agenda image by Ploum1 from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>
According to the Project Management Institute, 9.9% of every dollar invested in a project is wasted due to poor project performance. That's $99 for every $1,000 spent. If your projects are running over budget, take another look at how you're scheduling tasks and resources. Second only to selecting a good project team, a well-designed schedule is key to having a successful project.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
A project schedule identifies deadlines and interdependent tasks and assigns dates to required resources. As such, a schedule is an important tool for completing projects on time and budget.
The Purpose of Project Schedules
The project schedule should be based on a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), which lists all of the tasks and goals of the project. The schedule places these tasks into a sequence of linked events with dates and, in some cases, the times for each to be started and finished.
The project schedule creates a model for the entire project to guide the work being done and to measure progress against a fixed timetable. If the project changes, the schedule details:
- Task time requirements.
- Interdependencies between different tasks and resources.
- Availability of resources, including team members.
- Time constraints and bottlenecks.
The project schedule serves as a management tool for overseeing the progress of the project as well as for evaluating alternative strategies for accomplishing the project goals. It's also used for controlling costs and optimizing resources.
The Importance of Resource Management on Project Schedules
How you manage resources can make or break a project. Resources can include people, equipment and tools, and locations. If equipment arrives late, people are scheduled for other projects, someone forgets necessary tools or a room you need to access is locked, the schedule is delayed and this could jeopardize the project.
Resources should be scheduled into the project along with tasks. This not only ensures that the resources will be available when needed, but it can also reduce costs by ensuring that resources aren't reserved for the project until they're needed. For example, if you have to rent equipment for the project, you can schedule tasks that require the equipment as close together as possible, then schedule the equipment to arrive when it's needed and be returned as soon as the last task requiring it is completed.
Project Schedule Tools
Project management software or project scheduling software is, by far, the best way to keep track of projects. Calendars and spreadsheets aren't much better than using paper and pen simply because they lack important features. The software you choose should:
- Define project workflows.
- Identify the project's critical path.
- Automatically adjust schedules when changes are made.
- Offer visualization tools like Gantt charts.
- Generate reminders and alerts when tasks are due or past deadlines.
There are numerous project management and project scheduling apps available in a range of prices. Most of them also offer free trials, including:
- Microsoft Project Online
The Project Scheduling Process
The scheduling process begins after you establish the project goals, select your team, determine a budget and develop a WBS. These represent the often complicated answers to four simple questions:
- What needs to be done?
- How much will it cost?
- When does it need to be finished?
- Who will do the work?
Once these answers have been established, you can then begin assigning dates and resources to the required tasks listed in the WBS. Tasks need to be arranged according to their dependencies. If you're building a house, for example, the framing can't go up until the foundation has dried, carpenters are available and the lumber has arrived.
Once the original schedule has been established, you'll need to confirm that the required resources are available on their required dates. If they aren't available, you'll need to reschedule those tasks or find replacement resources. This can happen throughout a project's life cycle. People get sick and supplies often arrive late. This is why you should always view a schedule as a living document that's updated as needed until the project has been completed.
A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.