What is Project Scheduling, and Why is it Important?by Aakash Gupta Director
Please Note: This article appeared in saviom and has been published here with permission.
Let’s assume that you are organizing a grand event, such as your firm’s annual retreat. Where will you begin from? The first step would be drawing out a plan that states every nitty-gritty, beginning from deciding the most feasible conveyance to the entire itinerary. The itinerary will enlist events of the retreat, the people in charge of each activity, etc.
Likewise, a professional project schedule is a roadmap of tasks to be accomplished during the project’s course to reach the finish line.
It is a well-structured document that enables project managers to communicate all the necessary information to the stakeholders and the workforce with utmost transparency.
In addition, the project schedule also entails data on required resources and skills to execute the project. Managing the resources and project timeline to ensuring that every task is paired with suitable personnel forms the crux of developing the proper schedule.
The science of project scheduling is, therefore, critical for an efficient project management process. This article takes you through the definition of project scheduling and its key concepts, along with some tips to help you ace it.
Boost Project Scheduling Efficiency and Make Every Project a Success
1. What is project scheduling?
A comprehensive process of designing a project schedule that outlines the project phases, tasks under each stage, and dependencies is known as project scheduling. It also considers skills and the number of resources required for each task, their order of occurrence, milestones, interdependencies, and timeline.
Furthermore, it involves analyzing the resource availability and implementing the scheduling technique to ascertain timely delivery while maintaining the resource health index. Many project managers successfully generate the right schedule, yet most of them find it challenging to manage the resources intelligently.
It can cause delays and discrepancies in the deliverables as their talent pool is responsible for executing these tasks. Thus, they must master each aspect of project scheduling.
Now that we know what project scheduling is let’s understand its significance in the project management realm.
2. What are the benefits of project scheduling?
Compare two scenarios– one, where your project details are all over the place, and second, where you maintain a centralized data repository of your project plan. Which one do you think will lead to proper project execution? Naturally, the latter.
This is what a project schedule does. It brings together all the project-related information in one place that opens doors for seamless communication between the project manager and stakeholders.
Project scheduling also enables task prioritization. The initial steps of project scheduling comprise forming a work breakdown structure and dividing the project into simpler tasks. Once the tasks are enlisted, the project manager can implement the appropriate technique to evaluate the criticality of the tasks and arrange them in order of precedence.
In addition, the detailed description of each task and skill demand against them makes it easy for managers to procure the right resources for the right job. Not just that, with real-time information of the project’s progress, they can gauge the resource performance and take remedial measures in case of any inconsistencies.
The internal team conflicts are minimized when the entire team, stakeholders, and managers are on the same page. Resources are aware of the task dependencies and work diligently to ensure that the overall delivery is not affected.
When managers opt for sophisticated scheduling software, they get real-time updates on every project metric, which promotes proactive planning, monitoring, and coherent risk management.
Overall, project scheduling is a key component that propels the completion and delivery of projects within time and budget.
Given the umpteen benefits of project schedule, let us now delve into the various techniques that are used to lead the project to fruition.
3. An overview of different Scheduling Techniques
Project scheduling techniques are beneficial to secure the project timeline and budget without over or underutilizing the workforce. Your resource pool is the success driver of the project, and thus, it is vital to keep their productivity and well-being in check. These scheduling techniques come in handy to ensure that no resource is burned out or sitting idle.
Here’s a rundown of some of these techniques:
Critical Path Method (CPM)
This technique is purely based on mathematical analysis and lets you calculate the longest and shortest possible project timeline. Let’s understand this better with an example. There are four tasks in the project – A, B, C, and D. Task B and D can only begin after task A completes, whereas task C has no such restriction.
In this case, since the progress of B and D banks on task A, it becomes the critical task. Task A will be time-sensitive as any delay in its completion can delay the entire project’s course. On the other hand, given that task C has no dependencies, it can be accomplished within a flexible deadline. Task C, in this case, will have a float time (also referred to as ‘slack’). A float-time is where one can prolong a task to a specific limit without impacting the overall project.
This is how a manager can calculate each task’s start and finish time, keeping in mind the reliance and coming to a precise conclusion. A CPM technique is applicable to project tasks when all the deliverables and interdependencies are clear.
Often you are caught in a predicament where the project runs on tight deadlines or gets delayed due to various internal reasons. In such situations, managers study and analyze the critical path and evaluate the tasks that can be done in parallel or overlapped. It allows them to finish multiple tasks at once without affecting the project’s scope and deadline.
A real-life example would be a software development project. If you have to fast-track the project, tasks such as designing and development can be taken up in parallel. Once the design of essential features is ready and approved, the development team can work on it. Meanwhile, the designing team will work on the remaining elements and functions. However, fast-tracking demands meticulous planning and supervision as managers have to deal with multiple tasks at once.
Crashing is a tricky duration-compression technique. It involves adding more resources to specific tasks to expedite the project’s delivery. For instance, you have two developers working on your software development project. Your project manager will add one more so that he/she works on the remaining designs. However, this may not always work in your favor as it adds additional responsibilities of collaboration and communication with other resources.
Another way of using the crashing technique is by adding more duration per day and paying overtime to the workforce. It can have two repercussions, cost-escalation which can eat up from your revenue, and two, it can burn out your crew. Thus, crashing can only be applied when it fits your project budget and when you have generic resources as a backup.
On the contrary to the critical path method, simulation is used when the project attributes like deliverables and interdependencies are unclear. Simulation allows you to gauge multiple scenarios by changing one or two variables. For example, if one task’s timeline is known, you can modify the resource utilization and see how it affects the end date. After trying multiple variations, you can come to the best-fit scenario.
Project managers commonly use the Monte-Carlo simulation model. The advantage is that instead of assigning one constant to the unknown variable, managers can play with multiple values and peruse the results. It facilitates them to come to a best-fit estimation or prediction and form a definite project plan. It also warns you of the potential risks, which give you enough leeway to create a backup plan.
Workforce, their skills, and their effort drive the project’s success. Thus, managers must tap into the right potential and leverage their talent to the maximum extent. At the same time, keeping their utilization in check is of utmost importance. If resources are underutilized, it causes lower productivity and unplanned attrition. Overutilization, on the other hand, can cause fatigue and burnout.
This is why, if the timelines of the booked resources stretch thinly, managers deploy an appropriate resource optimization technique. Suppose the project is time-sensitive, and the deadlines cannot be adjusted. In that case, they will book more resources to assist the critical employee or utilize the slack without interrupting the critical path. This is known as resource smoothing. If the project’s timeline is adjustable, managers will initiate the project based on the resource’s availability to prevent overutilization. This technique is termed resource-leveling.
Implementing these two techniques can help managers define the schedules that align with resources’ mental and physical well-being.
How Resource Optimization
After understanding the techniques that optimize and form an ideal schedule, it’s time to get the steps right.
4. Steps to form an ideal project schedule
Developing a project schedule framework is a sequential process consisting of several steps. Based on project requirements or organizational needs, these can be altered. To form a standardized procedure, here are the seven steps you can leverage and create a standard project schedule:
Define the project scope
Project scope is the foundation of any project. It distinctly clarifies project goals and objectives, deliverables, features, tasks, budget, and other necessary elements. Project managers can define the scope using a work breakdown structure that allows a systematic division of tasks and timelines.
Defining the scope sets the tone for the entire project schedule as it allows you to understand the minute details before going a step forward.
Decide the milestones
Now that the tasks are defined, the next step is to put them in different phases. For instance, you are managing a construction project. The first phase will be forming a plan that constitutes various tasks like designing the blueprint, studying the site, etc. Similarly, the consecutive tasks will be clubbed under relevant phases.
The completion of each phase acts as a checkpoint in the project, known as milestones. Defining the milestones makes it convenient for project managers to track the project’s progress and give a sense of accomplishment to the resources.
Illustrate task interdependencies
During a project’s tenure, many tasks take place simultaneously, while some can only kick-start once the task-in-hand is complete. It is known as interdependence. Taking the same example, only when the design and conception are done, employees can go and assemble the construction material.
Illustrating these task interdependencies adds the edge of accuracy while generating the schedule.
It will allow managers to gauge the timeline precisely by giving them enough information on which tasks can be done in parallel and which ones are interdependent. Managers can use the critical path method technique to form the right roadmap of independent and dependent project tasks. This will also allow them to deduce accurate task duration.
Assess the resource demand and their availability
Once the roadmap is ready, the next and most crucial step is to understand each task diligently, along with the skillset and number of resources it will require. Managers also need to consider the duration of each task. Analyzing the skill demand lets managers find the best-fit resource for it and do justice to the project.
This is not it; project managers have to see the availability of every resource to avoid overbooking or double-booking. If the resource is unavailable, managers will place a formal request to the resource managers to fulfill the demand in due time.
How to Measure Resource Capacity and Demand
Form a resource plan using the right scheduling technique
Once the resource demand is met, managers can finally formulate a project resource plan. It is done before scheduling to ensure that resources are not over or underutilized. For example, you have a critical task that can only be accomplished by highly specialized personnel. He/she is unavailable during the same time. What would you do?
You can implement the correct resource optimization technique based on the timeline constraints of the project. This will ensure that the workforces’ schedule is given due importance, and they will be at their productive best when they have only one project to focus on. Even if they are catering to two or more projects, optimizing their schedule will allow them to have a balanced timeline and negate the chances of schedule overruns. Eventually, it will prevent employee burnout and enhance employee satisfaction.
Build a contingency plan
Risks are an inevitable part of any project, and they can be in any form. Maybe one of your critical resources takes an unplanned leave, or the project’s cost escalates due to procurement of equipment at the last minute, or so on. In this case, managers have to keep a backup plan in place to keep the project going.
For instance, having a backup resource ready (generic resource) will not cause any delay in the entire project’s lifecycle. Here, running the simulation technique, also known as ‘what-if analysis, is an ideal choice. It provides outputs to multiple scenarios, and managers can then form a contingency or an action plan to deal with potential bottlenecks in advance.
Monitor, review, and update
Last but not least, after forming the schedule, assigning the right resource to the right job, and head-starting the project, it’s time to monitor and control the progress. Managers can equip an intuitive project management solution that provides real-time reports on different project metrics like cost, actual vs. forecasted timeline, etc.
Furthermore, they can pair it with a robust resource management tool to get real-time resource performance updates alongside the project. These tools will forewarn the managers in case of discrepancies and proactively take remedial measures. Eventually, it will be easier for them to safeguard the project from going downhill.
Given the market volatility, the project schedule might change due to ad hoc demands. In this case, managers will update the plan in real-time to incorporate the changes and keep everyone informed.
After completing the steps mentioned above, a project schedule is finally ready to give a jumpstart to the project. Out of all these, resource planning is a cornerstone of successful and timely project delivery.
If project managers fail to form a balanced resource pool before charting out the schedule, it causes potential bottlenecks in the future.
Let’s understand why
5. How Resource Planning can benefit Project Scheduling
Efficient resource planning provides an edge to the whole scheduling process. Before understanding how it benefits project scheduling, let’s understand the challenges you might face if you don’t form an optimized workforce.
What resource-centric challenges can lead to project failure?
Project delays due to insufficient resources
Project tasks require niche expertise to lead the project successfully, and resource managers need sufficient lead time to procure them. However, due to a lack of foresight into project demand, managers may not request the resource on time, leading to delays.
Unplanned hiring compromising resource quality
When resource managers do not get enough leeway to procure the right resources at the right time, they resort to unplanned hiring activities. It can lead to the recruitment of a resource with below-average quality, eventually causing schedule and budget overruns.
Resource overutilization leading to employee burnout
One of the critical steps in forming a project schedule is optimizing the resource’s timeline to prevent overutilization. If managers don’t get real-time updates of resource availability and utilization, they might end up double-booking the resources to multiple tasks. It will lead to burnout which can adversely affect the project quality.
Decline in bottom line due to underutilization of resources
Forming a balanced schedule means ensuring no resource is sitting idle or on the bench for a longer duration. For example, if the project managers do not forewarn the resource manager about the ramp-down of employees, it will suddenly increase the bench. It can lead to the underutilization of resources.
Project delay due to lack of real-time insights into metrics
Project scheduling requires constant monitoring and improvement to accommodate the ad hoc changes and take corrective measures. However, the lack of real-time performance insights restricts project managers from gauging resource utilization levels. It can lower productivity, increase cost, and cause delays in meeting the deadline.
These challenges can be tackled seamlessly with a definitive resource planning process. It can help project managers overcome resource-centric issues, form a project schedule well ahead of the curve, and lead a successful delivery.
How can resource planning overcome these challenges?
Ensures competent resource allocation
Resource planning solution provides unmatched real-time visibility into future project demand, resource profiles, and their schedules. Based on this information, resource managers can allocate the right resource to the right job at the right time. If a resource does not exist in the organization, they can go ahead and do planned hiring to ensure the quality of the resource.
A systematic resource requisition avoiding last-minute hiring
Resource planning solution promotes a systematic resource requisition workflow which minimizes internal conflicts and fire-fighting for similar resources between projects. It also enables resource managers to prioritize the projects and procure a cost-effective qualified resource for the critical ones first.
Enhances productive utilization
The tool interprets and tracks resource utilization and forms intuitive reports using business intelligence. For instance, if a project milestone is getting over in a month and specific resources are expected to get rolled off, resource managers will get real-time visibility and foresight into their respective schedules. It will allow them to find new work for these resources in advance to minimize the idle time between the projects.
Allows resource optimization
Project managers get real-time visibility into resources’ schedules and availability. While generating the schedule, they can evaluate their capacity and implement the right optimization technique to balance their workload. It will prevent the overutilization of the workforce, thereby minimizing the possibilities of burnout.
Real-time performance metrics allow proactive decision-making
Using the intuitive reports procured by real-time data interpretation, project managers can gauge if a resource is spending more time than projected in the initial plan. In that case, the project manager can re-evaluate their estimation and course correct the project schedule. If the delay is due to a skill gap of the resources, additional training can be provided, or the concerned person can be replaced.
In a nutshell, proactive and intelligent resource planning secures your project’s performance and ensures its timely delivery.
Thus, resource management software is a value-addition to enhance the project’s performance and ensure successful delivery.
The Holygrail of Resource Planning
6. Takeaway tips
In conclusion, here are additional tips you can leverage to form an ideal schedule that aligns with your organizational resources and their interests.
Begin the project scheduling process with a meeting. Different inputs and perspectives from stakeholders and your team will add more value.
Use advanced project management software to form the schedule in Gantt chart format and update it in real-time.
Communicate and review any revisions made to the schedule to understand its implications of project costs and other constraints.
Manage resources effectively to leverage their talent to the maximum while keeping their health index in check.
Invest in modern resource management software to manage resources on projects effectively and enhance their productive utilization.
Continuously review and update the project schedule. Project scheduling is a continuous process that demands meticulous monitoring.
Learn from past experiences. Collaborate and communicate with stakeholders who have handled similar projects in the past to rectify the mistakes going forward.
7. Saviom Solution
SAVIOM is the market leader in providing an Enterprise Project Resource Management solution. With over 20 years of experience leading the market, Saviom is actively used by over 15 highly-esteemed global companies worldwide. The tools within the suite include project portfolio management, professional service automation, and workforce planning software. It also entails supporting solutions to schedule equipment and assets seamlessly. Re-engineer your project management efficiency with a system shaped around your business!
Created on Jan 11th 2022 05:02. Viewed 112 times.
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