 

  1. Improved project portfolio management. Better planning, better resource allocation and better reliability for every project is guaranteed! 
  2. Easy project progress monitoring. If a comparison of the actuals with the project schedule shows some changes, you can react to them and find the problem before it affects the project. 
  3. Transparent communication for all the parties involved. Project schedule helps all the stakeholders to be on the same page with the provider. 
  4. Better risk management. With project scheduling software based on the critical path, you can easily notice any inconsistencies, delays, lack of resources and solve them before they become a threat to the company's operations. 
  5. Simpler project allocation. Availability of resources is no longer an enigma when you can see all the information in a single plan. 
  6. Clearly defined profitability. Budgeting is always a challenge, but with the project schedule it is much more predictable - and beneficial. 

Still have some questions? 

We are here to help - or better, we are here to show you a solution to your problems. 

Start a free trial, book a demo or simply contact us to talk to one of our advisors and explore other possibilities in project scheduling and more. 

Arkadiusz Terpiłowski

Co-Founder

Arkadiusz is Head of Growth and Co-founder at Primetric. Prior to that, Arkadiusz was at the helm of his own software development company where he oversaw operations. A great enthusiast of process improvements, his personal mission is to make software companies more profitable and efficient on their path to growth.

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