Warning! Top 3 Problems With Project Schedule Templates

As a project manager, there are many times that you have to draw up a schedule from scratch. Sometimes, you may be stuck as to how to go about the schedule or not but often you will be handed a a schedule and told to just use this as a template. (Note: I use template in his article for schedules from previous projects and also standard departmental issued templates.)

This may seem like a great idea at first because a lot of the stuff is right there for you. All the tasks seem neatly laid out. You think to yourself: This is just what you needed. This will save a whole lot of time. But beware. Not everything is as easy as it seems.

Here are just a few reasons as to why you should not automatically take that schedule and run with it, tweaking here and there.

Problem #1: MS Project Does Some Funky Stuff

I don’t even think the people at Microsoft have figured out how delicate and intricate their software really is. I can’t even count the amount of times, I have slightly modified a task on my schedule and then something really odd happens. And I mean really odd. So odd that a few times, I was going in circles so much, I just deleted the task and added it back so that it all worked again.

Now take someone’s old schedule and start modifying it for your own use and you lose a lot of control as to the amount of funky stuff that can happen. This may be a risk you can live with on a small schedule but I’d rather not take that risk on a large project.

Problem #2: Try to Follow That Predecessor-Successor

Predecessors can be so tricky in a schedule unfamiliar to you that may think you just followed that rabbit down the rabbit hole. Change one duration and the whole schedule may go out of whack. You can attempt to follow those predecessors to find what just happened but then that was just for one change. If you have to add more tasks to the template, then you are quite at a loss without breaking some relationships. This is a task that can become frustrating especially if you are well into your project.

Problem #3: Try to Make Sense of the Template

Then there are a whole lot of other problems that can get you into trouble when trying to make heads or tails of a previous Project file. These can include such things as: Deadlines, Resources, Task Types, Date Constraints, etc. A whole slew of MS Project “features” can truly drive you crazy trying to figure out why the schedule doesn’t seem right. You can go individually and clean these all up depending on the size of the project file but you have to look for each item first and that will take a lot of work.

So, What to Do

Okay, now I am not saying that templates are not worthwhile but you have to be careful about how you use them. A template should be a guide. Look at it as: here are some items that I should consider in my project. A good template covers a full blown project. Your project may be smaller so you don’t need all those elements.

And there is also a converse. It is a good idea that if you have a project with more complexity or other items than the template shows, you should add those to the “template” for future reference.

A template also does not bypass the steps for creating a project schedule. You should always have a Work Breakdown Structure and a Resource Breakdown Structure; and you should still develop a schedule on your own. However, the template provides some backup help and also should provide assistance in developing a proper WBS. So, word of advice, be careful and try to avoid reusing old Project files. Even developing a “standard” template to be reused can get very difficult to manage. But, have a template, definitely!

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