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How to beat project scheduling problems

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How to beat project scheduling problems

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This is a guest post by Elizabeth Harrin of A Girl’s Guide To Project Management.

Putting together a project schedule is one of the most important tasks for a project manager. It’s also very easy to get caught out! Here are some scheduling problems and how you can beat them.

Problem #1: No clear view of tasks

Do you know exactly what your team has to deliver? It sounds like a simple question but I often see project managers start an initiative without knowing exactly what they are supposed to be doing (and not in an Agile, iterative, phased delivery kind of way, either).
This situation leads to work that is overlooked: tasks that then arise later when you don’t have time to fit them in.

Solution #1: Use a work breakdown structure

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a simple way to get a complete view of what is needed for your project. At its most basic, a WBS is a chart that shows the project deliverables broken down into manageable chunks. The important thing to note is that it shows deliverables, not tasks so it is only the starting point for solving this particular problem.
Use your WBS to build your task list: when you know exactly what you have to deliver it’s easier to plan the activities required to do it.

Problem #2: Not enough resources

You notice your team coming in earlier. And staying later. And not taking lunch breaks. And they respond to your emails at the weekend! These are all flags you should be aware of. They mean:
  • The team is so passionate about your amazing project they live and breathe it and think everyone else should.
  • You are burning them out.

It’s probably the latter.

Solution #2: Resource levelling

Resource levelling involves taking the amount of work allocated to each team member in each time period and comparing it to the amount of hours they have available. You’ll be able to see if anyone has too much to do or is under resourced.
Use resource levelling charts to see who can take on more work and who needs a break. You may find out that even with reallocating work between team members you still can’t get it all done with the people you’ve got. The resource data will give you great evidence to go to your sponsor and ask for additional help.

Problem #3: No structure to the work

Your tasks are all over the place, and no one knows what’s coming up. They’ve got a good idea of what needs to be done but aren’t sure of what they should work on first. Your project schedule has no structure and it’s causing confusion.

Solution #3: Create order where there is none

Rework your schedule to add some structure. You’ve got all the content, now you need to put it together in a way that makes logical sense. Use:
  • Milestones
  • Categories
  • Dependencies
  • Phases
  • Stages
  • Gates (processes through which the project must pass to move to the next authorised phase of work)
Group your tasks chronologically or thematically to provide your team with an order. Flag your critical path in another colour so they can see which are the priority tasks. Not sure where to start? Read this introduction to project dependencies and constraints to help you identify the critical parameters for your project.
Review the schedule with the team on a regular basis so they have plenty of opportunities to ask questions about upcoming deadlines and dependencies.

Problem #4: An overly optimistic project plan

“Yes, of course we can complete all that by next Tuesday,” your project team members say, but inside you know they couldn’t possibly get through that amount of work. Still, they’ve said that they will do it, so you mark it down on the schedule as the delivery date.
An overly optimistic project plan is a disaster for project managers because you’ll always be playing catch up. The team will be under pressure and it will be difficult to manage the expectations of people who actually believe what’s on your schedule, such as your project sponsor.

Solution #4: Get a realistic view of outstanding work

If you believe that your project deliverables cannot be completed in the time you’ve got available then you should throw your existing plan away. What’s the point of working to something that is so completely unrepresentative of the situation you are in?

Call a meeting and get your team together. Explain the situation and talk honestly as a group about how long things are likely to take. Then you can start to create your schedule again with realistic estimates.

Your project management software can speed this up for you. Predictive Gantt charts shift all the incomplete work to a future date so if it isn’t marked as finished it will roll forward, pushing everything else forward as well. That’s a visual way of seeing the impact unfinished work has on the dates and if you use your schedule as an effective management tool you’ll avoid being overly optimistic at all.
Of course, once you’ve done this you’ll probably find that you can’t deliver on time. Then you’ve got to assess what you could deliver by the published finish date and whether that’s good enough, or whether you should get authorisation to extend the project so that 100% of the scope can be delivered.

You can create a great project schedule and overcome problems related to project scheduling. Follow these tips to smarten up your schedule. Do you have other tricks that you use on your schedule? Let us know in the comments.

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