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Why you need a project schedule

Project management tools have been around for 40 years - you’d think it was a science by now. Not so. The majority of projects fail, meaning the project was not completed on time and/or was not completed within budget.
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If you’re a small or medium business, one failure could mean a lost customer, which could have a significant impact on your bottom line.

If so many projects fail, what goes wrong and what causes this? Too often, companies only collect failure statistics (how many projects failed?), then simply blame the execution team for the failure instead of looking in-depth to find the root cause.

Project scheduling

Imagine you make plans to meet a friend for lunch. To determine what time you should leave your house in order to arrive on time certainly depends on the distance to the restaurant, but it also depends on traffic, weather, possible road construction, and a range of other factors. If it’s raining heavily and your route is flooded—or simply slow—and you arrive late, neither the car nor the driver is at fault. The fault was in your lack of sufficient planning.

Just like in the lunch scenario, the most effective project plans must account for risk, uncertainty and other factors, and their effect on the time it will take to complete the project. This “time” component defines the need for a project schedule.

The project schedule is a subset of the overall project plan. It is essentially a linked series of activities (work) that help establish a foundation—a forecast against which we can track the project execution in order to meet our end goals.

A sound project schedule provides value in three primary areas:

1. Realistic forecast

A well-crafted project schedule will take into account a broad range of factors from availability of resources to execution complexity, for example, to help determine delivery dates. A sound project schedule tool will also pinpoint hot spots in your plan that then pose the biggest threat to project success.

2. No surprises

Risk is a critical factor often overlooked. A sound project schedule will account for risk when determining delivery dates. A project schedule should contain adjusted timelines and be calibrated accordingly using risk-analysis methodologies resulting in a more achievable risk-adjusted schedule. 

3. Team buy-in

Let’s say you’ve put together what you believe to be the most viable project schedule. If the team don’t believe the plan nor buy-into the forecast then you are setting yourself up for failure. Obtaining consensus from the team when establishing work durations and sequence is a key factor again when establishing schedule forecasts.

The goal of the project schedule is to improve the realism of your project plan. A more realistic plan will be more successful, will provide a more accurate budget outcome, and will produce a better quality project.

If you don’t have a sound project schedule as part of your project plan, you’re winging it—and that’s not good for anyone…

Dan Patterson is VP, Product Strategy at Deltek.

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