How to Create a Project Management Schedule
When first approaching a new project, it can often seem daunting. Organising your team, meeting deliverables, engaging with stakeholders, and hitting the deadline is a lot to handle.
Taking a step-by-step approach to your project will make it more manageable and clear, and a project management schedule is the best way to do this. A good schedule helps you to completely plan out the who’s, how’s, what’s, and when’s of the project.
Putting together an intuitive schedule will help relieve the stress of reaching deliverables, delegating responsibilities, and leading your team. Spending time to formulate a project schedule is always a worthy investment, providing clarity to you and your team and saving time in the long run.
Today we’re going to give you a step-by-step guide on creating and managing project schedules from start to finish.
What is a Project Schedule?
A project schedule is a timeline that maps out all actions to be taken toward the completion of a project. Created during the planning phase of a project, your schedule sets out the fundamental plan for what needs to happen, and when.
Project schedules contain essential information such as start dates, end dates, tasks, milestones, and deadlines. This is expanded further by highlighting the potential risks and benefits involved with each element of the project, alongside who is responsible for each.
Project schedules are commonly created using Gantt charts, which are a helpful way of visualising timelines.
What Does a Project Schedule Include?
A comprehensive project schedule always contains the following essential elements.
A timeline wouldn’t be a timeline without dates. Your project schedule should contain your start date, end date, and the dates when different phases of your project are expected to begin.
Love them or hate them, deadlines often form the backbone of our projects. Details of when certain tasks are set to be completed and signed off should be one of the first things you add to your schedule.
Any significant milestones within your project timeline that sit outside deadlines should also be added. These include significant calendar dates that affect your project, along with events, stakeholder meetings, and so on.
The main body of your project schedule will be comprised of the tasks that need to be completed in order to deliver the project. What deliverables need to be created? Which data needs to be collated and discussed? Collate your tasks and apply them to your timeline.
The availability of your staff resources should be highlighted in your schedule. This ensures that team members are capable of completing tasks assigned to them before key deadlines. Consider time away, time working on other projects and their business at any given time.
No schedule is complete without contingency plans. Plan for every eventuality, and lock in some dates within your timeline where contingencies should be put into action. For example, if A isn’t complete by said date, B should become a priority instead.
Consider which tasks outlined in your schedule are dependent on other factors. These are typically external factors or the completion of other internal tasks and should help to inform your timeline of works.
Once your tasks and deliverables have been established, they should now be assigned to an individual. This person will then take responsibility for the delivery of said item, whether directly or as a proxy for a third party.
Creating a Project Schedule: Step by Step
Now it’s time to put your schedule together. Follow these steps to get it just right.
1) Clearly define the goal and scope of the project
It may seem obvious, but defining the end goal of the project should be your first port of call. When planning a journey, the first thing you think about is the destination, and the same should apply to project management.
The goal of the project forms the basis for your project scope. A scope document highlights several foundational aspects of the project and is essential for the planning of your schedule. It contains the project’s specific goals, alongside the budgets and tasks needed for their completion.
2) Identify your milestones
Once you understand the scope of the project, we now need to break the project down into phases or milestones. This is where internal deadlines come into play, alongside external events that affect the project.
you’ll need to reach along the way. Do you have stakeholders you need to pitch to? Have you been given any internal deadlines? Do you have a versioning plan in place? These are all milestones that need to be put in place along the road to project completion.
3) Break down your milestones into tasks and subtasks
Next, break down your milestones into their requirements. What tasks need to be completed to ensure a milestone is met? It may be that your tasks need to be broken down even further into subtasks, ones that might even take less than a day to complete.
After all, any big task is just a bunch of smaller tasks on top of each other. Breaking things down like this will make it easier for you to allocate tasks to team members, and simpler for your team to understand.
The critical path method is a way of doing this effectively. It involves identifying the most vital tasks that push the project forward, and giving them priority when adding them to a schedule.
4) Identify your dependencies
Many of your tasks will require additional tasks to be completed first. A report might require data to be researched, or a final build may require smaller elements to be designed. These are called dependencies, and they must be factored into your schedule.
Consider what dependencies each of your tasks and deliverables have. Do those dependencies have dependencies? Dependency mapping is an essential part of project planning and should be one of your first ports of call when putting together your schedule.
5) Order your tasks by priority
Once you have an idea of all the necessary tasks and dependencies needed to complete the project, it’s time to order them. Dependencies should come first to avoid bottlenecks, while tasks should be staggered to ensure a constant churn of workflow.
Other elements will determine priority status. Inevitably, certain deliverables will be required before the first milestone, while some are not needed until later in your project. Once you’ve aligned your tasks in priority order, add them to the schedule to give your team a clear visual aid for the project.
6) Plan for potential risks and conflicts
To realistically align project completion to a deadline, make sure to factor in potential issues that might arise. This may come from the conflict between parties, perhaps where a decision requires compromise on both sides.
It may also be risks of a financial or qualitative kind, which should be tracked, measured, and planned for. It is always wise to come up with multiple contingencies for risks and factor these into the total project schedule. This allows you to be more agile with how you respond to these risks and helps keep your project on track.
7) Delegate responsibilities
You’re almost done with your scheduling, and nearly ready to get down to work. But first, you have to assign tasks to team members. Many project managers will just throw tasks to the four winds and hope they are picked up, while others will assign tasks based on the availability of the team member.
However, you should always look to delegate tasks to team members based on their individual strengths. Perhaps even assign a task to a duo where only one is an expert. This will help you reap the benefits of collaboration further down the line, as your team learns from each other, and help to better their skills.
Be considerate of each team’s workload, as overloading any one member could cause them to miss deadlines or produce sub-standard work.
8) Share and monitor the schedule
It’s go time. As we mentioned earlier, the whole point of a project management schedule is to keep your project on track and running smoothly. Give your team access to the master schedule, or even create sub-schedules for departments or individuals. Monitor the progress of the project, and support your team members where they need it the most.
This is where Verto 365 can help. Our easy-to-use project management system allows you to create, and manage your schedules. Alongside this, you can assign tasks to teams, work collaboratively online, calculate risks, and much more.
Verto 365 is a cloud-based solution, meaning that it can be accessed anywhere on a range of devices, so long as you are connected to WiFi.
Project Scheduling with Verto 365
Join the hundreds of organisations using Verto 365 to create intuitive project schedules, and keep their projects on track all the way to completion. Our system is relied upon by a range of sectors to help them streamline how they manage projects, programmes, and portfolios.
A well-thought-out schedule is an essential part of project management, especially in today’s technology-driven world. Utilising an interactive, customisable schedule will help to keep your project running smoothly, and keep your team on top of their work.
Project Scheduling Best Practices
Throughout the entire scheduling process, there are plenty of opportunities to make a misstep and set your project on a bad course. Follow these best practice guidelines to make sure that doesn’t happen.
1) Set achievable and realistic goals
Setting achievable expectations is paramount to the success of your project. We can all be tempted to be ambitious and shoot for the moon, but we also have to be realistic. What can feasibly be achieved given the time and resources at your disposal?
A good way to do this is to use the S.M.A.R.T method when creating goals. Make sure your goals are:
The more realistic your goals are, the smoother your project will flow.
2) Be mindful of others
When building out your tasks, timelines, and dependencies, it’s vital to ensure that the resources are available to accommodate them. Speak to your teams to determine what can realistically be completed and if deadlines can be feasibly met.
It’s also important to be mindful of an individual’s workload, and not pile too much on any one person. Studies show that being overworked or overwhelmed leads to lower-quality work and lower productivity. Consider how the workload might affect your team, and use this to inform how you delegate.
3) Factor in float
Float is the duration of time that any given task can go unfinished before it affects the final goal of the project. This information can help inform how you set deadlines.
For example, say you have a task that can go to the end of the month before it affects the bigger picture. This task should ideally be completed before this but given enough wiggle room so that it can adapt to changes.
4) Be thorough
You can’t be too thorough when planning your project schedule. Every factor that could affect your timeline should be considered, both internal and external. Consider staff schedules, annual leave, and public holidays.
Factor in every realistic ‘what if’ scenario that you can think of. Wrack your brain to consider every possibility of things going wrong, but also things going better than you expected.
5) Keep your end goal in sight
No matter which aspect of your schedule you are building, everything should be related to the end. Think about how each task affects the final delivery of the project. Consider if any of your tasks can be side-lined if additional priorities arise.
If time or resources are pressing, a helpful tip is to categorise your tasks by how essential they are. If a task is imperative to the final delivery of the project, it should be prioritised and never side-lined. If a task is not, maybe consider it as a ‘nice to have’ or an ‘if there’s time’.
6) Work collaboratively with your team
Don’t plan your project schedule alone. Work collaboratively with the team you have to gain their insight into the intricacies of their roles. This will help you to gain a holistic view of a project from each side, ensuring that milestones for every team member are taken into account.
Not only does this help your team feel more included, but it also helps to reduce the number of unforeseen milestones that may arise, allowing your project to run smoother. Additionally, your team will be able to provide more realistic timeframes, so stakeholders won’t be misled by unrealistic deadlines.
7) Engage with stakeholders on their view
Stakeholder engagement is a key element of project management, and including it in the project schedule will ensure that everyone is on the same page. Start by listing everyone that needs to be involved in the project, and identify those you will have to report to on a regular basis.
The earlier you start to build a relationship with them, the easier working with them will be. Get to know their work habits, and anticipate how long getting their sign-off is likely to take. Talk to them about what timescales they are visualising, and correlate those with your team’s expected timelines to create a project management schedule that works for everyone.
Project Scheduling Glossary
When discussing project schedules, these phrases tend to come up a lot. Here’s what they mean.
Project Scheduling – The act of creating a timeline that maps out everything that needs to be done to deliver a project.
Project Calendar – A day-by-day breakdown of your schedule, mapping out exactly what is to be done each day, alongside milestones and other important factors.
Milestones – Any significant stage or deadline in your project’s timeline. It may be imposed externally or internally.
Deliverables – A ‘thing’ that is to be delivered for the project. This could be a report, a piece of data, a design, a presentation, or anything that needs to be created and approved.
Dependencies – A factor that is a prerequisite for the completion of a task. For example, building a skyscraper depends on getting planning permission.
Contingencies – A plan you put in place in the event of things going against the ideal scenario.
Gantt Charts – A helpful tool used to map out a project schedule in a visual way.
Float – The amount of time that a task can go unfinished before it affects the completion of the project.