Scheduling is one of the key things that an enterprise project management tool can help with. But however good the tool, it is only as useful as the data you enter in to it. Complex project schedules inevitably end up changing along the way – as German Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke said, no plan survives contact with the enemy.
However, you can give your project a fighting chance of success by avoiding these 7 scheduling mistakes.
1. Failing to tick off completed tasks
Every single project manager I know loves ticking off tasks on a list. Given that, you’d think that we wouldn’t see project managers forgetting to mark completed tasks as actually complete. Unfortunately, it’s a common mistake. It just shows that the project manager is not up to date with current project status, and is not close to the teams doing the work. Get regular updates from team members and make sure you know exactly what has been completed at any point.
2. Failing to update progress on in-flight tasks
Lack of progress tracking doesn’t just affect completed tasks. Progress should also be tracked for tasks that are underway. This allows you to see what is currently being worked on.
3. Not breaking down high level deliverables
Schedules are only useful when the tasks listed are of a level of granularity that makes sense to track. Activities like ‘Organise conference’ are hard to track because they are made up of a number of smaller deliverables like ‘Hire venue’, ‘Invite speakers’ and ‘Set up booking website’. Break down big tasks into smaller tasks. A rule of thumb is to stop when the task durations are about a week long.
4. Missing dependencies
Your schedule becomes less accurate when the dependencies are missing. You won’t be able to see what has to happen first, or what downstream effort is relying on earlier tasks to complete. Sit down with the team and work out where the dependencies are, then make sure that your schedule accurately reflects all of them. Don’t expect to be able to do this by yourself.
5. Failing to adjust forecasted effort
When tasks on the schedule are running late, the optimistic view is to hope that the team will catch up. With all our experience at Ten Six, we know that this happens very rarely indeed. Late tasks typically get later. If you know that something is running late because it is taking longer than planned, adjust the remaining effort for that task accordingly. For example, if a task duration is four weeks, and you have completed one week’s effort but it has taken two week’s elapsed time, you know you are running at about half speed so you need to plan in another four weeks for this task.
6. Not planning for resource availability
Even the best schedule in the world will stop being accurate the moment that people are unavailable to work on their tasks. Plan forward, especially with part-time resources. You should be aiming to give people (and their managers) notice about when they are expected to start working on their tasks, and remember to keep them up to date if things change because you are running late or have made up some time and will be requiring their skills early.
7. Failing to adjust the schedule for scope changes
There has to be a link between the project’s change management process and the schedule. The majority of changes will have some impact on the schedule, either through adding or removing something from the project scope or amending key milestone dates for some reason. Make sure that your project joins up the change management process and the planning process, so that you can immediately implement the changes to the schedule as a result of changes to scope. This is also a good way of ensuring that everyone knows that a change has been implemented – sometimes project team members on the periphery are not close to the core processes and may not be aware that something has changed.
Good scheduling takes time and commitment, and the effort to keep on top of everything, all the time. It’s a big job, especially on complex projects but if you keep your focus you can avoid these 7 scheduling mistakes. Helmuth von Moltke would be proud.