Creating a project schedule is one of the most important tasks for us project managers at the start of any project. Each project is limited by a distinct start and finish time within which it must be completed to the client's requirements, cost and quality standards. There are instances when project managers encounter issues or risks (threats or opportunities) that can potentially prevent not just the project's timely completion, but also impact cost, resources and quality. Therefore, swift resolution of any scheduling issues are key characteristics of effective project management.
Here are four major scheduling difficulties and how you can avoid or resolve them:
1. Unrealistic deadlines
We have all been there where the client contacts you and wants something done by yesterday. In that moment you say that your team should be able to deliver but later realise that they couldn’t possibly get through that amount of work. Take time to realistically assess the duration, complexity, knowns and unknowns of the required tasks and give the client a more probable and achievable delivery date, so you are able to provide an alternative solution, manage their expectations and avoid playing catch up.
I am currently working on a project where I have three individual clients, often with competing agendas and conflicting priorities. It is crucial to identify the priority of the client’s request in relation to the other tasks you are undertaking (and in relation to the other clients’ urgencies). If it is urgent, then you should speak to your project team to identify and allocate resources to that particular task in order to deliver it in accordance with the timescales stipulated by the client.
In my experience, regular communication and understanding with the client, stakeholders and your project team is vital to successfully resolve this problem.
2. Too little or too much detail shown in your schedule
The project manager needs to prepare a schedule with the right level of detail depending on the scale and complexity of the project. Review your scope and produce a work breakdown structure that includes all the components required to deliver the project, together with the best estimates of their duration and start and end dates. This should then be used to generate the logical sequence of the tasks, linking them with their respective predecessors and successors. It is important to highlight the critical path in the schedule to understand which tasks will affect the end date so the you can pay more attention to these than others with more flexibility.
You do not want to create an overly large or complex schedule with an excessive number of tasks as that can become unmanageable either. Avoid creating additional work for yourself but depending on your audience, you could produce a ‘Schedule on a Page’ or high level project summary and key milestone summary to provide a snapshot of the project status to save readers ‘switching off’ or ignoring your schedule altogether.
Add comments to certain tasks to explain and note any constraints, assumptions, unknown information, why you are using a lag, if you have provided a contingency etc so the project team and client can easily understand your reasoning when viewing your schedule. I often add an extra column of ‘responsibility’ to show the person/consultancy/contractor in charge of undertaking a specific task which is especially useful on multidisciplinary projects.
3. Not reviewing your schedule with the project team
It is vital to review your schedule once it is complete to ensure the timing of all activities, especially the critical activities, is aligned to the required resources.
Circulate the schedule to the team members so they have an opportunity to review it as well. They are the ones who will be delivering the work so it is important to get their buy-in and to make any adjustments to the schedule. Also, plan regular schedule reviews with your project team.
Make sure you include the project title, schedule revision number, date of the update (is it a baseline version?), page number, file location, file name and other relevant information so viewers know they are referring to the most up to date version.
4. Not using your schedule to identify and manage risks
Risk is unavoidable which means it is important to understand its potential impact on your project and manage it.
You can add extra time to deal with high risk activities and schedule them to be completed first. Update your schedule regularly as more details of the tasks become available, more tasks need to be added, a change is approved or if the goal posts change. This will help you close out any assumptions made on the durations and dependencies of tasks, and manage any uncertainties that will have an impact on your costs or end delivery date.
You can also use certain functions in software like MS Project or Primavera to undertake a risk analysis on your project and run Monte Carlo simulations to assess the potential impact of uncertainty on the final project duration and cost.
Scheduling is an inevitable aspect of project management which can benefit a project’s efficiency, and although difficulties arise they can be resolved through appropriate communication and planning. What are some of the problems you’ve encountered with scheduling?
You can learn more about project controls and scheduling in APM Learning (🔒).