Complex, transformational projects are becoming the norm. Between a global pandemic, political unrest and the devastating impact of climate change, the project delivery environment is more volatile than ever.

These forces are driving an increased focus on behavioural skills in the world of project management. Strong leadership, communication skills and adaptability are becoming must haves.

But that doesn’t mean you can forget about core technical project management skills like project scheduling. Having a well-managed project schedule and being prepared to adjust it along the way is arguably more important than ever for project success.

Read on to get an overview of the top project scheduling tools and techniques and learn which ones work best depending on your project.

What is project scheduling?

project schedule is a dynamic planning, control and communication tool used by project managers. Project scheduling involves documenting the project’s tasks, deliverables, resources and timing.

 

“Getting your project schedule right is a key part of the challenge of project management. You then need to find a way to communicate it to stakeholders in a way that resonates for them, and as plans change, you need to keep it up to date and alive – but it needs to start with a good schedule.”

Chris Latcham, Associate Director, Management Consulting, KPMG

Why do you need a project schedule?

A well-developed and maintained project schedule guides the project team and communicates progress to stakeholders. It contributes heavily to project success by providing a clear roadmap to help the project team deliver high quality outcomes on time and on budget.

Project scheduling tools and techniques

Scheduling can be simple or complex, depending on the project’s needs. Let’s run through some of the most popular project scheduling methods and when you should use them.

1. Task list

This is the most basic form of project schedule. It’s simply a list of activities, showing who is responsible and giving deadlines. You can do this in a spreadsheet, Word document, calendar or project software. A task list can be useful for small projects, but it’s not the best tool available for large, complex projects.

2. Work breakdown structure (WBS)

A WBS is a graphical, hierarchical representation of every step needed to deliver the project. It’s a great first step in breaking down a project scope into smaller, more manageable chunks. It gives a framework for cost estimating, resource planning and more detailed scheduling techniques.

WBS.jpg
Source: https://www.projectmanager.com/work-breakdown-structure

3. Gantt chart

This is the most common form of project schedule. It’s a horizontal bar chart that tracks activities over time and allows you to communicate the project timeline visually. They’re great for graphically representing the project flow but can get cumbersome when your project is complex with many inter-dependencies.

Source: https://venngage.com/blog/gantt-chart-example/

4. Simulation Simulation

is a method where you create multiple schedules that allow for different scenarios. It’s great for predicting the project length when there are risks, uncertainty and the need to accommodate unknowns. It’s flexible and adaptable, allowing you to create a schedule that can be adjusted during the project as things firm up.

5. Mathematical methods

Project managers often use mathematical methods to calculate the duration of a project based on its scope.

a) Critical path method (CPM)

The CPM adds up the time for all activities to arrive at the earliest project completion date. It’s great for industries like construction where the activity times are known.

CPM.jpg
Source: https://asana.com/resources/critical-path-method

b) Program evaluation and review technique (PERT)

The PERT method gets you to estimate the shortest time, the longest time, and the most likely time to complete each task. The weighted average of the three is the time estimate used in the schedule. It’s great for complex projects like research or IT where activity times are unknown.

mathematical.jpg
Source: https://monday.com/blog/project-management/pert-analysis/

 

6. Duration compression methods

Duration compression methods are used to shorten a schedule. Use with caution, as they can lead to bigger issues down the track.

a) Fast-tracking
Adjusting the schedule to complete more activities in parallel. It can speed up the project by overlapping tasks but comes with a greater risk of mistakes and poor quality.

b) Crashing
Using more resources than planned to complete the project faster. It relies on having spare resources or the ability to add team members, which can push the budget up.

crashing.jpg
Source: https://www.scholar99.com/fast-tracking-crashing-schedule-compression-techniques/

 

7. Resource levelling heuristics

Resource levelling is a technique that makes adjustments to the tasks, schedule or resource allocation to flatten resource requirements. The project manager might direct resources to more critical activities or divide the tasks among the available resources for efficient resource allocation. There’s a risk of time and cost overruns, so consider your project holistically before using this technique.

resource-leveling-heuristics.png
Source: https://teamdeck.io/project-management/project-scheduling-techniques/

 

Want to boost your project scheduling skills?

Knowing what project scheduling tools and techniques are right for your projects is just one of the many essential skills for project managers. As there is a lot to know in project management, there’s help available from the AIPM at every stage in your career to help you fill your skill gaps.

If you think your project scheduling skills could do with a top up, joining a professional association like the AIPM is a great place to start. You’ll find a community of like-minded professionals, find certification opportunities and get access to professional development courses and events that will boost your confidence and take your career to the next level.