A Step-By-Step Guide to Create a Killer Project Schedule
How to create a killer project schedule.
Creating a project schedule can be daunting. The stakes are high, the timeline is tight, and the pressure is on. You need to accurately estimate the time and resources needed for each project and communicate those things to your team. Without the right process in place, project scheduling can easily become a project in and of itself. The good news? You don't have to go at it alone.
Today, we’ll show you how to create an effective project schedule with a simple five-step process. But first, let’s answer a crucial question.
What Is a Project Schedule?
A project schedule is the backbone of your project. It outlines each project stage, including milestones and deliverables. It also lists project tasks and project resources — people, equipment, or infrastructure required to complete each project task and the estimated duration of each task. In other words, a schedule is the itinerary of your project.
For example, let's say that you're planning your dream vacation to Europe. To make sure you visit all the places you want to see, you must create an itinerary. This would include a timeline of your air travel, ground transportation, hotel stays, and sightseeing activities. You'll also want to include the estimated time of each activity in your schedule so that you don't miss out on anything you have planned. A project schedule is exactly the same thing.
A solid project schedule will help you stay on track when unexpected roadblocks, changes in project scope, or conflicting priorities arise. It can also help you identify critical paths, which can help you make better decisions and react to issues in a timely manner.
The bottom line is — the better your project schedule is, the better your chances are at completing your project successfully.
Why Do You Need Top-Notch Project Scheduling?
Roughly 6 out of 10 project managers manage between two and five projects at once. And 50% of them state that they almost always start each project with a project schedule. We’re going to suggest they’re the smart half. Why? Because schedules are the true north of your projects. They guide you through each stage and task, and they help you understand whether you’re on track. Having a schedule will also show you whether your team has enough resources to finish the project on time and within budget.
Some other benefits of project scheduling include:
- Improved risk management: A project schedule helps you manage project risks by anticipating issues and identifying problems before they happen.
- Better contingency planning: Project scheduling gives you an opportunity to create contingency plans in case unexpected changes occur.
- Reduced costs: Project schedules reduce project costs by allowing you to monitor resources and adjust their time allocations as needed.
- Better forecasting: A solid project schedule allows you to forecast results before you finalize your project plan.
What Are the Differences Between a Project Plan and a Project Schedule?
Many people often use "project plan" and "project schedule" interchangeably. That said, these terms are different.
A project schedule gives you a detailed timeline of your project. It showcases what's going to happen, when, and by who.
A project plan, on the other hand, is a more high-level document that includes an outline project schedule, as well as other information about your project. For example, a plan may include details regarding your project milestones, scope, resources, budgets, and risks.In essence, a project plan is a roadmap that helps you visualize how your project is going to unfold and how to manage it, while a project schedule gives you the details required to drive your project forward.
Three Project Scheduling Techniques
Now that you understand the importance of creating a project schedule, let’s explore three of the most popular scheduling techniques:
The Gantt chart is one of the most popular scheduling techniques. It was created by Henry Gantt, who used it to plan the production line in a factory. Gantt charts stretch across time and use bars to represent each project activity. They also include task dependencies and who is responsible for each activity.
A typical Gantt chart might look something like this:
Gantt charts are extremely visual, which is helpful in quickly identifying problems and inefficiencies. Also, Gantt charts are great for monitoring project progress because they show you what’s going on at a high level and give you an idea of how long projects might take. Even though SmartSuite currently doesn’t support Gantt charts, our Timeline view can simulate one from a visual perspective.
With SmartSuite's Timeline view, you can easily "pull" information from any project to create a Gantt-like view automatically.
This is particularly useful for projects that include many activities across different departments. By grouping all of the activities in one place, you can easily see how each project is progressing. You can also use this view to schedule — and monitor — your project activities. By clicking on a task in your Timeline, you can open the task record to explore the details and get a more contextual understanding of each activity.
This way, you can focus on the actionable aspects of your project and save time.
Resource Leveling Heuristics
Resource leveling heuristics (RLH) is a method for project planning, scheduling, and controlling that considers the time-related cost. It calculates how much project work can be done in a given amount of time and what resources are required to do it.
When using this scheduling technique, you need to decompose each task and estimate the amount of time required for it. For example, when building a house, there are many tasks you might need to complete. While you can’t know the exact amount of time it’ll take for each task, you can estimate it based on your previous experience. After estimating each task, you then need to create task dependencies and determine how many tasks can be handled at a time. You then assign the required resources to complete those tasks depending on their priority and availability, as well as their dependencies.
The Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) is a formalized method of planning used to estimate the time requirements for complex, multi-activity projects. Projects using PERT typically have three sets of time estimates: optimistic, most likely, and pessimistic. This creates a set of possible outcomes, known as the possible cost range. PERT was developed in the 1950s for use by the U.S. Navy, and it was quickly adopted by the aerospace industry because it provided an accurate planning tool for projects that were very complex.
PERT uses a network diagram to represent each task. Of the three time estimates, the most likely is shown in the PERT diagram. Once the tasks are arranged in sequence, you’re able to estimate the total project duration by adding together the time required for each task. The critical path can also be identified, which is the longest-lasting string of dependent tasks. If any of the tasks on the critical path overrun it will have a knock-on effect on your entire project duration.
Step-By-Step Instructions to Create a Project Schedule
At this point, you already understand the basics of project scheduling and the popular techniques you can use to do it. Regardless of your chosen technique, here are some steps you should consider to develop a solid baseline schedule for your project:
1. Review Your Project Scope Statement
A project scope statement describes the specific project objectives and goals, as well as the overall purpose of your project. It’s also often referred to as the “business case” or just “the scope.” This document will help you identify the project phases and what you need to accomplish in each of them. It’ll also allow you to determine the most appropriate techniques that you should use to create your baseline schedule.
2. Identify Project Activities
After creating the project scope statement, you’ll need to create a work breakdown structure (WBS) to identify major and minor project activities. A WBS breaks down the work required to deliver the project into groups of logically related activities, also known as “work packages.” A work package is an element of the WBS that represents one or more tasks required to produce a project deliverable. It’s the smallest unit of work that has its own deliverable and timeframe. Each work package needs to be assigned a unique identifier and one or more responsible owner(s). It's important that you explain each task in detail, including work package descriptions, start and finish dates, and even responsible individuals. This will allow you to create a schedule that’s precise and up-to-date.
3. Define the Sequence of Tasks
You might have multiple activities that need to be carried out at the same time. To create a schedule, you must understand how these tasks are related.
You should identify the following for each task:
- Duration: How long does it take to complete the activity?
- Start date: When will the task be started?
- Finish date: When will the task be completed?
- Relationship (dependencies): What other tasks need to be performed before this one can begin or after it’s finished?
- Applicable resources: Who will perform the task, and what skills are required? What are the resources needed to complete the task?
You have to create a detailed list of tasks, as well as their durations and relationships. This will help you make sure there aren’t any gaps in your schedule. Any solid work management software should help you with this. With SmartSuite, for example, you can easily assign tasks to team members and quickly define dependencies between tasks. It's also easy to track changes in the schedule and monitor project progress.
You can also use the Project Timeline view, which will illustrate your tasks and their dependencies in a visual format.
This way, you can always see how your project is progressing.
4. Prioritize Tasks
It’s important that you prioritize tasks and focus on the most important ones in your schedule. Otherwise, you might end up with a mountain of tasks and a lot of chaos.
You can prioritize tasks based on the following criteria:
- Impact: What will happen if this task isn’t completed?
- Duration: How long will it take to complete?
- Resources required: Which resources do you need to perform the task?
You can also prioritize based on the level of risk. The bottom line? You know your project better than anyone else, so you can decide which project tasks are most important to the company. This will help you streamline the development process and work on tasks that truly move the needle.To stay efficient, make sure to tap into a project management platform that helps you manage this prioritization.
With SmartSuite, you can filter out tasks and focus on those you want to review and sort them according to priority and status.
You can also use SmartSuite notifications to alert team members whenever they need to complete a task and track changes in the schedule.
That way, you can keep track of everything that’s going on and have a clear picture of your schedule.
5. Assign Resources, Tasks, and Responsibilities
Once you've identified tasks, dependencies, durations, and priorities, it's time to actually assign resources and team responsibilities. You need to know who’s doing what and when. This is where project scheduling software can help you out.
With SmartSuite, you can assign tasks to different team members. It's also easy to track changes in the schedule and monitor how your project is progressing.
This allows you to have an up-to-date view of your project tasks and monitor your project team’s workflow. You can also group tasks together, which will help you with resource management. You can define multiple units of work for each task, then add resources to that unit. This way, you’ll only have to monitor one unit of work rather than multiple tasks.
SmartSuite also provides you with powerful visualizations to monitor project health and progress.
You can create custom reports that will showcase your team’s progress or open issues that you need to resolve. You can also keep track of your project’s budget and forecast the cost of future activities. And, honestly, that’s just barely scratching the surface. To get a better understanding of everything SmartSuite brings to the table, you can visit our product overview page.
Ready to Schedule Your Next Project?
Project schedules are essential to ensuring your project team meets deadlines and completes projects effectively. Hopefully, now you have enough information to start off on the right foot. And, if you’re looking for a platform that makes project scheduling easier, then SmartSuite is probably a great fit. To see for yourself, why don’t you try out our project management template? This template is customizable, and you can use it to create a project schedule immediately. Give it a try.