Project scheduling 101: How to successfully plan and execute projects
Projects tend to have a lot of moving parts. This means project managers need to plan and coordinate with teams to ensure their endeavors run smoothly.
This is known as project management––and it’s a major part of managing projects successfully.
The question is: How do you do it well so that projects go off without a hitch?
We’re going to cover all of that and more.
What is project scheduling?
First, let’s talk about project scheduling.
Project scheduling is the planning steps that define what tasks teams need to do, when those tasks need to be completed, and what resources are needed to complete them.
Without project scheduling, teams would seldom meet their deadlines and projects would constantly exceed their budgets.
Project scheduling can be as simple or complex as it needs to be. Most companies do some form of project scheduling, even if it’s penciling in project information on a calendar and coordinating with teams via email.
What are some project scheduling techniques?
The right technique for you depends on your timeline, your goals, and your priorities.
Below are four popular scheduling techniques used by project managers: Critical Path Method, Program Evaluation and Review Technique, Fast-tracking and crashing, and Gantt charts.
1. Critical Path Method (CPM)
The CPM method is a commonly used construction scheduling method that helps managers predict the project schedule based on its tasks. To do this, you need to:
- List all of the assignments required to complete your project in a Work Breakdown Structure
- Estimate the duration of each task
- Identify your task dependencies and deliverables for your project
Once the project is mapped out, the next step is to identify the longest stretch of dependent tasks within the project. This stretch is known as the “critical path.” You’ll likely have other tasks outside of the critical path, too: those are tasks that can be delayed without stopping the project (they’re called “float tasks.”)
The critical path is the collection of tasks that must be finished in order to complete the project. With this information, you can create a CPM schedule to determine the least amount of time it’ll take to complete the project. Do this by estimating the time needed to finish all the items in the critical path.
2. Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT)
PERT is another construction scheduling method that project managers use to estimate the duration of a project.
This technique requires creating a visual timeline known as a PERT chart, which you can do by using a Work Breakdown Structure and then mapping at your project and dependencies in a Gantt chart (more on this later.)
PERT charts offer a visual representation of the major activities (and dependencies) in a project. The activities are displayed sequentially (like a project roadmap) and the tasks are connected via an activity line on the chart. Once the project has been mapped out, you can determine how long it’ll take to complete your project by calculating the:
- Optimistic time (O): Quickest time you can complete a project
- Pessimistic time (P): Longest time it’ll take to complete your project
- Most likely time (M): The realistic assessment of how long it’ll take to finish your project if there are no problems
Once you have that data, run the following equation:
(O + 4M + P)/6
This will give you the expected time of your project, factoring in occasional setbacks.
3. Fast-tracking and crashing
Fast-tracking and crashing are known as duration compression tactics. They’re used to shorten the schedule of your project, but should be used cautiously as they can lead to bigger problems.
Fast-tracking is essentially multitasking. It requires you to find your project’s critical path, and work on those activities while simultaneously working on your float tasks. The danger of this approach is that teams are often rushing through work, which lends itself to greater human error.
Crashing is dumping extra resources into a project to finish it quicker. This is usually done when a project is in danger of running past a deadline. Crashing could be adding extra members to a team or having your members work overtime until they meet their goals.
This technique raises the cost of the project and could diminish the expected returns.
4. Gantt charts
Employed across all industries, Gantt charts offer a graphical representation of your project timeline from start to finish. Using a Gantt chart can increase workflow transparency by allowing you to observe who’s working on what so you know where everyone is at in relation to the project schedule.
That way, you can measure progress and planning timeliness, identify bottlenecks, and manage resources easier and more effectively.
How do I ensure projects are on schedule?
To ensure projects are on schedule, first and foremost move away from using spreadsheets for project scheduling.
Spreadsheets are time-consuming and increase the chances of human error. Plus, they don’t act as a single source of truth because your teams and stakeholders could be using older versions of your project spreadsheet.
If you haven’t already, consider making the switch to a comprehensive work management platform like monday.com. Unlike other project scheduling tools that focus exclusively on planning projects, monday.com is a Work OS. That means it’s able to accommodate all aspects of work within your projects, such as:
- Planning and scheduling projects
- Building teams
- Measuring team performance
Plus: it comes loaded with ready-to-go templates that let you plan projects in the blink of an eye.
You can create Gantt charts with the click of a mouse, or roll out a Work Breakdown Structure in seconds. The drag-and-drop interface makes it easy for you to customize templates to suit your unique needs and preferences, or update your project plan at a moment’s notice.
Tackle project scheduling like a pro
Try monday.com today to see just how easy it is to use for project scheduling and to ensure you’ve created a project workflow that will keep your team on track.
We offer a growing library of fully customizable templates that let you plan professional-quality projects, even if you’re not a certified project manager.