Importance of a Project Schedule
One of the most important aspects of project management is a project schedule. Whether you are managing projects for a Fortune 500 conglomerate or running a small business, a project schedule can ensure that your projects finish successfully and on time. Let’s examine what a project schedule is, what it consists of, and how to use it effectively.
A project schedule is a tool used to help manage resources and tasks, and it will help to guide a project to a successful completion. The schedule lists the tasks to be completed during the project as well as identifying what resources – personnel and materials – are necessary to complete that task. This usually comes in the form of a Statement of Work (SOW) or Scope Statement, which is a detailed description of what will be accomplished during the life of the project.
A schedule can be as simple as a handwritten diagram or a complex chart created using a software application like Microsoft Project. What is important is that the level of detail within the schedule be appropriate for the project while still being a useful source of guidance.
Each individual task identified in the schedule is given a duration consisting of a start and end time. Resources can then be assigned to the tasks, and milestones can be set at significant points within the project schedule.
Milestones are very useful aspects of a schedule. They are significant events with zero duration that help gauge the progress of a project, which can be helpful for senior management. By viewing a project schedule report, senior management can see a high overview of how the project is progressing. They can also make sure that milestones are being reached within an acceptable time frame.
Often a Gantt chart - a standard format for displaying projects - is used to list task durations, including start and finish dates. A Gantt chart displays the information in much the same manner as a calendar, listing summary tasks as well as milestones. Many software applications such as Microsoft Project or GanttProject can help create this type of chart for reporting purposes. You can see a sample Microsoft Project schedule in Figure 1.
Once the schedule is created, it can be used as a gauge for how the project is progressing. Tasks that are not being completed on time can be identified, and resources can be allocated where necessary. Reports can be created for stakeholders or management that summarize where a project is at any given point. Most importantly the project schedule can keep a project moving along so that it finishes on time, utilizes resources appropriately, and completes successfully.