PMP Exam Prep: Using a Project Schedule in Project Management
Organization, efficiency, and transparency are all central to good project management. Every project benefits from having a schedule outlining the tasks that need to be accomplished. Project schedules should be updated regularly to reflect any changes in the timeline or milestones of the project. This will help ensure everyone is on the same page and determine if the project is still on track. How often the schedule is updated will vary depending on the unique needs of each project. For example, if the project is complex, it may need to be updated daily. For a smaller project, it may only need to be updated weekly.
In this article, we will explore what a project schedule is and the benefits and requirements of using one in project management.
On this page:
- What is a Project Schedule?
- Types of Project Schedules
- Requirements for a Project Schedule
- Benefits of a Project Schedule
- Challenges of a Project Schedule
- Updating a Project Schedule
- Is It Worth Pursuing a PMI-SP®?
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What is a Project Schedule?
A project schedule is a tool that project managers use to plan, track, and communicate the timeline and milestones of a project. The schedule is a living document that outlines all the tasks that must be completed to finish the project on time and within budget, enabling senior management to adjust the project schedule baseline as needed while ensuring alignment for all stakeholders and team members on the approximate start and end dates for each task.
Types of Project Schedules
Creating a detailed and accurate project schedule is one of the most critical aspects of successful project management. If the schedule is not well-organized and realistic, it can throw off the entire project timeline and potentially cause the project to go over budget.
Early in the project planning process, the schedule shouldn’t be too detailed and instead focus on significant tasks and milestones. The schedule should be broad at this stage because tasks are often modified or removed from the project as the scope is finalized. Once project planning is complete and the scope is solidified, the project manager can begin to drill down the specifics.
Here are three common types of project schedules a project manager will use:
- Master Project Schedule:
A master project schedule is a more specific type of schedule that includes information about every task in the project. Master schedules typically identify all primary deliverables within the project along with the work components necessary to complete these tasks. Project managers typically use this schedule to track progress and ensure the project deadlines are on track. A Gantt or milestone chart can be used as a detailed project schedule. However, these charts do not include as much information as a detailed master project schedule.
- Milestone Charts
Once a project team commences work, it needs to coordinate the many tasks put into motion. Project Managers need a practical way of visualizing the project and its many moving parts, which is where a milestone chart is helpful. A milestone chart can give a high-level overview of the project timeline, allowing you to see where in the project schedule the team is and how close you are to achieving the next milestone. Both Gantt charts and milestone charts are valuable tools for project managers and teams. Which one you use will depend on your preferences and the needs of your project.
- Gantt Charts
A Gantt chart is a bar chart that shows the start and end dates of each task in a project. A Gantt chart reflects the timeline on the horizontal axis while the project tasks are stacked on the vertical axis. Gantt charts are like milestone charts; they help visualize the project timeline and track progress. However, unlike milestone charts, which only include the major milestones of your project, Gantt charts have more detailed task information.
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Requirements for a Project Schedule
In project management, a master schedule details precisely how the team will complete the project. This document includes the following:
- The start and end dates of each project task
- The order in which tasks need to be completed.
- The dependencies between tasks (i.e., which tasks must be completed before others can begin).
- Task groupings
- Milestones and project phases
- The resources that are required for each task.
- The assigned individual or team responsible for each task.
Benefits of a Project Schedule
There is no doubt that the schedule is a critical component of successful project management. A project without a well-organized and realistic schedule is at risk of failing to meet the entire project timeline and can cause the project to go over budget. When considering the many moving parts involved in a project, a project schedule offers project managers the following benefits:
- It helps project managers plan and track the timeline of the project.
- It helps communicate the project timeline to all stakeholders.
- It can help prevent the project from going over budget.
- It can help ensure that the project is completed on time.
Challenges of a Project Schedule
As with many necessary artifacts in project management, there can be challenges with developing and managing a project schedule. These include:
- It can be time-consuming to create a detailed and accurate schedule.
- The schedule may need to be updated frequently, which can be challenging to keep up with.
- If the schedule is not well-organized, it can be difficult to use and may not be helpful.
Updating a Project Schedule
As mentioned above, a project schedule should be updated regularly to reflect any changes in the timeline or milestones of the project. A project schedule is usually a living document that reflects the most recent timeline updates to keep all stakeholders aligned and the project on track. A schedule that isn’t up to date with the most recent task and milestone information can cause team members to miss deadlines and confuse the expectations of senior management. Every project is different, meaning how often the schedule needs to be updated will vary depending on the project’s needs.
Is It Worth Pursuing a PMI-SP®?
Here’s the short answer: Yes.
The PMI Schedule Professional (PMI-SP)® certification bolsters your resume and illustrates that you have the expert-level knowledge and skills required to create and manage project schedules. Being a PMI-SP® credential holder will help you advance your position in the field of project management, whether you are seeking a new career opportunity or getting ahead in your current job.
There is much more to project scheduling than just using tools and technology to build a schedule for your team. As project teams continue becoming increasingly virtual and geographically dispersed, the ability to develop project schedules has never been more valuable.
Alternatively, a PMP certification boot camp will also cover the details that go into a project schedule, but it will not offer the same in-depth knowledge on this subject that a PMI-SP® credential provides.
Project schedules are vital to ensuring teams are set up to succeed and that projects are completed on time and within the established budget. Fundamentally, the project schedule is a timetable that describes what tasks need to be completed, the resources necessary, and the timeline under which they will be finished. There are many ways to create a project schedule and several types of schedules that can be used throughout a project’s life. Choosing a method that will work well for your project and team is the most important thing.
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