Top 5 Steps for Creating a Successful Project Schedule

Project management software and tools are effective when it comes to managing the day-to-day duration of a project and schedule. A successful project schedule is the result of planning and work done before the project ever kicks off, and then keeping to that schedule as the project is executed.

Focus on understanding and planning these key scheduling strategies for any project in order to come up with the best project schedule to follow and manage.

Read more: Find a Project Timeline Template for Any Project

5 Steps for Creating a Project Schedule

Preparation First

A successful project schedule typically begins with understanding all the parts and pieces of the project, including how it came about, what is expected and by when, and who needs to be involved to make it happen.

Review the statement of work or proposal in detail, and get an overview to share with the team from the account manager or sales lead who wrote the deal. Further, learn about the customer, how they are to work with, and what their expectations are if they are a repeat customer.

Define the Project Plan

Meet with stakeholders on project details, and identify what is the minimum viable product (MVP). Also determine the order of priority for key work pieces or project phases. Define milestones, individual tasks, and work steps, and then determine how they are dependent or independent.

Moreover, assign a working order of what needs to happen first, second, and last. Also, be sure to make a note of anything that can happen on its own or that may take longer, and flag items that require rounds of review and approvals.

Assign Resources

Successful project scheduling involves knowing what work can be handled internally by employees, and what can be completed by contractors or freelance workers.

When assigning these resources, contact vendors for separate contracts and kick off meetings, and make sure to get them up to speed early. This way, they are ready when their part needs to begin. However, be sure to have a backup plan in the event that a project lead or other resource gets pulled from the project.

Estimate Time

Each work item or section of the project plan needs time estimated and built into the overall schedule. Work backwards from the set end date to estimate all work items. Start with an estimate and refine it as you build the plan. Once you have a schedule in place, run it by key stakeholders to confirm there isn’t anything missing.

In addition, it’s a good idea to build in extra time for creative and technical development and reviews if they are required. Even if you don’t need it, this extra time can give you a buffer in case issues arise or keep you ahead of schedule at times — which is always a good thing.

Track Progress

For larger teams and projects, it may be a good idea to choose and use a good project management tool to track progress and define a clear critical path that you can show to stakeholders.

With a project management tool, you can build and share reports to clearly show daily, weekly, and monthly progress, as well as overall project health.

Read more: Best Construction Scheduling Software

How Do I Create a Starting Progress Baseline?

A project baseline is a clearly defined starting point in a project plan. You will use this point to measure and compare project progress. There are three baseline components — scope, schedule, and cost — that are monitored, tracked, and reported on independently. They can be used together to predict and adjust details accordingly.

With a project baseline, it is easy to see how a change in one component affects another when you compare them components to determine if the project is truly on track.

Determine Scope

To create a starting progress baseline, start with a list of project objectives and deliverables, and break down the required work steps to meet all deliverables. You should also identify individual tasks and subtasks, and what is involved.

Ongoing questions to ask include:

  • Does the schedule reflect the full scope of the project and include time and resources for each work item?
  • Has the scope changed since kick off due to additions or deletions?
  • Is scope creep occurring?

Set Up a Schedule

Build out a project schedule with definitive due dates and a target end date using a scheduling tool that can easily be edited as things change. Before assigning any resources, make a best-guess estimate as to how long the task should take.

Ongoing questions to ask include:

  • How long do you have to complete the project?
  • Is an end date set, and is there enough time in the overall schedule to safely call the project complete by then?
  • Is anything taking longer than estimated?

Estimate Cost

To estimate cost, include everything that costs money — including hourly rates, equipment, resources, vendors, and fees. Be sure to track the cost of the project over time and keep comparing costs to the budget.

Ongoing questions to ask include:

  • Is anything going over, or projected to go over budget?
  • Can anything be modified to borrow or move funds to cover another, heavier resource?

Read more: What Is a Gantt Chart?

How Do I Predict Schedule Duration?

Predicting the duration of the project schedule takes detailed investigation into all aspects of the project, from kick off to final deliverable and beyond. Identify all work items and lay them out in a linear path, and estimate each work item or group of tasks.

Make sure to communicate with the project team and leads on availability and qualifications to understand who is the best fit for tasks, if they are available to work, and when.

How Do I Determine Resource Allocation?

Assigning individuals and groups to execute tasks in a project is a joint effort by the project manager, team leads, and other project managers, such as scrum masters and development managers. Juggling individuals and their strengths and abilities can take some guesswork to identify and plan for all the necessary resources for a project that needs support from multiple groups and disciplines.

Keeping the Schedule on Track and on Time

Once a master plan is created with a defined schedule, the effort is all about tracking time and keeping things on schedule. Project management software tools are very effective in scheduling out tasks, assigning resources, and determining a start and end date.

From basic spreadsheets to full blown CMS tools with reminders and reporting, there are many solutions for any size project that will help you keep tabs on the bigger picture and all of the tiny details. Also, be sure to meet frequently with project leads, and ask questions to help you check things off the list or address items that need attention.

Understand that things always change from the very beginning of a project to the end as work gets underway. To keep the schedule on track and on time, document everything and don’t make changes without using a formal change and approval process.

Remember: Deviating from processes and making frequent undocumented changes to the project scope, schedule, and/or cost will make it nearly impossible to measure progress and achieve success.

Read next: 5 Phases of Project Management Life Cycle You Need to Know

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Anne Meick

Anne Meick is an author, copywriter, and digital project management consultant, leading digital teams and projects in highly regulated industries. She is the founder of Writers' Connection and blogs on writing, editing, and book publishing.