6 Steps for Creating a Project Schedule

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These are my 6 steps for creating a project schedule to put in practice what PMI-PMP define as approach for project scheduling.

I follow these steps doesn’t matter if the project is agile or not, and regardless the tool I use to manage the schedule.

As project manager (PMP and SAFe SPC certified), I am often confronted to the need of creating project schedules for projects that are neither completely agile, neither completely traditional.

Project plan, project planning or project schedule? Let’s clarify this.

People use project plan, project planning and project schedule interchangeably.

Here, I use the term project schedule referring to the creation of the list of tasks, dependencies, estimations, dates and so on.

Most of the time I use Gantt charts to visualize the project schedule.

6 Steps for creating a project schedule

The creation of a project schedule is an iterative and interactive process. You are not alone on this.

Your project schedule will evolve confirming you get more information about what you need to deliver.

First 6 steps for creating a project schedule:

  1. Open the latest version of you work breakdown structure to outline the schedule
  2. Ask to your team what needs to be done to deliver what is in the work breakdown structure
  3. Identify with your team in which sequence they suggest to do the activities
  4. Get to know what the team needs to work on the tasks and to deliver what is in your scope
  5. Get the first estimations of the effort and duration
  6. Consolidate all the information in the project management tool you will use to manage the project schedule

1. Opening the latest version of the work breakdown structure

The project schedule is about WHEN the tasks must be done, while the work breakdown structure is about WHAT needs to be done.

To have a proper product oriented breakdown structure is mandatory.

This is an example of a product oriented breakdown structure for a recommendation system.

WBS for creating a project schedule

To know more read my post about ” product oriented breakdown structures“.

2. Ask the team what needs to be done

If you want to create a project schedule that nobody cares, consider taking the position of you telling other what they have to do.

Trust your team, they are experts and they know what must be done to deliver what your stakeholders are asking for.

Up to you as project manager, to your business analyst or to the product owner to facilitate these sessions with the team.

There are several names for these type of sessions: workshop, backlog grooming, backlog refinement, etc.

Keep it simple. Meet the team to create the project schedule and ask them:

“Guys, what do we need to do to deliver [the user story or business need]”

Creating a project schedule is an iterative process, so do not expect to finish your schedule in one day.

3. Sequencing the tasks with the team

In the same way the team know what needs to be done, the team know what is the best sequence for doing the tasks.

Most of the time, the team start creating the sequence for the project schedule at the same time when they are identifying the tasks.

However, still foresee some extra time for reviewing the sequence once the team consider that they have identified all the tasks.

4. What does the team need to work?

This part of the process to create a project schedule is more than just identify the resources the team needs, like software, hardware, and other materials.

Look at this activity as the opportunity to identify the success criteria and working agreements.

  • How much time from business stakeholders they think is needed?
  • How many development hours per day they need without any interruption to focus on their work?
  • What are the dependencies that need to be managed to avoid impacting their work?
  • etc

So, think this time asking the team something like this:

“Guys, what do you need to work on this task without interruptions? Which are the attention points to keep in mind?

5. Estimating the effort and duration

I will not extend on this topic as there are already several best practices that I use with the teams I work with.

Just to mention some of them:

  • User story points
  • Estimated hours
  • Three point estimation
  • T-shirt estimation

At the end of the day, regardless with technique you use, the goal is to define a baseline.

The baseline will allow you to monitor progress, identify deviations and take corrective actions.

6. Consolidate your project schedule

Well, this is about using the right tool to create your schedule (document).

Personally I have preferences for three tools that I use in some cases at the same time once my project schedule is created:

  • MS project
  • Target Process 3
  • Jira

Next steps for creating a project schedule:

I hope I will not disapoint you, but the next steps are the same. What is key is to understand when we need to restart the process.

These are some situations that you have to consider to (re)start following the steps for creating a project schedule again:

  • You updated the work breakdown structure, whether because a change request, or because you decomposed further the wbs as you get more insights about what you have to deliver
  • Changes in the team capacity, like people leaving, sick leaves, and so on
  • You discover new dependencies with other projects
  • Risks appear that may impact the delivery day or the effort needed to deliver

Conclusions:

  • Without a product oriented work breakdown structure, there will be a mis-match between what you need to deliver and when you need to deliver
  • Here you have an example of a product oriented work breakdown structure for a recommendation system
  • For the visualization of your schedule, you can use Gantt charts, sprints planning boards, kanban boards, etc, however the steps for creating a project schedule remains the same
  • You are not alone. This is the key question to ask: “Guys, what do we need to do to deliver this?”, trust on your team

I hope this post helps you to create your project schedule.

Please, do not hesitate to contact me if you want additional information about the steps, or to know how this can be applied to your specific project.

Cheers!

Falcon