7 Ways to use a Schedule to Manage a Project
Project managers can improve their success rates in keeping their projects on track by deploying one or more of these 7 ways to use a schedule.
1. Plan the project
A schedule is a helpful tool for organizing project specific information to plan how and when work will be completed. A work breakdown structure can be developed to organize project deliverable, milestones, tasks, and activities into a structured sequence of events. Task and activity durations can be estimated and project work calendars can be applied to distribute the work over a defined period of time. Relationships (predecessors, successors, and lags) between activities can be defined and constraints applied to refine the plan.
2. Estimate the project budget
In addition to planning the project, the schedule can be used to estimate the project budget. Resources, including quantities of labor, equipment, and materials, can be assigned to activities in the schedule. Hourly rates or fixed unit costs for these resources can also be input into the schedule. Budgets can then be estimated at the activity, task, and project level. This bottom up cost estimate can then be compared to top down estimates or market-based pricing.
3. Communicate with stakeholders
Once a schedule has been developed, it can be a helpful tool for educating and building consensus with stakeholders on how and when the work will be completed. The schedule could also be used as a tool for negotiating deliverables and milestones.
During the course of a project, different stakeholders will have different needs for the level of detail of schedule updates. Some will only need a summary of the status of key milestones and deliverables, while others will be interested in detailed activity progress. These different needs can be summarized in a stakeholder register.
4. Track Progress
Throughout the execution phase of a project, the schedule can be used to track progress on activities, tasks, milestones, and deliverables. After a schedule has been agreed on with stakeholders, a schedule baseline can be created to provide a benchmark to measure actual progress versus planned progress. Progress can also be tracked by entering a percentage of work completed for an activity or by entering actual start and finish dates and allowing the schedule tool to calculate percentage of work completed.
5. Analyze risk
Once project progress has been entered into a schedule, a critical path calculation can be performed and finish dates for in-progress or not-yet-started activities can be forecasted. Activities that land on the critical path can be analyzed to identify potential risks to meeting project milestone or deliverable due dates. Furthermore, different risk mitigation strategies, such as schedule compression, can be tested through running different scenarios.
6. Manage resources
If resources were assigned to activities as part of estimating the project budget, then the schedule can be used to manage resources. During the planning phase, the schedule can be used to identify and resolve resource conflicts, such as over committed resources. Furthermore, schedules for multiple projects can be combined into a master resource planning schedule. For instance, a master schedule for equipment utilization could be developed to plan the number of pieces of equipment required and to plan equipment mobilization and demobilization.
During the project execution phase, resource usage could be tracked by entering in actual resource usage, or by allowing the schedule to calculate resource usage based on planned resource usage. Tracking resource usage by entering actual resource usage is a labor-intensive process. It is recommended that a cost-benefit analysis be performed to evaluate whether this investment of time make sense. As part of this cost-benefit analysis, potential duplicate data collection efforts (e.g., timekeeping systems, delivery ticket systems, etc.) should be considered.
7. Perform an earned value analysis
If the schedule was used to estimate the project budget, then the schedule can be used to perform an earned value analysis. When budgets are calculated for scheduled activities, a time-phased budget is created. This time-phased budget can be used to define the planned value and to generate the planned value s-curve for an earned value analysis chart.
Tracking project progress by entering a percentage of work completed for an activity provides a basis for calculating earned value. Entering in actual resource usage provides a basis for calculating actual cost. Schedule variance can be calculated as earned value minus planned value. Cost variance can be calculated as earned value minus actual cost.
Project managers can keep their projects on track by deploying one or more of these methodologies.