According to research, 70% of organizations have suffered at least one project failure in the prior 12 months. Over the years we’ve talked to many people who managed these projects to better understand their needs and what could have helped them succeed. Most have counted on traditional project management software to align their projects and teams, but they have consistently attributed four common problems to their failure: resources, visibility, alignment of priorities, and scheduling issues. Over the next month, we’ll be double clicking on each of the problems and the ramifications they have on organizations. WARNING: Unless you are already using LiquidPlanner, some of these problems may hit a little too close to home.
Scheduling is the art of planning your project deliverables so your team can achieve the goals and priorities in the time you have available. It’s one of the most critical elements of project management, yet studies show that 50% of project managers don’t even bother to baseline their schedules, leaving them unable to compare where they planned to be at a certain time in the project against where the data shows them they should be. Why? They know that change is inevitable and that their schedules may not survive the week. Having countless baselines won’t be helpful when they try to look back and learn.
As priorities shift and business plans change, maintaining an up-to-date schedule can seem impossible. Project managers are constantly asked the tough questions: When will the project realistically be done? When can we commit to the customer? When should we hire more people? When can we take on more work? It is the “when” questions that vex teams the most; they just don’t trust their schedules. So we asked project managers all over the world what their top scheduling issues were and here’s what they said:
What are your most common scheduling problems?
1. We are overpromising on projects and underestimating the time it takes to complete them.
Unrealistic or tight project schedules are the bane of our existence, so why are they so common? Oftentimes they are the result of people not understanding the full scope of work, not factoring in potential risks, or just trying to meet arbitrary deadlines to please stakeholders.
Building ranged estimates with best case/worst case scenarios into your schedules from the beginning can help you manage risks, adapt to change, and provide the cushion your team needs to navigate through uncertainty. As the work progresses, revise the estimates based on your new knowledge. By placing realistic time frames and proactively communicating risks, you will ensure alignment and add an element of accountability with your team members. You’ll also stop feeling like you’re letting stakeholders down.
2. My team is complaining that they don’t have enough time to do their work.
Did you know that enterprise workers are devoting just 45% of their time to their primary job duties? In order for your project to be successful, you need their time and talent, but they are knee deep in busy work. Take away the manual tracking and reporting, and you may see that number tick up a few percentage points.
Even a team firmly committed to the principle of visibility needs an easy, intuitive, automatic way to report and track their work or transparency will suffer. Here are some clues that you’re relying too much on manual reporting:
- You hold frequent status meetings
- You send an email to notify someone of completed tasks
- You send Slack messages or schedule times to virtually connect to ask whether projects are on track
- You have a complex spreadsheet with project details, like budget and delivery dates
- You have employees tracking time by hand or in a tool separate from the project plan
- Give your team the gift of time so they can do their best work; have a source of truth that shows all involved the progress and detail in real-time.
Give your team the gift of time so they can do their best work; have a source of truth that shows all involved the progress and detail in real-time.
3. We’re falling behind because we can’t see what’s next.
Project managers need to see risk right away – the moment scope increases or new priorities are added to the portfolio – and have instant visibility to how it impacts their project. Without factoring in potential risks, you’re bound to have an unrealistic schedule. But managing projects without a centralized source of truth will consistently make you feel like you’re lagging. How can you keep up when you can’t see the path? Rest assured that you are not alone: 53% of project managers claim they lacked visibility across all of their projects.
A scalable project management system is critical to planning future resources and seeing potential risks. Without it, your team is likely wasting time. As the pace of change has increased, what you need from your project management software is increasing too. It’s not enough to have tools that show one project at a time or that provide limited snapshots of what each person is working on.
4. We are worried about the workload of our teams, especially in today’s climate.
Resource planning is the best way to maximize your team’s productivity. It requires regular management to make sure tasks are getting delegated to the right people based on project priorities, capacity, skill level, and their area of expertise.
But realistic schedules need to balance factors like vacations, holidays and hours needed for non-project related tasks. Today, 58% of employees report burnout, up from 45% in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Actively managing your team’s workload is the best way to eliminate capacity issues. And importantly, it decreases stress, reduces turnover, and improves utilization across projects.
5. We have too many planning misses and don’t know where our real bottlenecks are.
Bottlenecks happen when more work is requested than a team can process at its maximum throughput capacity, causing interruptions in the flow of work and delays in project completion. If your team is permanently stressed, delivery dates are consistently missed, and projects never seem to truly flow, bottlenecks are likely the cause.
Managers tend to think that adding more people to the project will make it better, but that’s usually not the case. With the right software solution deployed, project managers can map their process and visually spot congestion. The best tools will serve up data that can be leveraged for insights to inform team adjustments to resolve bottlenecks and improve performance.
6. We don’t know where people are spending their time.
While managing projects, it is important to regularly and accurately document how people are being allocated and utilized. In some organizations, this is done manually with detailed spreadsheets, often containing human errors.
Having all of your information, such as team availability and individually tracked hours, in one dedicated tool is more accurate. As your team logs time, you’ll also be able to see how the project is truly progressing and have a living-and-breathing schedule. Down the road, it allows you to not only measure the efficiency of a project, but also use that data to create better future estimates for how long work will take based on learning from past logged hours.
7. We don’t know how to sequence the work to meet deadlines.
Not all projects can be initiated immediately. When resources are not available to staff all of the approved projects, lower priority projects have to wait until enough people are freed up to begin the work. Understanding relative priorities can help direct the timing and sequencing of projects.
In some cases, high priority projects may have other dependencies or resource constraints that require a start date in the future. In other cases, lower priority projects get pushed out into the future. Project prioritization will help you know where to assign resources and when your team can start the work.
Why is scheduling so important?
When it’s done effectively, scheduling helps project managers:
- Save time with tracking, reporting, and communicating progress
- Ensure everyone is on the same page with tasks, dependencies, and deadlines
- Highlight issues and concerns, such as a lack of resources
- Identify task relationships
- Monitor progress and identify issues early
- Adapt to change and manage uncertainty
- It can be your competitive advantage or your greatest weakness. Choose wisely.
LiquidPlanner is a transformative project management solution that uses predictive scheduling to dynamically adapt to change and manage uncertainty. It helps teams prioritize, predict and perform with confidence. Rated the best software for complex projects by PC Magazine, smarter planning – and smarter scheduling – is a click away. FREE SIGN UP