Just as projects follow a predictable cycle that includes revision and evolution, project schedules undergo similar changes.
Charts and Changes
Veteran project managers understand that clearly communicating a changing schedule makes the biggest impact on project productivity. While understanding the importance of change, project managers can minimize the effects of change by implementing a clear, routine schedule communications plan.
Most project managers employ the Gantt chart format to communicate deadlines, assignments, and dependencies to their teams. This format has dominated the project management profession for most of the past century because it communicates a wealth of key information quickly and clearly. You can read more about the history and usage of Gantt charts in Lucinda Watrous’ article, “What Is a Gantt Chart?" Sophisticated project management software packages, such as Microsoft Project, automatically generate Gantt charts based on user input. However, anyone can create a basic Gantt chart using a standard spreadsheet tool, like Microsoft Excel.
When changes occur due to missed deadlines or because of external factors, project managers can use software to quickly update timelines. In most cases, project managers revisit schedules to see where they can buy back crucial time for their teams. Team leaders can trace problems back to their points of disconnection, using the visual format to reroute resources or adjust milestones.
Automated vs. Manual Updates
Over the past few years, software developers and other technology-oriented teams have adopted versions of Gantt charts and scheduling tools that offer real-time calendar updates. Although some teams operate well in this state of constant flux, many traditional project teams become frustrated when tasks and deadlines shift regularly. Therefore, many project managers focus on making as few major schedule changes as possible by encouraging team members to catch up with existing timelines. This way, a relatively small number of major schedule changes can catch the attention of team members, spurring stronger collaboration and reducing a feeling of overwhelm.
Thanks to technology, project managers no longer have to handle design and distribution issues when communicating schedule changes. However, the ease of today’s charting tools makes it tempting for project managers to spend too much time updating graphs and too little time focusing on the root causes and net effects of change. In the final part of our series, we explore the kinds of leadership tasks that project managers can focus on when measuring success through scheduling.