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Steps to Build a Schedule: Mapping Assignments and Dependencies

written by: Joe Taylor Jr. • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 7/6/2011

Having discovered the overall priorities and ideal task times related to a project, team leaders can start to look at human resources and the relationships necessary to reach completion.

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    Discovering Task Dependencies

    Most project managers approach task dependencies as causal. For example, the printing of a brochure cannot happen before the design of the brochure is approved. Likewise, the design of the brochure cannot be approved before final layouts are distributed to project leaders. In a tightly woven, traditional project, each task relies on a previous task’s completion before it can begin.

    However, in today’s distributed work environment, many organizations can leverage the power of multiple locations, outsourced labor and highly productive team members to take on multi-threaded projects. In this kind of example, the layout of a brochure can be designed using placeholder text at the same time that copy is being written. Project managers working in this kind of environment can use charts or spreadsheets to break out tasks and chains that can be performed independently of each other, reducing the number of dependencies within a project. This method of planning substantially lessens the risk that an entire project can become delayed due to a single missed deadline.

    Tom Olzak explores the benefits of detailed task dependency mapping in his article, “How to Effectively Review the Structure and Sequence of Your Project Tasks."

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    Matching Tasks to Team Members

    The next step to building an effective project schedule requires a basic assessment of available team members and project resources. At this point in the process, team leaders can evaluate outside vendors, especially in relation to turnaround time and overall cost. Likewise, project managers can review internal evaluations of staff members to determine the right task assignments.

    Projects offer valuable opportunities for professional development, especially when tasks require increasing levels of skills and competencies. Managers can use early stages of a project to weave training and development into the schedule. This way, team members can increase productivity as their assignments progress. Measuring and evaluating progress throughout the project can also help prevent delays.

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    How Assignments Affect Dependencies

    After matching tasks to team members, some project managers may wish to revisit their dependency trails. A team member with a highly specific skill set might be the most efficient choice to handle tasks that could otherwise be completed concurrently. Likewise, breaking up a single team member’s workload can speed up some processes. Project managers often require a few passes at building a draft schedule before making allowances for team member performance and outside interference, as we will review in the next installment of this series.