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A Project's Complexity and User Needs Drives the Project Schedule
A project schedule is a strategic and an important tool in a project manager's portfolio for guiding a project successfully to its target completion date. For simple projects, a project schedule is basically a timeline or calendar which lists tasks and activities with expected start and finish dates. For more complex projects, a project schedule can be layered with different details to enable project managers to direct and manage resources more smoothly, communicate more frequently and effectively with stakeholders, and identify and monitor dependencies and constraints between tasks to avert preventable delays. The project schedule can be expressed in several display forms depending upon the purpose of the schedule, the stage of the development of the project, and the primary user of the schedule.
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Examples of Types of Project Schedules
The three most common types of project schedules are the master project schedule, the milestone schedule, and the detailed schedule.
1. Master Project Schedule
Developed in the initial phase of project planning, the master project schedule is a summary level schedule which highlights the principal activities and tasks and their estimated duration. This schedule's strength lies in its ability to aggregate individual activity schedules and display them in one convenient document. The schedule can serve as an early communication tool for building buy-in for the project with upper level management and external stakeholders. The schedule is also useful for facilitating team brainstorming during the initial phrases of the project to work out logistics. For more information on master project schedules, continue reading this article explaining how to create a master project schedule.
2. Milestone Schedule
As an advanced schedule, a milestone schedule is often referred to throughout the project’s life cycle. The milestone schedule is a summary level schedule that allows the project team leader to review and identify all of the significant and major project related milestones that may surface during the course of a project. A milestone is a significant event in the project usually marked by the completion of a major deliverable. Because of its visually-pleasing format, the milestone schedule is recommended for reporting status reports to top level management and external stakeholders. The milestone schedule is also useful during team assessments, particularly for newly-formed teams to give them an opportunity to take pride in their accomplishments, reflect upon their setbacks, and most importantly bond as a team.
3. Detailed Project Schedule
Detailed schedules are operational schedules intended to help front line managers in directing hourly, daily, or weekly project work. The detailed schedule is considered the execution playbook for the project. Analogous to a football playbook that can be broken down into activities (passes and runs) for the two sides of the game (offense and defense), the detailed project schedule playbook can be broken down into chapters to show the detailed schedule for each activity or each phase of the project as it unfolds.
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Examples of Ways to Display Project SchedulesOne aspect of project planning and project management that is often overlooked is effectively communicating the project schedule to the various project stakeholders. Although presenting a one page schedule list to the core team may be sufficient, the use of visual representations of the schedule is highly recommended when presenting the schedule to upper level management and external stakeholders. The most common display options for presenting a project schedule are the summary table, Gantt chart, and network diagram.
- A summary table in its most basic form is an action list of the tasks and completion dates.
- A Gantt chart is the most common form for representing a project schedule. A Gantt chart can show a wealth of information and is often used to visually compare actual progress against estimated or baseline completion dates. For more information on how to create Gantt charts, continue reading these articles on creating Gantt charts in Excel 2007 and Microsoft Project 2007.
- A network diagram is another type of graphical representation that uses nodes and arrows to show interrelationships between events and activities and predecessor/successor indicators to show resource constraints. The network diagram is superior in highlighting the critical path of a project and to show the project's logic flow from start to finish. For more information, this article on examples of network diagrams provides more detail on the two main types of network diagrams.
To compare the different display options for the same project schedule, click on the images below to see each illustration of a five task project that includes critical path information, a milestone marker, and slack time. You can also download, print, and modify these charts and diagrams from an Excel document located here in the Media Gallery.
- Calendar and project schedule examples by Ginny Edwards.