So here you are, scratching your head, wondering how to schedule your project.

Maybe you’re a freelancer trying to schedule client work. Or perhaps you’re a project manager who needs a quick reminder on the different project scheduling techniques.

Whatever the case, we’ve got your back.

In this guide, we’ll show you exactly what a project schedule is, how to manage a schedule, and different methods for effective project scheduling.

To make your life even easier, we’ll also show you how to use software to maximize productivity and reduce risk of error.

Let’s get straight into it.

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What’s a project schedule?

Let’s say you’re planning your dream vacation to Japan.

Excited, you grab a piece of paper and start writing down all the places you want to visit — Kyoto, Nikko, Tokyo, Hitsujiyama Park, etc.

Next, you start breaking down each of those places into specific spots — the museums, parks, and attractions you want to see.

Then, you realize there’s so many things to do and very little time available.

What can you do?

You create an itinerary, right?

You prioritize your activity list and plan how much time you’ll spend in each place.

Well, a project schedule is exactly like the itinerary of your vacation.

Your ordered destination checklist is like the ordered stages of your project. The things you want to do and see are the activities you’ll undertake. And the duration of your trip is equivalent to your project scope.

Also, your schedule should document the resources you’ll use to complete each of your initiatives and all the deliverables and milestones.

For instance, a typical project schedule might look something like this:

Project schedule example

They’re commonly presented in the form of a Gantt chart, but we can also find them in many other formats (we’ll cover some of them a bit later).

The important thing to remember is: a successful project schedule isn’t about the format, but the elements that make it up.

Why is a project schedule so vital?

Nearly 40% of projects don’t complete a robust planning process, yet planning is the 3rd most valuable project process.

A well-planned project schedule helps you stay on track throughout the project lifecycle and avoid potential issues.

Besides, scheduling activities helps you identify dependencies — the logical relationships between tasks.

You see, this is crucial.

Without dependencies, you can’t possibly prioritize activities in the right order.

For example, let’s say you want to make a panini sandwich.

In that case, you could break the steps down into:

  • Slice the bread
  • Smear mustard on the bread
  • Stack up the meat and cheese
  • Add your veggies
  • Put it all together

In this example, you couldn’t smear mustard on the bread before actually slicing the bread, right?

So the task “smearing mustard” is dependent on the task “slicing bread.”

Task dependencies help you build a logical order for all of the activities involved in your project.

Without a project schedule, identifying these dependencies will be hard.

3 project scheduling methodologies that actually work

Now that you understand the importance of a project schedule, let’s talk about how to design and manage one in the real world.

There’s actually a few different methods you can use.

We won’t cover all of them in this guide, but we’ll show you the most common ones.

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1. Critical Path Method (CPM)

In short, the critical path method is a scheduling methodology that helps you determine the most efficient path possible for your project — a strong way to understand the logic behind your tasks and calculate the duration of each.

To implement this method, you can follow a simple 6-step process:

First, create a list of all the project activities involved. Usually, you should take these tasks from your work breakdown structure.

Then, you should build a sequence of activities considering all the critical dependencies associated with the project.

Based on this sequence, you then draw what’s called a “network diagram” — a graphical representation of your project’s workflow.

A network diagram looks something like this:

Network diagram example

(Image Source)

Basically, the boxes represent your project’s activities and the arrows indicate the relationships between them.

Keep in mind that, to find the critical path, you don’t necessarily need a diagram, but it’s way easier to understand it if you lean on visuals.

Once you’re done building this diagram, you should estimate individual activity duration.

The 5th step consists of finding your critical path — the longest path to complete your project. Any deviation on this critical path will lengthen the project. That’s why it’s crucial.

You should also consider the earliest and latest potential start dates to calculate where you’ve “slack” — how long you can delay a particular task without affecting subsequent activities.

screenshot of an example critical path diagram showing tasks and their durations

To dig a bit deeper on critical path methodology, we’ve put together 2 comprehensive guides:

2. PERT

PERT stands for Program Evaluation and Review Technique.

Like CPM, PERT analysis is commonly represented on network diagrams — that’s why many people confuse the 2 methods.

But the main difference between PERT and CPM lies in their approach for time estimation.

While CPM focuses on one-time estimates, PERT uses 3-point estimates for every duration.

Here’s what you should consider when implementing PERT:

  • Most likely duration: all other things being equal, this is the best estimate for your tasks or projects.
  • Pessimistic estimate: the longest time you think a task will take.
  • Optimistic estimate: the fastest duration of a specific task or project.

Based on these estimates, you can forecast an average duration for the whole project.

But you shouldn’t “score” these estimates symmetrically — there’s a reason why the “most likely” duration is called the “most likely.”

The PERT method suggests you multiply both the optimistic and pessimistic estimates by 1 and the most likely estimate by 4. Then, you divide the result by 6.

The final formula looks like this:

(Optimistic + (4 x Most Likely) + Pessimistic) / 6 = PERT estimate

That’s not the only way to do it, though.

Let’s say you want to take a more pessimistic approach.

Well, you could multiply the optimistic estimate by 1, the most likely estimate by 4, and the pessimistic one by 3, and divide by 8.

Or you could increase the “scoring” on the most likely estimate.

The point is you can play a bit with these numbers to adjust the analysis to your specific needs.

In short, the PERT method helps you estimate the duration of a project based on 3-point estimates from which you can calculate average durations and standard deviations.

PERT analysis example
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3. Gantt chart

If you’ve been involved with project management for a while, I bet you’ve heard the term “Gantt chart”.

Gantt charts are one of the most popular project scheduling tools.

Here’s what a typical Gantt chart looks like:

monday.com's Gantt chart example

In essence, the horizontal axis of a Gantt chart represents time and the vertical axis shows the tasks involved with the project. Identical units of distance along the horizontal axis represent equivalent units of time.

Gantt chart axes example

Then, you showcase each task with a bar.

The length of these bars represent the scope of each task and their positioning on the chart represent how they’re scheduled — a simple way to see dependencies between tasks at a glance.

You can also run different workflows in parallel, like this:

monday.com's Gantt chart screenshot

Now, if you take a look at the image above, you’ll notice there’s little diamonds across the chart. They represent your milestones.

Finally, Gantt charts use a vertical line — in this case, a red one — to indicate the current date, so at any point along the way you can easily understand whether you’re on track and adjust your strategy accordingly.

And that’s pretty much the size of it.

To get a more thorough overview of how Gantt charts work, take a look at the following resources from our blog:

How to keep your project on schedule with monday.com

A few years ago, project managers relied on tools like Excel to manage their project schedules.

But those tools now seem old-fashioned.

Nowadays, there’s a better — and smarter — way.

With a combination of AI, collaboration features, and proven processes, a Work OS can make the job of scheduling a project way easier.

So, let’s quickly talk about what we offer at monday.com.

What’s monday.com?

monday.com's homepage screenshot

monday.com is a fully customizable Work OS that helps you design a project management platform that meets your specific needs.

With our platform, you can’t just schedule a project, but manage your work from start to finish.

To help you out, here’s a quick overview of everything you can do with monday.com:

Introducing monday.com views

Now — thanks to monday.com board views — creating and managing a baseline schedule is relatively simple.

monday.com's board views screenshot

Board views allow you to visualize your project from many different perspectives and angles in just a couple clicks. This way, you can analyze the data that’s most relevant to you.

Let’s break some of them down:

  • Gantt chart: turns data from a specific board into a beautiful Gantt chart in a few clicks.
  • Workload: helps you oversee who’s doing what at every stage of the project and visualize the distribution of your work.
  • Timeline: gives you a visual representation of dates and the project timeline as a whole.
  • Calendar: allows you to visualize all your tasks, activities, and deadlines in the form of a calendar.

To get a full description of all of monday.com’s views, we suggest you read this guide.

Happy project scheduling

Now you know how to manage a project schedule.

Whether you want to schedule personal projects or manage large, complex initiatives for your project team, now you have the information to start on solid ground.

Besides, if you’re trying to maximize your efforts, save time, and save yourself from unnecessary headaches, monday.com’s views and features will make your job much easier.

To decide for yourself, we suggest you try our fully customizable project planning template.

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