Project Managers can be positive about the outlook of their projects, especially when armed with tried and proven methods and tools. Unfortunately, there are aspects of projects which can limit its success. As project managers we have to face some uncomfortable truths.
Stakeholders have the last say.
No matter how well you manage your project, ultimately success is not down to you. It will be your stakeholders who decide whether to:
- Adopt the processes you build
- Use the systems you create
- Buy the products you launch
- Employ the assets you deliver
Hence regardless of all the project management processes and disciplines, stakeholder engagement is paramount.
Communication is paramount
Communication is one of the most important factors when managing a project. There must be transparency, willingness and dexterity when communicating to a wide range of stakeholders. Although the role is not to be political in approach, engaging in project diplomacy is almost a must.
The Project Team
If stakeholder engagement is about communication, then the team comes in a very close second. Ultimately the team around you will need to deliver the project, and having the right resources to achieve this is mandatory. The investment you put into developing and nurturing your team will dictate the quality of teamwork and individual commitment you will get out. The mantra of being transparent when communicating with the stakeholder is also the case with your team.
Controlling the environment
Although not necessarily focused on control, the job is to bring control to uncertain, complex, shifting and sometimes confusing environments. The methods and tools used to deliver a project have been designed to provide control.
Traditional vs. Agile
In traditional, predictive project management, there are designed processes and tools to anticipate the next steps and plan for risks and contingencies. However within large-scale software development, it may be difficult to achieve. This is why agile methods were created, to place new frameworks around lower-certainty endeavors. When conditions require both certainty of planning and estimating, which do not encompass either approach, then the use of a hybrid approach that take the most relevant aspects of each should be used.
Conditions are not supporting you.
As project managers, there will be times that outcomes cannot be controlled. However, controlling the preparation and readiness for the unexpected will assist in avoiding this situation.
Depending on the size of the project, there could be multiple stakeholders with varying interests of the outcome and how it is achieved. Although project scoping should alleviate any delivery discrepancies, it is one of the hardest parts of a project. As reconciliation of all the different points of view are required at this point. No matter how hard you work, and how ingeniously negotiated, there will often be some stakeholders who will remain unsatisfied.
Projects Are Political
Project managers cannot avoid politics. Scoping is only partly about negotiating the best mix of functionality, specification and quality. It is largely about finding the right political compromise. This is one that respects the relative power of competing stakeholders.
Once you are considered a good or possibly a great project manager, then there will be big demands on your time and the number of projects which are worked on simultaneously. Spreading yourself thin in this instance can affect not only your project but reputation. Ensure you are able to concentrate on the task at hand; otherwise failure will be a very real alternative.
Constant Monitoring and Control Cycle
The more frequently a project is monitored, the sooner an issue is evident. If picked up early then what could become difficult to resolve is not. Failure to monitor often, the first time a problem is noticed could make it almost unresolvable without detailed intervention. If it’s a while before you can check-up on it, any residual issues can quickly blow-up, out of control. Project managers need to be present, to monitor and control projects. If not, then they are not being managed correctly.
Factors beyond the project occur
Because project exists within a wider context of the environment it will be delivered into, then it must be known that the following can occur:
- Shifting politics
- Evolving technology
- Unstable economics
- Commercial disruption
- Legislative and regulatory churn
- Threats to security
All of which affect planning.
At times projects can be predictable and hence become a “Slow Burn” .However on occasion during the project, challenge or problem solving emerges, this provides a sense of achievement, if resolved quickly and effectively.
Attention to Details throughout the entire project
Do not ignore the process of project closure that is handover to support staff, and the release of resources who in turn can work on the next exciting project. Part of the project managers role is to manage resource exits, and into new placements.
If a project manager abandons a project before it is finished, or ignores the details because they are administrative, there’s a price to pay. After putting in 80 percent of the effort the project could be only 20 percent of the success it should have been. Attention to detail is crucial because without it, a successful project could become a sad failure. Truths don’t get more uncomfortable than that.
One final uncomfortable truth: you can’t do it alone. Yes, you need a great team, but don’t forget to give them the tools they need to succeed. Projectmanagementcompanion.com provides cloud-based project management software with a real-time dashboard, online Gantt chart and collaborative features to serve you and your team. See how by taking a free 30-day trial.
Depending on the complexity and length of your project, your project management schedule can range from a simple chronological task list to a complex web of interrelated tasks and dependencies. Still, there are concrete steps you can take to develop a solid project schedule and ensure all aspects of your project are properly planned and accounted for.
Once you get the steps down, then you’ll want to have the right tools to make sure you are able to implement and maintain this process in your project scheduling. With a scheduling software tool you can schedule all your projects online, create task lists for your team and manage their schedules as well as using a calendar view to stay on top of deadlines.
The following is a quick guide to effective project management scheduling.
Step 1: Write Down Your Tasks
First, you’re going to work out what it is that you have to do. It might sound obvious, but this is the stage where you are likely to forget a couple of activities; once the project schedule is produced, you won’t remember to add them in until you realize that no one has done them.
The best way around this is to involve the team in constructing the list of tasks. You could start off the list with everything that you know needs to be included (like all the broader project management activities such as risk management meetings and key reporting dates). Then get the team together to add to it.
Use their specialist knowledge to ensure that every element of the project is comprehensively planned. You may find it easier to do this with a few short meetings over a couple of days to allow people to reflect on what needs to be done. It’s amazing what you’ll remember on the commute home, so plan in some time to update the project schedule before it is finalized.
Be sure to keep project scope in mind as you’re working on your tasks. Tasks are one of the main culprits for taking projects off-track. As you do this, also estimate the resources these tasks are going to demand, to further assist in your scheduling.
Step 2: Establish the Order of Tasks
Establishing an order is one of the key things when working on a project management schedule. After all, you wouldn’t drive off without putting your seatbelt on first, and project scheduling is the same. You can’t schedule everything to start at the same time. For one thing, your project team would be too busy to do it all!
There’s more about adding tasks to people in Step 5 below, but for now let’s look at managing the links between tasks.
A Gantt chart is a graphical representation of a project schedule and it shows you the links between tasks. These are called dependencies and are normally marked with a black line. Your project management software will probably draw the links in for you if you enter the dependency information – in other words, which tasks need to be done before or after this task.
Work with your team to plan out the order of tasks. It’s easier to do this on sticky notes and a big piece of flipchart paper before you start typing it into your software. Remember to highlight any dependencies related to external teams, too, as well as client and vendor dependencies. It’s not uncommon to invite representatives from key groups to these meetings to establish the clear dependencies for the overall project at the outset.
Step 3: Create Some Milestones
A project milestone is a particular point in time that marks the completion of something or another significant moment on the plan. Such as the end of a phase, the start of a product build, a date that the factory is available for manufacturing to begin.
Put milestones on your project schedule in appropriate places, and link them to the relevant tasks. You’ll want milestones to appear regularly on the schedule as they will help you identify if you are still on target to complete all the work on time. Milestones are a great way to make project scheduling less of a hassle.
Step 4: Calculate the Timescale
Once you have a list of linked tasks with milestones, you can add in any fixed dates. For example, many project management applications will automatically schedule your project to start today, but you might be planning some work that won’t start for a few months. So go through the dates and make sure that they are all as you would expect. You can alter them manually or add in any additional dates as required.
This is also the point to review how long each task will take. Software will generally set the task duration to whatever the default is, which could be as little as one day. Make sure that each task lasts for the right amount of time by manually changing the duration.
Step 5: Allocate People to Tasks
Your plan is nearly complete! But first you have to add in the details of the people doing the work. This is important because if you don’t work out who is doing what when you might inadvertently book an individual to work on too many things at the same time.
Go through the task list and allocate your project team members to the appropriate tasks. Ideally you would have gotten informed estimates from your team before putting them into the planning tool, as usually team members get alerts when new tasks are assigned to them.
Check that you haven’t got anyone overstretched or anyone sitting around doing nothing. If you have, look at changing the order or dates of tasks to better fit the times that your resources are available. This analysis can take a while, so check to see if your software has a report that will do it for you.
Step 6: Review Regularly
It’s impossible to create the perfect project schedule on the first attempt. Your schedule will also change as the project evolves, especially if you make amendments to the project scope. Have a formal review at least once a month, although you’ll probably be looking at and tweaking your plans much more frequently than that.
A final tip is to make sure that any stakeholders, and the project team, know that your schedule is likely to change so that they don’t expect that the document they get given on Day 1 is baseline version. However, you should always aim for the schedule to be as accurate as possible, and knowing that changes are likely is never an excuse to do a poor job at the start.
The project management schedule is an essential piece of documentation for the project manager and the whole team. It sets out exactly what is to be done in what order, by whom and is the guide that the team follows to get the project done. Knowing how to create a schedule is a core skill for any project manager, so hopefully this six step guide will help you build the perfect schedule for your next project.
To construct great Gantt charts, allocate resources to tasks and send automated alerts to your team so that everyone knows what tasks to work on at all times, use a software tool. Cloud-based software, you get real-time data that allows you to adjust your project schedule quickly to avoid turning an issue into a problem. See for yourself by taking a free 30-day trial.
Project management can seem like a daunting discipline, but once you get a grasp of the fundamentals, and combine that with some intuition, you’ll be on your way to leading successful projects, no matter your situation.
Perhaps you have unexpectedly been assigned to lead a project and a big promotion is on the line, or maybe you’re a team member who wants to better understand their role in the project. Regardless of the situation understanding the fundamentals involved in project management is important. There are many articles within the project management companion site which can assist you in broadening your outlook of project management so you can reach your true potential.
What Is a Project?
A project is a sequence of tasks that lead toward a singular goal. Projects have boundaries, such as the time, people and resources needed to complete the project. These all depend on what results you want to achieve and when you want to achieve them.
Those results are your outcome, which produce something called deliverables, which is produced or provided because of the project. Deliverables can be both the result of the project itself, but also results of the process of the project, such as the project plan, reports or other documents.
Projects are made up of deadlines. Each task and phase of the project has a due date derived from a schedule.
Budgets are also part of a project. You need money to pay for the resources to meet the demands on the project within the time allotted. Typical resources include the workforce, work supplies and equipment. A project budget outlines these expenditures.
Most projects have five phases:
- Initiation: Here is where you set out the project scope, the goals, the organization of the project, its business case, its constraints, who the stakeholders are, what the risks are, the project controls, the reporting framework, etc.
- Planning: This is where you build the roadmap to take you from Point A to Point B, which means creating a schedule of the tasks, deadlines and resources needed to complete everything on time.
- Execution: The project begins and the project plan is put into action.
- Monitoring & Controlling: To make sure the project is proceeding as planned, you need to set up mechanisms for monitoring progress. If the project isn’t proceeding as planned, work to control and resolve issues before they become problems.
- Closing: Projects are temporary endeavours, so they eventually come to an end and need to be formally closed. But it’s not as simple as producing deliverables, there’s paperwork to sign off on, resources to reallocate and other loose ends to tie up.
Projects Require Task Management
Effective project management requires effective task management because a project is broken down into tasks — smaller, more manageable pieces. Tasks are temporary activities with a either a defined duration or a deadline.
Because the success of a project is dependent on tasks being done in a timely manner, tasks are often prioritized and then scheduled across a timeline. Some tasks are standalone acts, but others are dependent on the completion of one task to start another. These are called task dependencies. It’s critical to stay on track and get these tasks done so that the project proceeds according to its schedule.
What Tools Are Used in Projects?
Projects can be complicated, the bigger the more complicated. You plan, schedule and monitor to make sure all elements of the project are running smoothly. The more tools in hand, the more manageable the project and your tasks. Project management software can contain all the tools needed to help project managers and team members with every aspect of their projects.
When that project management software is cloud-based, data and collaboration can happen in real-time, which provides a more accurate picture of the project and helps in decision-making. Plus, project management software often contains many of the major tools for managing projects, like those discussed below.
Project dashboards gather metrics from all parts of the project. Those numbers are then displayed in easy-to-read charts and graphs, giving a manager or a team member a live look at project progress and data. Dashboards can also assist in reporting. Running a project means reporting to the project’s sponsors on the progress of the project. Graphs and charts can be filtered to deliver just the data you need for targeted reports.
Online Gantt charts are great tools for planning because they display your task list graphically over a timeline. Each task has a deadline, which creates a line marking the start and finish of that task. Tasks can then be linked, if dependent.
Ideally, you can share the Gantt with your team and track their progress as they update their statuses. With some Gantt charts, the bar between the start and finish dates will fill in as the team works on their tasks, and if you need to change the schedule, you can simply drag-and-drop the bar to reflect the new due date.
Task Management Tools
There are task management tools that allow you to create to-do lists for yourself and assign tasks to team members. These tasks can sometimes have notes, files, links and images attached that relate to the task, and team members can dialogue and collaborate at the task level. You can also automate email notifications to know when a task is completed and to remind people of impending deadlines.
Timesheets and Workload Tools
In terms of managing the people working on the project, which can be a project by itself, there are timesheets. These are online documents that make it easy for each employee to track and record their hours worked, and they can be filed to the manager when complete for sign-off.
When it comes to managing the workload, resource allocation tools allow you to see at a glance if you’ve allocated your resources properly across the project so that everyone is working and the workload is balanced. In some cases, you can run reports from your workload management software, too.
Who Is a Project Manager?
The project manager leads the project through every phase. That means they’re responsible for first selling the project to stakeholders, then planning and defining the scope of the project. Project managers figure out all the tasks necessary to achieve the project goals, then they sequence those tasks into a schedule. Those tasks and schedules are then given the resources needed to achieve the project’s objectives. That means assembling a team, getting the tools they need, supplies, securing a site and any necessary resources.
The project manager is also the person who creates the project budget in order to pay for those resources. They are responsible for managing all the documentation, and then archiving those documents at the end of the project. They also manage risk and monitor project progress to make sure people are working unobstructed and within the schedule and budget.
So essentially, anything project related is under the purview of the project manager. They are the leaders of the project and manage the teams that are executing the project plan. However, they’re not the boss. The project manager has sold the idea of the project to a sponsor or stakeholder, and they report to them on the project’s progress.
Therefore, a project manager is a very well-organized person, one who is goal-oriented and passionate about process. A project manager must work well under pressure, provide leadership and know how to motivate people to do their best. Beyond people skills, communications skills are paramount. And they must know the methods and techniques that help deliver projects successfully.
Methods of Managing a Project
There are many ways to structure a project’s process, and project managers are experts in one or more of them. The most traditional is called Waterfall, which follows a linear approach to managing a project, breaking down the project into a very structured sequence.
A different approach that is gaining popularity is called Agile, which comes from software development. It is a process that works in small phases or cycles called “sprints,” and lends itself to small teams. Like its name, the process embraces change and is flexible and is continuously changing direction according to client feedback.
Then there are hybrid methodologies that take one or more methods and combines them.
The Triple Constraint
Regardless of the method you use to manage a project, understanding the triple constraint is key. All projects are carried out with certain constraints. These are cost, time and scope. That is, projects must come in within budget, be delivered on time and meet the agreed upon scope.
If you think of the triple constraint as a triangle, then if you’re managing the cost, time and scope, the triangle is quality. So, if you’re managing the cost, time and scope of the project, then you’re going to meet the customer’s quality requirements.
But the triple constraint is more than that; it’s like the ballast on a ship, and keeps the project balanced no matter how rough the waters get. For example, if you need more money, then you’re going to have to adjust the time or scope of the project. Accordingly, if you’re short on time, then the budget or scope will have to change.
If you keep the triple constraint in mind while managing your project, along with the project phases and management tools, then you have the means to make the necessary adjustments that can keep the project on track. It’s the formula for success.
Of course, there’s more to project management than this Project Management 101 article. It gets deep. And it’s constantly evolving. However, there’s one constant in the eye of the hurricane that is managing a project: tools. If you and your team are equipped with the right tools, then you’re ahead of the game. Projectmanagementcompanion.com has a list of cloud-based project management software with real-time dashboards, online Gantt charts and features to manage workload, resources, schedules and every aspect of your project. See how it can help you succeed, by taking a free 30-day trial today!
What project management is good at is making the complex simple, or at least manageable. There are, of course, lots of different ways to achieve that goal, many of which are employed during the life cycle of a project.
A project network diagram is one such tool that helps simplify a complex project plan, enabling a project manager to see the big picture. It’s important to have an overview of any project, see when it starts and finishes, and quickly note all the points in-between that intersect and how they work together.
But some might avoid network diagrams, thinking of them as those dense schematics that depict the nodes and connections in a computer network. That would be a mistake. Project managers need tools, and the project network diagram is a great one.
What Are Project Network Diagrams?
A project network diagram is a visual representation of the workflow of a project. A network diagram is a chart that is populated with boxes noting tasks and responsibilities, and then arrows that map the schedule and the sequence that the work must be completed. Therefore, the network diagram is a way to visually follow the progress of each phase of the project to its completion.
Project managers use a network diagram to track the project, allowing them to see the progress of each element. Then they can share the status with the rest of the project group. This is especially helpful for those who better understand information that is delivered visually. For those team members, network diagrams will help with the performance of their tasks and increase the project’s productivity.
Another aspect of the network diagram is that it literally illustrates the project’s scope. That’s because the network diagram collects all the actions and outcomes of the project.
Types of Network Diagrams: ADM & PDM
Network diagrams can be divided into two types, the arrow diagram method (ADM) and the precedence diagram method (PDM).
As expected, the arrow diagram method uses arrows to represent the project activities, with the tail of the arrow being its start and the point the finish. The length of the arrow is the duration of the activity. The arrows connect nodes or boxes that are symbols of the start and finish of the activity in sequence.
In the precedence diagram method, each node or box is an activity. There are arrows, but in this case, they represent the relationship between the activities. That relationship can be one of the following:
- Finish to start: This means an activity cannot start before another activity is finished.
- Start to start: Use this when two activities can begin simultaneously.
- Finish to finish: Use this when activities must finish together.
- Start to finish: Use this when one activity cannot finish until another one starts.
Advantages and Limitations of Network Diagrams
Now that you know what a network diagram is, let’s take a more critical look at the pros and cons.
Pros of Project Network Diagrams
Starting with the pros, network diagrams are a boon to project planning. The technique collects all the necessary tasks that are needed to complete the project successfully. This attention to detail before starting a project will help identify the critical activities and where float, or the time a task can be delayed, might exist.
Having made a network diagram is also a great way to set deadlines and, having all the tasks laid out on one chart, it makes it easier to order the material resources and equipment needed to accomplish them. This description of resources will help with cash-flow and assembling the right team. Additionally, having the tasks on a network diagram, and being able to see where they’re dependent on other tasks, can help resolve issues as they arise during the project.
Cons of Project Network Diagrams
There are also limitations. Making a project network diagram takes time and costs money to produce. Also, the network diagram, depending on the project, can be overly complex and difficult to discern visually. That defeats one of its main purposes. Of course, there can be errors when making it or other unknown factors that can influence it outside of the data collected; all of this can make the network diagram misleading and potentially damaging to your project.
Some don’t believe in the necessity of a network diagram, that there are other tools that cover the same ground. For example, there is the Gantt chart, which is also a graphic representation of the project timeline with tasks, duration and dependencies. But a Gantt chart can also allocate resources, update project status and track tasks and time.
Free Tools for Making Network Diagrams
There’s only one way to know if a network diagram is for you or not: try it. Lucky for you there are a lot of free online choices.
Google has a tool for everything you do, so it almost goes without saying that they have one for network diagrams. Google Draw is completely free, it can help you make flowcharts, UML diagrams, entity relations, mock-ups and, of course, network diagrams.
Data is stored on the Google Drive, but it can also store data on Dropbox and OneDrive. Google draw can import from a variety of different file formats, and it has 27 languages and is easy to share. It’s fast and has real-time collaborative support when connected to a Google account.
On the downside, there aren’t a lot of templates and shapes to choose from. It can be a bit of an uphill battle to learn if you don’t have a design background. Google Draw is best if you want to collaborate with other Google features and only make network diagrams occasionally.
Dia is an open source tool that can be used to make network diagrams. It’s fairly easy to learn and can make basic network diagrams. Dia saves XML formatted documents, which are reduced automatically to save space. It’s available for Linux, Mac and Windows.
Dia is free and makes a good entry-level option for people looking to get familiar with making network diagrams, as well as UML diagrams and flow charts.
The software has a good user interface, which helps users, and is also easy and fast to install because of its small file size. However, the software doesn’t have visual appeal. It’s a bit too simple, and some have criticized it as ugly because of its black and white design, which could be improved with color.
While Gliffy is free, the free version is very limited. If you like it, you’ll probably want to pony up for the full version, with a subscription cost. The cost is tiered, $14.85 every three months for a single user, which can make 200 diagrams, but none of which integrate with Google Drive. A single user business account is $29.85 for three months, which includes unlimited diagrams, but it still won’t integrate with Google Drive. For that you’ll need the business team package, which costs $59.88 a year. The fact that the diagrams are easy to make and collaborate with will probably help with the transition from free to paid.
Gliffy is a web-based app and not suited if you’re looking to make more technical diagrams. However, for a project management network diagram, this is a good first step into network diagramming.
After you’ve given these free network diagramming apps a spin and get a feel for how they handle, take a look at the list of cloud-based project management software on projectmanagementcompanion.com. Try them free for 30-days with this trial.
An action plan is a proposed strategy or course or action. Specifically, in project management, it’s a document that lists the steps needed to achieve a goal. That is, an action plan clarifies what resources you’ll need to reach that goal, makes a timeline for the tasks to get to that goal and determines what team members you’ll need to do it all. The information from the action plan will assist in the creation of Gantt Charts, project schedule or plan. So what are the fundamentals in the creation of an action plan, the following are a few tips on how to build one.
Commence by creating a simple template to save time. The template should consist of action step, due dates and resources who have been assigned the task. It is best to use a tool to keep you on task. By using a tool, a specific online tool that everyone’s using, then everyone has access to online and real-time data.
And number three is you need to on board everyone into the tool, so that it works for everyone and not just a few people. By having everyone committed to using the same tool, then you ensure that you have real-time data that everyone can access.
The fourth one is to set up alerts that work to help you become more efficient. These could be things like tasks. By having alerts on when tasks are added or changed, it helps you become more efficient in what you’re doing, helps other people on the project be alerted to the changes. Also, when milestones are completed, that way, everyone knows when major tasks have occurred or completed on the project.
And then notes. Notes are great for collaborating on tasks or even documents, such as a requirements document or some other documents that are important for the project.
The following are some considerations;
Number one: focus on the priorities of what is due now. That way, people, or team members, don’t get overwhelmed by looking at all the things that are done, but they get focused on “Let’s get these completed now.”
Number two: mark completed tasks as completed. That way, you don’t have to keep looking at the same tasks. They’re already finished, done, completed. Get them out of the way, so you don’t keep looking at them.
Number three, assign someone to every task. Be sure that you know who is accountable for every task. And that way, if you have questions, something’s not getting done, you know who to go to.
Lastly discuss pending or late tasks, ensure that you find out when there are barriers or reasons why some things aren’t getting done. Sometimes they need you and your help to get things done.
So, these are the fundamentals and a few tips to help you make your action plan. And if you need a tool that can help you manage and track your action plan, then review our software tool reference page.
How crucial is a project timeline, and how much time is spent on composing one. It is normal to commence a project by sketching out a rough schedule, primarily because it is considered mandatory. At times it may be felt that this step is an unnecessary formality and possibly a waste of time.
This is because we have learned that project timelines are hardly ever accurate. Dates are set with the best intentions, but it never takes long for things to run off the rails and render that calendar not only useless but a discouraging reminder of slower than anticipated progress.
When this occurs frustrations are understandable, and to some extent common. But before you point the finger at your timeline, it’s worth considering how you could be contributing to these frustrations and inaccuracies.
Some frequent mistakes that project managers make when scheduling and how they can be fixed.
1. You’re working backward
Whenever you have a new project on your team’s plate, here’s what your current timeline process looks like: You determine what the project entails (for example, drafting and launching a new eBook) and then you set a deadline.
What happens after that? You work back from that deadline, doing your best to cram in all of the tasks and milestones ahead of that arbitrary date.
It’s a common way of doing things, but it’s also counterproductive. You’re likely setting your team up for failure right from the outset.
A better approach involves creating a work breakdown structure. Start by taking a look at the overall project, and then break it down into its smaller deliverables. With this eBook example, that could include:
- Draft of the written content
- Fully designed eBook draft
- Landing page
- Launch email announcing the eBook
With those determined, you can now begin to break out what tasks are involved with each of the deliverables so that you can estimate the time required for them. So maybe the content team needs 2 weeks to write the draft and another week to edit it.
Once you’ve done that for all of the tasks, you can add up those estimates to get a more realistic grasp on how long your entire project will take and use that to set a deadline that’s attainable but still motivating.
2. You’re not including enough milestones
Imagine that you were planning out an itinerary for an upcoming conference. Would the below tasks be considered as a complete schedule for the day’s events?
- 8:00 a.m.: Attendees arrive
- 5:00 p.m.: Conference sessions end
This is not likely to happen, it seems obvious in that context, but far too many simple project timelines fall into this trap. Teams determine a start date and a deadline and then assume that’s enough to call it a true timeline.
A helpful project timeline needs to include far more than just a kick off and a go-live date, as this would derail all the tasks in between.
Those milestones or deliverables that were identified when creating the work breakdown structure should actually be plotted on a timeline with deadlines tied to them.
These dates serve as check-in points where an assessment can be made on progress and necessary adjustments made before the final deadline. That’s far better approach than the alternative of guessing the current point of the project.
3. You’re being overly optimistic with time estimates
Sticking to the project timeline is easy if everything goes exactly according to plan. But when’s the last time that’s actually happened?
That’s where project managers really get into trouble with inaccurate timelines, when the planning fallacy and the optimism bias creep in and time is seriously underestimated to complete certain tasks.
Setting aggressive deadlines provides a goal, however if it is unrealistic from the outset, then the project and the team are set up for failure right from the beginning.
Time estimates are hard, especially if you’re not the one actually in the weeds doing the work. If you’re feeling uncertain about how long a task will take, connect with the person or team responsible to get their take on how much time is needed to complete something similar.
Or you can add a time-tracking tool to your team’s arsenal to log the time spent on different activities. That gives you valuable data which can be reviewed and implemented to help make more accurate predictions for the next project.
It’s also smart to use the critical path method (CPM) to identify the longest stretch of dependent activities and measure them start to finish. Not only does this provide a greater sense of how long the entire project will take to complete, but it also allows you to discern what activities can be delayed without making the entire project take longer.
4. You’re forgetting about dependencies
Project management would be a breeze if projects were always linear, but that’s hardly ever the way it works.
Certain tasks are dependent on each other. Teams are waiting on one another to finish different pieces. Resources are stretched and need to be allocated strategically.
It’s when project managers fail to identify these dependencies and complexities that the wheels really fall off. It is very important to know how preceding tasks impact succeeding tasks or how much bandwidth team members have to tackle their assigned work.
List out all of the individual tasks and teams (or individual team members) related to your project and then highlight or circle any that are dependent on each other. For example, the design team can’t do much with that eBook until they have the draft from that content team. Or that content writer can’t be writing the eBook draft and the landing page copy at the exact same time.
Knowing where these overlaps or roadblocks might occur allows you to account for them when mapping out a project timeline and, as a result, create something that’s far more accurate.
5. You’re oversimplifying project handoffs
As you’re mapping out your timeline, the whole project process seems seamless. Tasks flow back and forth between different teams. The content team will wrap up and the design team will step in and pick things up without missing a beat.
In reality, handoffs are often another major bottleneck in cross-functional projects. In order for timelines to be realistic, it needs to account for the lag time often associated with these transfers.
That means these transitions should actually be plotted on your timeline (even day is sufficient). This will ensure the team have sufficient wiggle room needed to provide context, answer questions, and get other teams up to speed on what’s been done — without inevitably falling behind on other tasks or steps.
Of course, these handoffs become even simpler and more streamlined if your team is communicating and emphasizing transparency throughout the project. That’s why project management software is such a benefit because communication stays centralized and everybody has visibility into project progress.
6. You’re starting from scratch every time
Granted every project is different. But if you’re reinventing the wheel each time you start a new one, you’re not only wasting precious time, but you’re also increasing your chances of inaccuracies or missed steps.
Once you land on something that works for you and your team, create and store a project timeline template that you can return to whenever you’re planning another project. That way you can streamline the process and achieve repeatable quality and success.
Project management software makes it easy to create your project timeline online, as well as save templates so that you can start with the skeleton in place for future projects.
There are benefits in creating timelines using a project management platform rather than manually. When something inevitably changes with the project, your timeline will automatically adjust to account for those shifts or delays.
That means you’ll always have an accurate depiction of what’s actually happening with your project, rather than a brutal reminder of your initial intentions.
Avoid These Mistakes and Create a More Accurate Project Timeline
Your project delivery timeline should be a helpful resource for you and your project team — not something that discourages or confuses. But project timelines are only a benefit when they’re accurate, and that doesn’t always feel so easy.
Fortunately, you have more control in this situation than you think. You might be making some common errors that are sabotaging your well-intentioned timeline, and fixing them can make all the difference.
Use these project timeline ideas and avoid these mistakes, and you’ll have a schedule that keeps you and your team moving in the right direction.
Maintaining an accurate project timeline may seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Try a free trial with project tool to start building a single source of reliable and responsive project plans, timelines, and everything in between.