You’ve made a schedule. Primavera, or your tool of choice, is looking good. But now the work truly begins, because creating a project schedule is only the first task. Now you have to maintain it, keeping schedule updated with the latest developments and progress on the project.
And if you’ve been involved in projects for any length of time, you’ll know that they rarely end up following the plan exactly. There are normally some twists and turns along the way (and that’s what makes it fun, right?).
The team need regular updates about what they should be working on, and the client needs to see progress. If you can’t provide that information, the team might end up working on the wrong tasks at the wrong time, and your client is definitely going to be unhappy.
An out-of-date schedule is worse than no schedule at all: expect your phone to be ringing constantly with people asking for updates and checking in with what’s happening!
So how do you avoid all of that? The simple answer is to keep your schedule updated. An updated schedule gives you:
- A better chance of spotting issues before they become blockers
- Insight into performance trends so you can act on them quickly
- Relevant data to share with your team, stakeholders and your client
- Better management control over late tasks or issues that need your attention.
There are a lot of reasons why it’s worth putting the effort in to maintain an accurate schedule. Here are three easy ways to stay on top of your schedule data.
1. Keep a real-time schedule
Do your best to keep the schedule updated in as near to real time as possible. That will make it most accurate and give your team the most relevant data. Having a scheduler on the team – someone who is dedicated to managing the schedule – will help with this.
If you trust your team and they know how to use the software, they can update their own task assignments with progress and key dates. You can create a login for them so they can access the software and make changes on a regular basis.
If you don’t have a scheduler or confidence that your team know how to (or have the time to) update their own sets of tasks, then consider outsourcing your schedule maintenance to experts who can do it in a fraction of the time it will take your in-house team.
Another time-saver is to think about whether real time scheduling is truly required. While it might be project management best practice, it is a lot of work, and your project may not warrant it. If that’s the decision you come to, then at least update the schedule weekly. When we are providing scheduling services for clients, that’s an approach we take. A weekly update means you get timely information to help make decisions and clients get a snapshot on a regular basis so they can see exactly what progress is being made.
2. Link schedule changes to other processes
Other project management processes like risk management and change management will also have an impact on your schedule. Your risk management activities take up time, and that time needs to be accounted for. Any approved changes also have an impact on the work that is to be done, so they need to be factored into the plan.
Make sure that your project processes include a reference back to the schedule so that you have a note of when additional updates need to be made. This information is important to pass on to the scheduler on the team, whether that’s you, a colleague, or an external expert scheduling firm that is managing the detail for you.
Every time a change is approved or a risk action plan agreed – or anything else that has an impact on the work to be done – the schedule should be updated to accurately reflect that.
3. Make time for scheduling
Let’s be honest: scheduling takes time away from doing the work of the project. When you have a team of experts who want to make progress and deliver excellent results for your client, keeping a schedule updated can seem like an unnecessary overhead. The team knows what to do and on a day-to-day basis they are keeping the work moving forward because they are experts in their field.
And yet… the client still expects to see a schedule or to see earned value metrics presented on a regular basis.
To meet those requirements, you are going to have to put time aside for the work of keeping your schedule up to date. It’s too easy to get to the end of the week and realize it’s been a fortnight since anyone updated the plan. That’s not a reflection on the work the team is doing, because they’ve probably been keeping everything moving forward, but your documentation should match the progress you’ve been making.
Put time aside to scan through the plan, updating dates, checking in with the team, making sure milestones still reflect reality, running schedule reports and communicating progress to your client. Update the percent complete of tasks or mark the current progress. Make a note of variances or add text to the schedule as a reminder of what affected the latest status. Regular updates make this a much smaller task than if you did it monthly, but it still needs to be accounted for in your work plans.
Block out time on your calendar to do the work of maintaining the schedule. If it looks too much, it might be time to think about outsourcing your schedule maintenance so you and your team can get on with what you do best.
A smart schedule doesn’t need to be a lot of work if you have the systems and team in place to manage it. If you’re regularly updating your tasks, you’ll have a robust and accurate document from which to direct and manage the work, something that you can share with clients to show the great progress you are making on the project.