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How a project master schedule can drive a project timeline 8 min read
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When you begin a new project, in the back of your mind you’re probably making a list of all the things that could go wrong. You can’t help but think about all the balls that could get dropped, the deadlines that could get missed, and the miscommunication between team members that could drive everything off the rails. Fortunately, there are tools that can help you create a clear path for your project’s success — and one of the most important tools you can adopt is a master schedule.

With a master schedule, you’re on top of every part of your project, from the resources you need to the time required for each sub-task to the deliverables your client is expecting. Your master schedule facilitates communications between all your team members, your vendors, and your clients, putting everyone literally on the same page.

In this article, you’ll learn how master schedules can help you stay on top of your project and what benefits they bring to your role as a project manager. In the end, you’ll be wondering how you ever managed without a master schedule.

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What is a master schedule?

When you’re coordinating a large project, you’re likely to create a separate schedule for each component of the project. Those smaller schedules are immensely helpful when it comes to keeping all the elements of the project moving forward. But how do you keep track of the big picture? That’s where a master schedule comes in.

The team leader of a project should compile a master schedule to summarizes all the major elements and deliverables of the project. Think of it as a summary-level project schedule. The master schedule encompasses all the individual smaller schedules, along with the work breakdown structure components. In addition, the master schedule includes all the milestones that have to be reached — with their timetables — for each thread of the project.

Project managers have one overriding goal: to deliver their project on time and on budget. Your master schedule is a key tool to make reaching that goal a possibility.

How master schedules are used in project management

Project managers have one overriding goal: to deliver their project on time and on budget. Your master schedule is a key tool to make reaching that goal a possibility. As you schedule activities, tasks, and resources to keep the project on track, your master schedule lets you incorporate milestones, deliverables, and work breakdown structure components. It provides a summary of where your project is (and where it should be) at any moment in time. If you haven’t reached a milestone or finished a deliverable on time, your master schedule reveals where the holdup is so you can make any needed changes to your schedule management process.

The master schedule also functions as an important communications tool, since all the key stakeholders in a project are privy to it. Your client signs off on the master schedule, so they must be kept informed of any changes to it. The project manager, any project sponsor, and project management office all have access to the master schedule, which keeps everyone updated on the status of the project.

Benefits and limitations of using a master schedule in project management

The use of a master schedule delivers significant benefits that increase with the size of the project you’re managing. With a master schedule, you can track what all team members are working on and see where any part of the team is falling behind schedule. The ability to identify weak links can help you keep your project on track, and the use of the schedule helps you get new team members up to speed quickly. Your master schedule also provides a common language so your team members, vendors, clients, and all stakeholders can feel confident they’re all talking about the same thing and headed toward the same goal.

Master schedules are so effective that they have few limitations, but they may not be fully necessary if you’re working on a very small project that has few people and elements involved. In addition, when you run into the inevitable delays that happen on any project, you have to take the time to update your master schedule. (On the flip side, the time it takes to make those tweaks may pay off down the road, as your whole team remains updated to the changes.)

When you should use a master schedule

A master schedule is vital when you’re establishing communications with all the key players who have to keep an eye on your project’s success. You’ll typically create the master schedule as you’re agreeing on any contract surrounding the project. That means the master schedule also details what you’re contractually bound to deliver, including costs and time periods involved. Any changes made are likely to need approval by all stakeholders — and those changes will also be binding.

Examples of master schedules

Master schedules are especially useful when you’re scheduling production, where they serve as a sort of contract between your manufacturing or production department and your sales team to coordinate supply and demand, as well the time frame for production. If you run a make-to-stock production line, you’d probably find it very difficult to do any production planning without a master schedule. Make-to-order production facilities also find master schedules useful to plan inventory, with a separate master schedule created for each product.

Supply chain planners find master schedules to be very useful, too, as they handle demand across multiple vendors and plan distribution. In addition, educational institutions of all types, especially those in higher education, use master schedules to organize the time periods and allocation of resources needed to plan their educational offerings, including instructors, instructional spaces, and equipment. A master schedule is also an invaluable tool for event planners coordinating many vendors and elements.

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How helps you with project master schedules provides the planning tools and templates you need to create a customized master schedule for your unique projects. With these tools, you can break down the overall project into individual tasks and assign the appropriate team members to work on and oversee each task. You can determine what resources are needed and allocate them properly. You can also establish the all-important timeline for the project, including its starting and ending dates and all the milestones and deadlines to be hit along the way.

Your master schedule might also highlight specific requirements the project must meet, including any certifications, legal requirements, or even security clearances. You can also manage budget spend via a master schedule, tracking labor and material costs as the project moves forward. Use your master schedule to check off deliverables as you hand them off to your client as well. Because’s tools sync in real time, you know the master schedule you’re relying on is always up-to-date — and that your clients and team members are also getting up-to-the-minute information.

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Frequently asked questions

What is an integrated master schedule?

An integrated master schedule brings together all the components of a project schedule to help ensure successful completion of the project. It integrates the project timeline with elements that can include costs, incentives, subcontracts, milestones, and sub-schedules, and it’s often used to combine multiple projects together. With an integrated master schedule, everyone on your team can reconcile the project’s progress against the schedule using the same measurement tools.

What is master scheduling?

Master scheduling is a planning and schedule process that outlines how a project, often a manufacturing operation, should be managed and run. The schedule produced through this project summarizes the timeline and tasks required in the project. It typically also allocates resources and team members, identifies potential bottlenecks during the process, and tracks the project through its various stages to make sure all deadlines are met.

What information should a master schedule contain?

A master schedule should include all the information needed to finish and deliver a project on time and on budget. Depending on the project, this might include:

  • All tasks required to complete the project, with all work breakdown structure components
  • All resources needed to complete the project, including human resources
  • Details regarding deliverables
  • The key project milestones
  • All relevant dates on the project’s timeline

Enhance your productivity with a master schedule

When you create a master schedule, you provide yourself with one of the most powerful tools available to keep your project moving forward on time and on budget. Working with makes it easy to create master schedules so your team members aren’t stuck trying to juggle spreadsheets, calendars, and sticky notes. With customizable templates, you can manage every aspect of your projects and facilitate communication between all your team members and stakeholders to help drive your project to success.

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