The larger the project, the longer the list of tasks on your project schedule. However, even small projects can have schedules running into multiple screens: you find yourself paging down to move through the many activities for the team.
Creating a tidy, effective schedule starts with having solid information to go into tools like Primavera P6 Professional, so you are building out a Gantt chart that is fit for purpose. The better quality your schedule, the more likely it is that you will be able to deliver the work successfully.
Here are some tips for improving your project schedule.
1. Assign task owners
Do a quick scan through the schedule items and make sure that every activity is allocated to a resource. This is essential if you are billing for hourly work and need the team to keep track of their time with timesheets.
It is OK to use generic or placeholder resources if you do not yet have the detail of who is going to do the work. Ideally, you should be assigning work to named individuals as that helps with accountability and resource planning, but if you do need to use generic resources, make a note to update your plan later on.
2. Add dependencies
One of the things that can affect project progress is missing out a dependency. You think the work can begin, and people are ready to start, but unfortunately everything grinds to a halt as a piece of the puzzle is missing.
It’s surprisingly easy to miss off a dependency or two as you enter the data into your software, so make sure that you sense-check your schedule. Look for orphan tasks that don’t link to anything else, and tasks that have been automatically chained together where perhaps there is no need to have them running like that.
3. Review task durations
This is a tricky one, because the ‘right’ task duration depends on the project. We would advocate having tasks last for however long is appropriate for the work, but a rule of thumb is not to have long tasks that spill over two reporting periods, or very short tasks.
However, we know projects where those rules have been broken and that has been just fine.
The idea behind not having very long tasks is because it makes it harder to track whether or not the work is progressing to plan. The shorter the task, the easier it is to see if you are arriving at the end of the work in a timely manner. People find it harder to estimate the percent complete of longer tasks, so there is a chance that towards the end of the allocated time, they find out there is actually more to do than remaining hours.
The idea behind not having a lot of very short tasks is that they are time-consuming to track. If you are planning an IT installation and there will be a lot of small activities taking only an hour or so over the course of a weekend, then you absolutely need that detailed cutover plan. But the more tasks you have, the more obligation there is on the project management team and scheduler to keep everything up to date. That can be burdensome and not a good use of their time.
Task duration is a balancing act, but the information in your work breakdown structure and work package information will determine how long to allocate to the activity on the schedule.
4. Organize the schedule
By ‘organize’ we mean make it easy for a human to read. You don’t have to put the tasks in chronological order, or use sub-tasks and groupings, but those features of Gantt chart tools certainly make it easier to interpret, review and update the data.
Try to find some way to order, group and structure your schedule so it’s easy to see what you are looking at. Reports, filters and custom fields may make this easier for you and the team.
5. Be transparent
Professional scheduling tools can be unwieldly and difficult to use for people who are not experts in the system or who are just starting out. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t share the schedule with your colleagues. It shouldn’t be a secret.
Many tools like Primavera P6 and Microsoft Project give you the option to export data in a range of formats so that the details can be shared with the team. It’s often said that having the bigger picture view and being able to see how your work fits in with everyone else’s helps team members understand their contribution and the value they are adding to the project. We agree: while there may be some commercially sensitive aspects to your project, sharing what you can to help people understand the context of the work is always helpful.
Preparing a professional schedule
If you don’t have people in-house who can help you structure your project schedule in the best possible way, assigning the right resources, making sure all the dependencies work as they should and setting up reports for the team, then did you know you can outsource project schedule creation? Yes, you absolutely don’t have to do it yourself.
A good quality schedule can help you hit dates, communicate with your client, and capture adequate data for earned value management reporting. These 5 quick tips are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to robust and effective project scheduling, but they are a good starting point. Have they made you think differently about the way you create your schedules in your tools?