How to improve your project time management skills quickly and efficiently
One of the best ways to increase project speed is to use project time management.
Most companies don’t have time to wait around hoping that their projects get completed on time, and project managers can’t afford to disappoint them.
That’s when time management becomes key.
It’s ok, we’re not going to go all “Back to the future” on you.
But, with a properly managed project schedule, team members understand what they need to do, in what order it has to happen, and how much time they have to get it done.
In this article, we’re going to explore some key concepts from the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) to explain project time management, but using simpler language. Plus show you some ways that you can start planning.
What is project time management?
Project time management refers to the management of the time it takes to complete project activities. This ensures that you meet the schedule commitments and deadlines outlined in the project plan.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) breaks down time management into 4 subfunctions, or areas, of the project:
Tackling time management within each of these subfunctions will help you achieve your time objectives for all projects. We’ll explore them all in a second.
Why is project time management important?
Good project time management takes you a least a third of the way to project success.
It’s 1 of the 3 key elements of the “iron triangle.”
Nope, not an ‘80s thrash-metal group.
The iron triangle refers to the traditional success factors that projects are measured against.
- Staying within the defined project scope
- Completing the project on time
- Coming in below budget
Ok, so what do I need to do for each stage?
Let’s break it down…
Not surprisingly, this is when you’re going to be getting super clear about the overall timeline, understanding if there is any contingency, and looking at the impact and penalties if the project runs over.
Any risks associated with delivery should be noted in the risk log with an owner and mitigating action.
Key questions to ask:
- What’s the resource requirement of the project and what’s the availability like?
- What kind of project management software are you going to use to support your project? (Hint: monday.com has all the time management functionality you’ll need!)
- What can we learn from how previous projects were run? Are there any timeline challenges?
- What scheduling meetings do you need to hold, and with who?
Use your answers to these questions to plan how you are going to approach managing, controlling, and communicating your project’s schedule.
This is where the bulk of detailed work gets done in terms of working out the time each element of the project needs, along with how to fit it all together within the overall timeline.
From your project management plan, you’ll have a list of the key deliverables required from the project. Next, you can create a work breakdown structure (WBS). This helps you break down the main deliverables into smaller, more manageable, chunks.
Once you have a complete task list of all the individual activities that make up the project deliverables, you have 2 further things to do:
- Estimate the time each activity will take
- Identify dependencies
Let’s look at estimating first.
While it’s not an exact science, there are many factors to consider when trying to work out how much time each activity will take. Outside the project scope, the factor that has the most influence on estimating activity duration is resources.
Human resource availability, their skill level, and even their motivation — a tricky one to determine! — need to be taken into account when trying to estimate activity duration. Other resources like materials, tools, and equipment also need factoring in.
It may be worth consulting any information the organization has that could help you make a more accurate estimate, such as productivity metrics, estimating policies, and past project data.
Once you’ve got any idea as to how long each task might take, you need to identify dependencies.
In a nutshell, dependencies are tasks that rely on a previous project task before they can start or finish. Like scooping the ice cream before you eat it. (Unless you’re just going to dive straight into the container like an animal…)
Dependencies are a key factor in how you sequence activities.
Once you’ve identified your dependencies, and decided which tasks can run concurrently, you can start to rearrange each of your tasks into a project schedule. With this information, you can also use critical path analysis to estimate the overall project duration.
Critical path analysis identifies the critical path (duh…).
But what is the critical path? These are the key activities, from the start of the project to the finish, that must be completed on time if the overall project timeline isn’t to slip. If you’re looking for a fancier name, you can try ‘precedence network’ or ‘network diagram’ on for size.
The length of time it takes to complete all the tasks on the critical path needs to match the overall project timeline agreed upon in the project planning phase. If it doesn’t, you’re going to want to have an urgent conversation with your project sponsor.
Displaying this level of complexity can be tricky. This is where features like Gantt charts really come into their own.
A Gantt chart can help you…
- Break down the overall project structure into smaller tasks
- Identify the critical path and show the overall project timeline
- Schedule and identify an owner for each required activity
- Identify dependencies between tasks so team members can see what needs completing, and in what order
Naturally, here at monday.com, we have a brilliant example that is simple to put together and visually appealing.
For more on all things, check out our article on Gantt charts.
So, in summary, at the end of this stage you should know:
- The work that needs to be done
- The order the work needs to be completed in
- The time it should take to complete each individual task, each deliverable, and the overall estimated time for project delivery
Once you’ve identified the critical path and have a duration estimate for each activity, you’ll be able to estimate the earliest and latest time each activity can start and finish without impacting the overall project timeline.
Your job at this stage is keeping a watchful eye on how each activity is being delivered, especially those tasks that sit within the critical path.
If any of those slip, the overall timeline will be delayed. You’ll have to take mitigating action, like increasing the number of resources allocated to deliver a task on the critical path. That should reduce the time required and bring the timeline back under control.
As a project manager it is critical that you take action to control your schedule if monitoring suggests a problem.
There are a number of proactive measures you can take to reduce the overall project timeline should a delay appear.
Note: these measures will only impact the overall project timeline if they involve activities on the critical path.
As mentioned above, adding resources to a task may reduce its duration — many hands make light work and all that.
The formal term for this type of action is “crashing.”
You could also overlap tasks so that a task begins before another finishes. This is known as “fast-tracking.” It effectively moves the start, and finish, of that task forward and reduces the overall project timeline. This can be risky as it adds complexity and may overload the project team.
Both of these measures can also add cost to the project and the increased risk and cost need to be carefully weighed against the expected benefit.
While it’s good to know about these options, building flex into the schedule baseline from the outset is almost always a good idea, as long as it’s acceptable to the client.
Project time management can be a tricky pickle. It’s made a lot easier by effective project management software tackling some of the more complex tasks.
Our all-in-one platform can help take care of everything your project needs, from start to finish!Teams love using our software because it’s clean and easy to use. It also comes with all the time management features they crave.
Here are some other ways we can help:
- Use our workload view to measure capacity
- Use our timeline column to choose date ranges
- Use our status column to see which phase a project is in
- Use our effort columns to compare planned effort hours versus spent effort hours
- Use our charts and graphs to create a timeline
- Use our timeline widget to view multiple timelines at a time
- Use our Powerful Project Management template bundle
And that’s how you do it!
We’ve shown you why project time management is so crucial, and we’ve shown you how to start using it.
(We’re guessing by now you can see that we are out-of-this-world awesome!)
Bottom line: we got you.
Try us out today and enjoy how fun and easy it is to manage time with monday.com.