Success through Proper Project Schedule Management
A few years ago I used to work with a Project Manager. He was very particular about the weekly schedule tracking meetings. He would nag everyone and ask all sorts of questions. He would pester each of his team members for minutest of the details. He would closely monitor each and everything lest something goes amiss. Sometimes we just wanted to avoid these meetings.
I wanted to write a small eulogy for our man, but after reading the above para, you might think otherwise. But don’t get me wrong. It is an eulogy. Let me explain.
After all these years I have realized the importance of regular & periodic schedule tracking. I have very high regard for this person. I have learned a lot from him. I think his persistence to remain on top of the things made him a successful project manager. Somehow, he had a knack for delivering successful projects.
I am sure you would have met some people like him. We may not like them because of their excessive inquisitiveness. But we know that close and regular monitoring is required to deliver successful projects. At the same time, I must urge you to be polite and respectful while monitoring and tracking. We should use good interpersonal skills while interacting with project team members and other project stakeholders.
In my previous article, I talked about 9 benefits of tracking project schedule. I hope that post has inspired you to track the projects regularly. If not, you should read that article. You should also read the previous paras of this article again. My only sincere suggestion is that you should properly manage the project schedule.
What is proper project schedule management? Let us understand it in detail.
The Best Practices
There are 15 critical tasks that you must do while managing & tracking the schedule. By doing these tasks, you will greatly improve the chances of project success.
1. Track Project Regularly & Periodically
You must track the schedule regularly at a defined frequency. The tracking period could be a day or a week or a month, or anything in between but it should be well defined. The tracking period will hugely depend on the size & complexity of the project and stakeholder preferences. A formal evaluation report should be prepared after tracking the schedule and circulated to all relevant stakeholders.
2. Compare Against the Baseline
One of the common ways of tracking a project is to just document the actual dates and forget about the schedule. This does not serve any purpose. You must compare the actual data (dates, expenditure, effort, etc.) against the baseline. A detailed comparative analysis will lead to better project schedule management.
3. Involve Others
You might be the PM but there are other team members who can contribute while you are tracking the schedule. You must involve others. It will not only reduce your burden, but also make others feel responsible & committed.
4. Communicate & Communicate More
In my dictionary, there is nothing like over-communication. Every person has her/his priorities and they may put your project tasks at a lower priority. But as a project manager, your project is most important for you. So you must communicate proactively and make your expectations very clear to all project stakeholders. You should regularly communicate about dependencies, tasks, risks, resources and everything else that you expect from the project stakeholders.
5. Use Scheduling Diagrams
You should use a combination of different scheduling diagrams to manage the schedule. Some of the more popular diagrams are Gantt Charts, Resource Usage Graphs, Network Diagrams and Project Calendars. By looking at different views, you would get a deeper insight into the project schedule.
6. Be on Top of Critical Path
Critical Path is not a static path as it is widely believed. It’s the longest path with least float on the control date. The critical path may change as the project progresses – the duration may get extended/shortened, new critical paths may emerge or old critical path is no longer a critical path. A project manager should watch the critical path like a hawk and manage it proactively.
7. Manage Floats
You should track and analyse the project floats regularly. By properly using the floats, you can potentially improve and optimize the project schedule.
8. Level Resources
You should critically look at the resource utilization. It is possible that some resources are over-utilized while others are not optimally utilized. You should analyse the utilization levels, look at the critical tasks, understand the skills & competency of the resources and reassign the resources as appropriate. Essentially you do resource levelling.
9. Analyse Schedule Dependencies
Many a times PMs miss this important aspect. They don’t look at the dependencies. But you must analyse the dependencies to check if there is a better way to do the project. Sometimes you can play with discretionary dependencies to optimize the schedule.
10. Monitor External milestone
It is extremely important that you align your project task to the external milestones because you have little control over them. You must reschedule you tasks around the external milestones in order to minimize the risks.
11. Respect Past Efficiency
Project Forecasting is an essential aspect of project schedule management. I have noticed that many project managers just rehash the dates to meet the expected deadlines. This is absolutely wrong. Forecasting should be done by considering the past data and schedule efficiency. If needed, you should reschedule the project.
12. Compress Schedule
You should use the schedule compression techniques like crashing & fast tracking to reorganize & optimize the schedule. But, at the same time, try to avoid inducing risks into the project.
13. Use Earned Value Management
Earned Value Management is a great tool for PMs. It provides a singular tracking mechanism for both cost and time. You should this for gauging the project status and forecasting. Earned Value Management is a great tool for PMs. It provides a singular tracking mechanism for both cost and time. You should this for gauging the project status and forecasting.
14. Analyse Risks
When should you do Risk Analysis? Everyone knows that it should be done periodically.
A project schedule management meeting can double up as a risk analysis meeting. Moreover, during these meeting, you have all the data in front of you to take the correct decision(s).
15. Use Scheduling Tool
Last but the most important. I have noticed that many PMs do not use a scheduling tool for tracking. They are happy with a worksheet or something similar.
Have you seen a Carpenter using a stone to fix nails into the wood?
You must use a good scheduling tool like RationalPlan to manage your project.
Please leave a comment if you need more explanation of any of the best practices. Let us interact.