Five project scheduling mistakes and how to fix them
Project managers must ensure that project or programme milestones are met and deliverables stay on schedule. Without a schedule of what needs to happen and when complications arise, you will soon find yourself in uncomfortable discussions with stakeholders.
So how do you avoid getting into this sticky situation?
Avoiding the most common scheduling mistakes is one way to help you do this; I have compiled a list of the five most common project scheduling mistakes I have encountered and some practical tips on how to avoid them.
Mistake 1: Building your schedule in isolation
One of the most significant mistakes you can make is scheduling in isolation.
When schedules are created without collaboration and input from your entire project team, you miss out on their knowledge of the project. This can lead to inaccurate task durations (for example, a solutions architect knows a task can’t be done in less than two weeks, and you schedule it for four days).
You also miss the opportunity to set the project culture and bond with your team, and they are far less likely to buy in if they have not been asked for their input. Your team may also provide early notice of other projects or work that may impact your schedule or have dependencies on your project.
Solution: Hold project scheduling workshops with the entire team. You can leverage your team’s collective knowledge and expertise to create a more accurate and realistic schedule by bringing everyone together. Work collaboratively and plan the project work together. This will result in accurate task durations and also fosters a sense of ownership and commitment to the schedule among your team.
Mistake 2: Not putting in any buffer time
Another common mistake is failing to allocate buffer time in the schedule. Let’s face it; there will be slippage in your project – there always is. If you don’t schedule buffer time, there is no way for the project to then catch up. The same is true for unexpected delays – we have all been there, the project is going along swimmingly and then, out of left field, something crops up, and you’re left scrambling.
And then there is the dreaded scope creep – the project that grows and grows!
Solution: I always build a buffer that accounts for approximately 50% of the time needed to complete critical tasks. This sounds like a huge amount of time, but in my experience, it is usually just enough to cover slippage, delays and any scope creep.
Mistake 3: Not enough detail in tasks
Not having enough detail in your task descriptions can lead to several project scheduling headaches. When tasks are vague and lack clear, concise information, you leave ‘wiggle room’ for team members to interpret them differently.
A lack of detail usually results in a task with a long duration; these tasks are often not updated regularly. A lack of updates means a lack of oversight into the task’s progress, and you won’t find out about problems until it is too late.
Finally, a lack of detail or very long task durations mean that time estimates will be inaccurate. These inaccuracies can quickly add up, leading to significant overruns in the project.
Solution: You must provide enough detail in the schedule to properly manage the task. Clearly define the deliverables, expectations, and dependencies associated with each task and work package. Avoid overly long task durations – shorter durations facilitate more accurate progress tracking for your team.
Mistake 4: Too much detail in tasks
While insufficient detail can be problematic, the opposite can also be true. Excessive detail means you will spend all your time chasing your team for updates and micromanaging instead of letting them get on with the job. Too much detail in a task can become cumbersome for work package managers and make it difficult to manage excessive reporting requirements.
Not only this, but too much detail just annoys the heck out of people!
Solution: It’s important to strike a balance. My rule is to make task durations no less than one day. Shift the detailed information to the work package rather than overcrowding the schedule.
Mistake 5: Not tracking progress
Failing to track progress on tasks is a critical mistake. It can also have serious consequences for your project.
If you don’t track progress on tasks, you won’t know where it is at – or where it should be.
You will very quickly lose control! If your schedule is not updated regularly, you won’t be able to report progress and status and identify potential issues accurately. The lack of visibility and control can quickly lead to a loss of confidence from stakeholders as you are not accurately reporting to your steering committee.
Tracking progress is also essential for forecasting demand on your resources; if you don’t do this, you run the risk that critical resources will not be available when you really need them.
Solution: Track progress against tasks using the tracking progress tools in your project management software, or if you’re using a spreadsheet, add a progress column. Always check your progress against where you should be so you can see when you are falling behind.
These five tips will help you keep your projects on schedule and improve the likelihood of successful outcomes. For a printable copy, download our PDF, ‘Five Scheduling Mistakes and How to Fix Them.’
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