Making sure project or programme milestones, activities and deliverables are on schedule is an essential part of the project or programme manager’s job. Without a rigid schedule of what needs to happen and when in your programme or project, things can go awry quickly, and you could soon find yourself having very uncomfortable talks with your stakeholders!
So how do you prevent getting into such sticky situations? Well, one way is to be aware of the most common scheduling mistakes, and how to avoid them.
To help you do so, we’ve compiled this list of five scheduling mistakes, with tips for how to fix them.
Mistake 1: Building your schedule in isolation
Building your schedule in isolation carries many risks, including:
- Inaccurate task durations
This could lead to missing out on your team’s knowledge, resulting in overly optimistic or pessimistic durations, e.g. Joe the Solutions Architect knows a task can’t be done in less than two weeks and you schedule it for four days!
- Team bonding
You lose out on an opportunity to bring the team together early and to establish the project culture before the project kicks off.
- Early warning signs
You miss out on early notice of other projects or work that may impact your schedule or have dependencies on your project and vice versa.
FIX IT: Hold a couple of scheduling workshops with the whole project team. Get some ideas on a whiteboard or PostIt notes to plan the project work. This way you’ll get the team’s buy in to the schedule, as well as getting the most accurate durations for tasks.
Mistake 2: Not putting in any buffer time
This mistake hurts for several reasons, such as:
Without buffer time, when tasks slip, and let’s be honest – they almost always do, there’s no leeway for catch up so the schedule slips.
- Unexpected delays
We’ve all seen it; everything’s going swimmingly and then some event comes out of left field and you’re left scrambling to pick up the pieces. Without a buffer, you’re always going to be on the back foot if something unexpectedly delays a task.
- Scope creep
If your project’s scope creeps and you don’t have any buffer time, you’ll be unlikely to be able to meet the change in requirements.
FIX IT: Build in a buffer that equates to around 50% of the time to complete the critical path that tasks can borrow from. It sounds like a massive amount of time, but in reality it tends to be just enough once all slippages are taken into account.
Mistake 3: Not enough detail in tasks
Not having enough detail in tasks can cause the following headaches:
- Wriggle room
Vagueness allows people wriggle room. Without clear, concise information there is the possibility that people will wriggle around what’s required.
- Lack of updates
One common way lack of detail manifests itself is in tasks with very long durations, so they often don’t get updated regularly. If your task is too long, chances are you won’t find out about problems until it is too late.
- Inaccurate estimates
Lack of detail or very long task durations mean that estimates will be inaccurate. This can quickly add up, leading to large over runs in the project.
FIX IT: Provide enough detail in the schedule to manage the task, and make sure that the work package contains all of the required information.
Mistake 4: Too much detail in tasks
The converse of mistake number three can cause its own set of issues, like:
If you’ve got too much detail in the tasks you’ll end up spending all your time chasing people for updates instead of letting them get on with the job.
Too much detail makes the schedule become cumbersome and difficult to manage.
And, having too much detail in tasks annoys the heck out of people!
FIX IT: Make task durations no shorter than 1 day and have all of the detail in the work package instead of the schedule.
Mistake 5: Not tracking progress
This mistake can result in serious trouble, for instance:
- Loss of control
If you don’t track progress on tasks you’ll have no idea where your project is at or where it should be. You’ll very quickly lose control!
- Lack of reporting
By not updating your schedule regularly, you’ll be unable to accurately report your project’s progress and status to your steering committee.
- Poor resource management
Lack of updates on tasks means that you’ll be unable to accurately forecast the demand on your project resources, running the risk that critical resources will be unavailable when you really need them.
FIX IT: You can track progress against tasks using the tracking progress facility in your project management tool or if you’re using a spreadsheet, add a progress column. Also check your progress against where you should be so you can see when you are falling behind.
For more on how to avoid these scheduling mistakes, download our 5 Scheduling Mistakes & How To Fix Them e-book.