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One of the most daunting tasks that a project manager will face is how to create a comprehensive schedule. There would be those who say the production of a perfect schedule is more of a work of art than a synthesis of science, and the results prove this.

The most frustrating aspect of schedules is that the methods one project manager may apply to their efforts could be completely different to the techniques of another. And while both may be very effective in their own right, team members trying to coordinate between two different types of project schedule can be frustrated and confused by the differences.

This is where we hear the booming of a classic phrase “can’t everyone just make the same types of schedules?”

If you have heard this harbinger of doom reverberate from your team, you may want to rethink the way you and your team are creating your schedules. Perhaps there is a detail that is being overlooked and you are not achieving the perfection that has led to your success time and again. By implementing a time tracking tool you are half way there, Tracktime24 has many features that a project manager will find invaluable in building their schedules. Now all you need is to know how to populate it!

There are many experts on the topic and plenty of resources that you can consider for scheduling guidance. But if you just stick to the simple and effective you will see major success. Following are some of the most basic practices that can save your sanity when creating a working schedule.

Step 1– Define the Schedule Activities

You will want to gain a clearer perspective on your WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) by breaking down the work packages into individual scheduled activities. For example if the work package is “configure new computer hardware”, you can break this down into individual activities. Like this

1.         set up network configuration

2.         install the video card

3.         install applications

4.         set up mail client

Step 2 – Sequence the Activities

This is much like that activity we used to do back in grade school. Remember the cards that pictured different activities and you had to place them in a logical order. This is the same you will do with your individual activities. The next step is exactly the same, just take a look over your activities and decide how it would be easiest and most efficient to order the activities.

In this set of activities installing the video card would be the logical first step, followed by configuring the network, installing applications and final setting up the client email. Then you can take this step to the next level by seeing if any of these tasks can be handled simultaneously. Perhaps the setting up of client emails can be done while applications are being installed.

This is where you will consider the various types of schedule dependencies and which one would be best for your needs.

–           finish-to-start

–           start-to-start

–           finish-to-finish

–           start-to-finish

Step 3 – Estimate the Resources Needed for the Activity

The next step will estimate the resources you will need for each of the important subtasks for each project. This includes the resources to cover the needs of the team, the costs of equipment and the financial resources at your disposal. It is important that these resources are allocated before the duration of each projects has been decided.

Step 4: Estimating the Duration of Each of the Activities

In this step you will want to work with your team to analyze the activities and estimate how long it will take to accomplish each of them. The following tools can be used to quantify your tasks. 

Expert Judgement – nothing like the advice of an expert. Ask someone who has had experience in the task for insights on what time frame is required to accomplish an activity.

Analogous Estimating – in this technique, you will compare the task to similar projects you have accomplished in your organization and create estimates for time frames according to case history.

Parametric Estimations – you can create a fairly accurate estimation by scaling up. If you know that it takes approximately 10-minutes to install a program, you can be fairly certain it will take 60-minutes to install six programs.

Step 5: Schedule Development

In this step you will combine the sequence of activities, resources for tasks and the duration of each activity to complete the project schedule. Be prepared to use a variety of tools here like the critical path method, what-if scenarios, resource levelling and critical chain methods. These are all complete topics to themselves, so we will not delve deeper into these topics.

Step 6: Monitoring and Controlling the Schedule

A good start is half the battle won, but now begins the task of monitoring the schedule and controlling the rhythm thereof. This stage will be performed over the duration of the project and ensure that all activities go according to plan. Schedule control requires its own set of tools, like progress reports, performance management, schedule control systems and variance analysis. These tools will help to keep the schedule on plan and provide adjustments as needed.

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