Schedule updating is basically the task project managers carry out that relates to updating the project schedule. It involves:
- Updating the project management software with actual work completed
- Recording new estimates in the software
- Updating the state of play with resources, for example adding in any holidays that a project team member is taking so that you can accurately schedule their work
- Entering other data into the project management software that enables the project manager to track progress and monitor the work.
It’s so important because project teams rely on accurate schedules to plan and do their work. You can’t book your time to work on a task if you don’t know when that task is likely to be. Without an accurate schedule, you can’t tell when that task is supposed to be finished so you can hand off to someone else to do the next step.
Project schedules need to be living documents, updated regularly. It isn’t enough to create one at the start of a project and hope that it stays accurate as you move forward. As Helmuth von Moltke the Elder said, no plan survives contact with the enemy!
Here’s a guide to updating your project schedule, starting with where the information for the updates comes from.
Where Does the Information Come From?
The information that you use to update the schedule has to come from somewhere. You have lots of sources of information open to you, but generally you’ll rely on your own judgement and input from your team.
Of course, you have to trust your team to tell you the truth! If the information you get is bad, you’ll be updating your schedule with unreliable data and it will no longer be fit for purpose.
Information for updates also comes from the change management process, risk management discussions, the latest strategic updates from your project sponsor, test results that might show you need to do more work in a certain area, and so on.
You may not have all the information at any given point. Just update your schedule with what you have. It is a living document so you can always update it again when more information comes to light.
How To Update Your Project Schedule
This very much depends on your project management software tool. Once you have the information required, you go into your project management tool and enter it. For example, you can add the amount of hours actually worked on a task to date, or change the percent complete if that is how you are tracking progress. You can mark completed tasks as completed. You can carry out resource levelling if your reports show that you have people on the team who are taking on too much. This part of the update is all about the daily housekeeping and tracking.
There’s another part to updating your schedule, though. This relates to dealing with changes. As part of your update, you may have to add in new tasks. If a change has been approved, for example, there will be activities to enter related to the new work. Or the change might involve taking tasks out of the plan.
Risk management activities may mean you are adding new tasks to the plan – those actions you need to take to mitigate any risk.
Here’s a detailed example of how to update your project schedule in Microsoft Project.
You may also be adding in more information than simply task updates. Your project schedule management tools also contain useful information about:
- Resource availability: add in any vacation time or times that you know your team members can’t be available for project work
- Cost: add in the forecasted and actual cost of activities.
When To Update Your Project Schedule
We know a lot of project managers who do schedule updates on a Friday afternoon, so the team comes back to a fresh, updated schedule on Monday morning. This can also be helpful if you do weekly reporting. You would want to update the project schedule before carrying out your reporting, so that you know you are telling people the most accurate information in your report.
A good rule of thumb is once a week, but you’ll need to use your professional judgement. A dynamic, fast-moving project may need schedule updates daily. Some large projects, for example in the construction or defense industries, have dedicated project schedulers who do nothing else but make sure that the schedule is up-to-date and performing as you would expect. However, on a small, slow project with a small team, you might be able to update your schedule on a monthly basis and consider that enough. It really depends on the level of accuracy you need day-to-day to ensure that you have the information you need to deliver the project between updates.
The Value of Baselines
Baselining your plan is important, and your software should do this for you (although you’ll have to ask it to). A baseline is a snapshot of your schedule in time. It captures your schedule in the moment, and you use that baseline as a comparison for the future.
As you make changes to your plan, marking more tasks as done and so on, you are editing the schedule. You can then go back to your baseline version and do a comparison. Are you where you thought you would be? Have the dates on key milestones slipped from the baseline? What does that mean for your schedule overall?
The baseline is a useful tool for project reporting and also for analysis as part of the lesson learned process at the end of projects. It gives you valuable information about the changes that were made to the schedule and the impact these had. It’s often eye-opening to look back at your original schedules and the different baselines you took during the project. You’ll have forgotten just how much has moved on since that first schedule was put together!
Updating your schedule regularly means that you always have a clear view of what has happened and what is due to happen on your project. This gives you and your team confidence that you are actively managing the work towards a successful conclusion.