Eight steps to project scheduling for beginners

How on Earth Will I Get This Done? The Basics of Project Scheduling

sudarsan reddy

October 9th, 2019 Project Management  

The role of project management often falls to people who did not set out to be project managers. These people are hard-working, organized, and simply good at their jobs. It’s sometimes quite a leap to go from scheduling your own work to scheduling everything for an entire project, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The project scheduling process can be broken down into manageable steps. Follow these and pretty soon you’ll be a scheduling pro.

What is scheduling in project management?

As you might imagine, a project schedule contains more than your average weekly planner notes. Project scheduling involves creating a document, these days usually a digital document, that details the project timeline and the organizational resources required to complete each task. The project schedule must be accessible to every team member. Its purpose is to communicate critical information to the team, so it must be comprehensive and easy to understand.

Why should I create a project schedule?

When done well, project scheduling makes the entire project run more smoothly. Committing to the project scheduling process at the beginning of your project will give you a clear picture of the requirements set before you. It also gives you the chance to catch issues early and alert clients if a timeline isn’t feasible. Besides being good for you as the project manager, project scheduling is good for your team. Everyone knows what to expect and when. Everyone is being held accountable to the same due dates. Other managers can allocate resources efficiently for your project, and they’ll be able to anticipate when resources will be available for other projects.

The 8 steps of the project scheduling process

1. Plan schedule management

The groundwork for a good project schedule is to establish the procedures, company policies, and documentation guidelines that will govern your project. The plan for schedule management outlines resources available for the project and the contingencies that may arise. It also lists stakeholders, itemizes individuals who must approve the schedule, and lists others who need to receive a copy. This document also establishes who has the authority to make schedule changes, the process team members should follow in order to request a change, and a communication plan to alert the team of changes made during the course of the project. 

2. Define the project activities

This can be as simple as creating a list of tasks that must be completed in order to deliver your project. In the case of complex projects, it may be helpful to organize these tasks in the form of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), a chart visualizing tasks and their sub-tasks. 

One challenge in this part of the project scheduling process is knowing how to divide activities. Consider the 8/80 rule, which states that a single activity should take between eight and eighty work hours; tasks requiring fewer than eight hours could be grouped with others and tasks over eighty hours are likely too cumbersome and should be broken down further. Activities should also be measurable, easily estimated, and related to both a project deliverable and a budgeted cost.

3. Determine dependencies

Once you have all the project activities listed, think through each one carefully to identify which tasks rely on others to be completed. If you’re building a house, for example, you can’t put the roof on until the frame is completed. It’s important to correctly define all your dependencies so you can schedule accurately and avoid delays.

4. Sequence activities

After you’ve established the dependencies among your activities, you can sequence them. At this point, you aren’t assigning any times to your activities in terms of work hours or due dates. Instead you’re focusing on the order in which all project activities should be done so that the most efficient flow is created.

5. Estimate resources

Each activity in your project will require resources in the form of personnel, subcontractor costs, tools (physical and/or digital tools like software programs), and workspace. Make sure to consider other resources that are specific to your industry or project. Estimate the resources needed for each project activity. Remember that resource allocation will affect your schedule; if the same team member is responsible for multiple tasks, they can’t be completed at the same time.

6. Estimate durations

This step is pretty obvious but very important. How long will each project activity take? Underestimating will of course put you behind schedule and ultimately frustrate your customer. Overestimating could leave team members or other resources sitting idle as they wait for antecedent tasks to be completed. The best way to estimate duration is to use data from similar previous jobs. If you don’t have any data to work from and there’s no industry standard to which you can refer, estimate based on the average of the best, worst, and most likely scenarios.

7. Develop the project schedule

At this point, you should have all the information you need to develop your project schedule. Taking into consideration the duration and resource requirements of each activity, as well as their dependencies and proper sequence, you can assign start dates and due dates for each activity. There are multiple models and formulas for developing the project schedule, including critical path, critical chain, and resource levelling among others. Each of those methods is worthy of an article in itself, so we won’t cover them here. Take the time to find a method that works well for you. 

Don’t ignore the calendar! Check vacation requests from team members. Don’t forget to include factors like national holidays, corporate functions, stakeholder events, and other occasions that may affect your schedule. If the whole company shuts down for a holiday week, you’ll need to add that time to your due dates and manage customer expectations accordingly.

8. Monitor and control

Unlike the rest of the project scheduling steps, Step 8 is ongoing. As project manager, you’ll be monitoring and controlling your project schedule for the duration of the project. This step involves running reports and assessing progress against the schedule, managing performance, and communicating with the team. When schedule changes must be made, you ensure they are carried out and communicated according to the plan laid out in Step 1. Throughout the project, you will ensure that each activity is on schedule and determine whether corrective action needs to be taken if delays occur.

Get the right tool for project scheduling

It’s important to have the right tools to help you get organized and stay that way. With Kissflow, you get a digital workspace that’s designed to give you and your team the tools you need to stay on schedule. Intuitive kanban boards give everyone a helpful visual of project progress, and automated alerts keep everyone in the loop on approaching deadlines. Sign up today for a free demo and see how Kissflow can help you master the project scheduling process.