The Art of Scheduling

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For project managers, scheduling is as much a part of their daily activity as color is to markers. Experience helps, but there are a few things to consider that even a new project manager can take to heart in order to actively court project success.

Leave Loom for the Unexpected
Schedule time for the unexpected, even if that time is not actually listed on the calendar. No project will ever run without any glitches — things crop up, team members leave, attitudes and expectations change. If you organize a rigid, inflexible work schedule, you’re asking for trouble. It makes sense to leave room in the schedule for things to come out of nowhere. If a certain familiar task usually runs over deadline, incorporate that information into the schedule. Pad deadlines if you must to allow yourself room to maneuver and execute recovery procedures if things start to fall apart.

Build Close Working Relationships with Team Members
Team member relationships can seriously affect whether your schedule works. You want to eliminate nervousness so your team members feel totally comfortable coming to you with details that might affect scheduling. Consider each team member’s strengths and arrange their task completion dates accordingly. To a certain degree, you have to rely on your workers to give you the most accurate and up-to-the-minute information, status reports, problems that have arisen suddenly, etc. Project managers definitely should have faith in their workers’ ability to do their jobs, but they probably should not assume all the details they’re offered are integral to project success. Incorporating too many details into a schedule can actually waste time and can detract from the bottom line: project completion. Keep your eye on the prize — the goal of project management scheduling is to complete and deliver the project on time and under or on budget.

Establish the Right Level of Detail
Your schedule is specific to your particular work style, as well as the different phases of the project needs that you have to fulfill. So whether your scheduled task has one line on the calendar or a bulleted list, make the system work for you. If your memory’s bad, be specific. If you’re like the proverbial elephant, a word or two should suffice. Consider how you want to schedule project phases: week to week, month to month, bimonthly, etc. A tighter work schedule requires more attention to detail and a more focused look at the individual tasks needed to get things done, but it can help control outcomes, as well.

Don’t Make Off-the-Cuff Promises
If you’re under pressure to commit to something — say, the boss puts you on the spot in a meeting — resist the urge to comply with demands. Don’t say yes to please the boss. Check your schedule and evaluate all relevant details such as any danger to product or service quality before you make promises to add more tasks that you might not be able to complete. Further, if you agree to additional demands or requirements, those new tasks also should lead to a new, longer schedule. Don’t agree to add-ons unless the powers that be understand cost and schedule implications and have agreed to necessary changes.

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