Welcome to the ninth lesson of the course. Today, we will learning about the project schedule, which in many cases, is the single most important tool in the Project Manager’s belt.
Finishing a project is important in any case, and without a strict schedule, projects often tend to drag on and on. At home, this might lead to inconvenience, but in business, it leads to extra costs and unhappy customers. By first breaking the project down and then setting dedicated task deadlines, the project schedule can be monitored and used as a guideline and measuring tape to track progress. This makes it a key component of expediting, which, as we previously discussed, is an important factor in achieving project success.
Most people have experience with formal structured schedules whether they realize it or not. My family gets up at a specified time every weekday and goes to either school or work at a specified time. We play team sports, which come with regularly scheduled practices and multi-team coordinated events and tournaments. We also have other scheduled activities and events with which we have to balance our available resources and logistical capabilities. My daughter is about to start junior high and experience a new level of scheduling, with multiple teachers, rotating classes, and new extracurricular activities. Drawing on these experiences will help you conceive and construct a project schedule.
Duration Scheduling & Experience
The project schedule is built by estimating the durations of each activity. Having a solid understanding of the activities is important for creating an accurate and realistic schedule. In business, time is money, quite literally. The duration of activities translates directly to costs. A Project Manager must have a thorough grasp of each task, or they need to seek assistance from someone who does. Sometimes the experience isn’t available, and a bit of educated guessing has to be done. This feeds back into the planning phase because the lack of experience increases risk. Unfortunately, when the schedule is put together poorly, it can not only result in extra costs, it can also affect the ability to utilize resources and get work done.
Project Managers with less experience typically work under more experienced Project Managers, often referred to as Senior Project Managers. A Senior Project Manager will be assigned to projects with larger dollar values and more risk, and may be assigned fewer projects or even no projects at all, so they are available as a resource to help less experienced Project Managers. When no one with more experience is available within your immediate contacts, it is always a good idea to seek input from outside sources, as this can help immensely with the accuracy of the schedule and thereby the ability to achieve success. Keep in mind that an expert is likely to take less time to complete a task, so also consider who is doing the work.
Resources: Time vs. Costs
Be sure to keep in mind the resources available to achieve a task and how they might affect the longevity of the task. Having an accurate schedule will help you control your finances in that getting tasks completed in a shorter span of time often costs more, so knowing how much time you have helps you make the decision. Resources are often offset by costs. For example, it might take only four hours to dig a pool with a backhoe, whereas it might take a team of four people 20 hours with shovels. But if those workers cost $10 an hour, then four people times 20 hours costs $800. If renting the backhoe costs $800, then it’s a wash, and there’s a schedule advantage to renting the backhoe. If renting the backhoe costs $1,000, however, then you have to weigh the schedule advantages versus the cost savings. If you do not need the work done earlier, then you can save money.
Having an accurate schedule can make or break a project. Now that we know what needs to go into a schedule, we can begin making one. In our next lesson, we will talk about the most popular way to build and manage a schedule, the Gantt Chart.
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