Essentials of Successful Project Schedule Planning: Part II

In my previous post on project schedule planning, I referred to a five-step approach to setting up a schedule planning framework.

In this post, I offer seven tips on creating a schedule for any project:

  1. Focus on action. A project schedule is all about how deliverables will be produced. So after you break down work packages and deliverables, use active verbs to describe the smaller work tasks. For example, say "design webpage" instead of just "webpage designed."
  2. Keep tasks simple and compact. For a clear, clean project schedule, make task names short. If necessary, go into more details in an appendix or separate document to elaborate on each task and its outcomes.
  3. Create context. Also in a separate log, briefly document assumptions and constraints that accompany tasks. This helps in sequencing, linking and managing the tasks. For instance, if you know that a task needs to be executed in a certain timeframe, then you can better link, sequence or parallelize tasks.  
  4. Diagram. A visual illustration of the task sequencing and relationship will help the team understand the task dependencies and anticipating when these dependencies should kick in. Additionally, a visual breakdown can help identify tasks that can be done in tandem (i.e., those that have no dependencies).
  5. Use the critical path. Apply information gleaned from the critical path to the schedule. The critical path is most helpful in monitoring delays or identifying opportunities to accelerate the schedule. If a task located on the critical path slips, the project can be delayed. If a task on the critical path can be shortened, the project schedule can get shorter. If the critical path's duration exceeds the project deadline, then reduce scope, reassess durations, improve estimates or increase team resources. 
  6. Assess duration properly. When estimating task duration, distinguish between effort, duration and required calendar time to complete a task. The effort relates to the actual work required to complete the task (i.e., How many hours?). The duration refers to how many work periods are required to complete the effort (i.e., How many work days?). The required calendar time means mapping the work days on a calendar that includes holidays and vacation periods.
  7. Combine duration methods. Related to the sixth tip, combine multiple methods to assess duration. Take into account estimations from past projects and apply parametric estimation. For instance, if you use the three-point estimation (i.e., pessimistic, optimistic and most likely), find the theoretical estimation based on current expectations — but in addition, incorporate estimates from similar past tasks or projects.
What other tips help you when building a project schedule that can apply to any project?

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