How to Make Your Project Schedule Work for You
At a recent conference, I was asked, “Why do project managers hate schedules?”
I had to think about this for a while because I don’t think project managers hate schedules. I think what project managers don’t like is the administrative work required to maintain it. A detailed and well thought out project schedule is my #1 tool to use when managing a project. Without a schedule, I’d get lost trying to track work and herd all the cats.
I’ve worked with other PMs who are not as adamant about having a detailed project schedule, and I’ve seen quite a few executive-level Gantt charts that lack supporting detail. When I probe further on why a detailed schedule doesn’t exist, the responses include:
- “I manage with my gut.”
- “I rely on the vendor since it’s their responsibility.”
- “I’ve got two other projects running, do you think I have time for all that?”
These responses are indicators of an incoming train wreck. With these project managers, they often present project status as a state of being “where we are” without considering the “where we should be” part of the lifecycle.
5 Signs Your Project Schedule Isn’t Working for You
When smart, capable PMs turn to unreliable and freewheeling methods of project management, it’s a good sign that they’re stuck using 20-year-old project management tools. These inflexible legacy platforms don’t work for projects that require real-time collaboration and communication, or automated scheduling. You know you’re stuck in the past if any of these tell-tale signs ring true:
- The project schedule is built just once by the project manager—at the beginning of the project.
- The project schedule lacks accurate updates including completed tasks and slipped tasks.
- The project schedule only exists in a Gantt chart view to pass a toll gate presentation.
- You have to update status on every task in the project schedule when something changes.
- You’re always being asked for the latest copy of the project schedule (and you don’t have it).
I’ve learned to ask “Why” as a way to discover the root cause of why PMs resist using their scheduling tools. The reasons often involve:
- “The tool is too complex.”
- “It takes too much time to update the schedule.”
- “I can’t get status from everybody on time.”
- “The plan keeps changing.”
A project schedule will always change, and your team needs to make the necessary adjustments to meet the commitment date. However, keeping up with the administrative burden using traditional tools only perpetuates the schedule management problem.
5 Ways to Make a Project Schedule Work for You
- Incorporate schedule metrics into status reporting to reinforce measuring what you manage.
- Establish a weekly review of schedule performance to ensure that everyone understands upcoming tasks, and can provide updates to in-progress and behind schedule tasks.
- Develop views or filters to quickly identify team member tasks.
- Set the expectation that task status is due at a specific time each week. Even better, use a tool that allows real-time updates based on hours actually worked.
- Publish the schedule to a collaboration solution that allows everyone to view the latest updates to the schedule.
Building and managing a project schedule doesn’t have to be overly cumbersome. The schedule is a useful tool to forecast end dates and keep teams on track. Even with online project management tools, the schedule is only as reliable as the data provided by the team. And, by incorporating schedule metrics and weekly reviews into the project cadence, the team and your stakeholders will have a better understanding of the changes in the project schedule.
The project schedule will always fluctuate and project managers need to accommodate changes. If you’re using outdated tools, then you’ll want to consider current alternatives that make the project schedule work for you. The schedule will help you manage the commitment dates, and that’s a growing necessity in an increasingly competitive business environment. And, as we all know, as the commitment dates slips, so does your credibility.
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