Monday 11 May 2020

Create successful project schedule

Project scheduling has always seemed to be somewhat of an art. Actually, there are a lot of logical steps that go in it. If I am the Project Manager, I have several tricks I always use to ensure that I do no bring my project in late or over budget. 

Here is my top list of scheduling tricks:

  1. First, let’s assume we have a solid signed off Scope Statement Requirements document and the project is all set to go.
  2. Make sure I know everyone participating in my projects and build relationships with them. If they are contributing to the schedule, this gives me an idea of what their ability level is and how well they can estimate their work. In any case, I keep a 20% management reserve to use as a cushion to give myself some wiggle room in the schedule when Murphy’s Law kicks in. For each individual, I know whether they under or over estimate and adjust accordingly. If I happen to have a person I don’t know well enough yet, I pad their estimates.
  3. Schedule higher level architects or technical leads at 60% utilization because I know they will be pulled in to help the more junior engineers or to meet with upper management. For junior engineers, I schedule their time at 80% utilization to allow for sick days, vacations and meetings. I also make everyone use a Work Breakdown structure with the largest work package being 40 hours. I have the whole team review the WBS before I start the next steps in creating the schedule.
  4. Note that the cost of a more senior engineer is higher and must be taken into consideration in the schedule. You may have a time when you have to make a trade off of cost vs. time.
  5. Each element of the project scope, as defined in the WBS, must be supported by an activity, or activities, that will result in the completion of that part of the project scope. Activities must be described uniquely, have any assumptions listed and if there are known risks list them as well.
  6. Once the activity list is defined, the order in which the activities will be performed must be determined and recorded. This is called activity sequencing. Things such as holidays, vacations, etc. must be taken into account at this step.
  7. The resources required to complete each activity—including their availability and productivity—should be considered. I never estimate work for someone else. I always include the team in the estimating and sequencing. This gives a sense of buy-in to the schedule.
  8. Use Microsoft Project Server as my scheduling tool to assemble the schedule model and provide the means of adjusting various parameters and components that are typical in a modeling process. It is a powerful tool that allows me to do what if analysis, critical path analysis and make changes on a daily basis. It allows me to schedule tasks as finish-to-start, finish-to-finish etc. depending on what is best for the project.
  9. It also allows me to add lags and leads between activities.  I apply the resources using individual resource utilization percentages.
  10. Add constraints where logic (precedence relationships with other activities) alone is not adequate to meet the project requirements.
  11. Capture a specific schedule as a baseline or target schedule for the project. I may have a new baseline if certain factors dictate the need.
  12. Use earned value analysis and trending analysis which are all easily done with Microsoft Project.

The key is to keep on top of the schedule every day and communicate to all the team members and stakeholders often (the communications are defined in the Communications Plan which is part of the overall Project Plan). If you catch an issue as soon as it happens, you have the tools to do various scenarios to get back on track. 

It is also important to publish the schedule or have it available to anyone can see it at any time. If you follow these guidelines you will have a successful project.

Simple Project Schedule Example


Project Schedule template Excel


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