Project Scheduling: Methodology & Techniques

Scheduling Methodology: Build & Control Your Project Schedule

A scheduling methodology is a system or process used to create, implement, and track the progress of a schedule. There are many different scheduling methodologies, each with strengths and weaknesses. The most critical factor in choosing a scheduling method is finding one that best fits the needs of your specific project.

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Scheduling Methodology in Project Management

A Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential holder should know that project scheduling helps the project team finish the project within budget and by the needed deadline. While the PMP certification exam will include questions on specific project scheduling techniques, no single project scheduling methodology works for all projects.

A project schedule needs to be monitored and controlled to ensure that the project is on track and stays within the approved budget and timeline. Project managers can identify potential problems early on by monitoring the schedule and taking corrective action to avoid them. Additionally, regular schedule monitoring can help identify schedule compression or resource-leveling opportunities.

6 Steps to Build a Project Schedule

There is no “scheduling methodology PMP,” but there are common steps upon which any project scheduling method relies. 

  1. Define the scope of the project and create a work breakdown structure (WBS). 
  2. Identify the tasks that need to be completed and estimate how long each will take. 
  3. Sequence the tasks in the order they need to be completed.
  4. Create a Gantt chart or other type of schedule diagram to visualize the project timeline. 
  5. Make sure the schedule is realistic and achievable and adjust as necessary. 
  6. Monitor the schedule throughout the project and make changes as needed. 

The project scheduling steps may occur in a slightly different order depending on the project scheduling method used. However, knowing the general steps needed to build a project schedule will assist project managers who want to take the PMP certification exam. 

Project Scheduling Tools, Techniques, and Methods

There are many tools, techniques, and methods for developing, monitoring, and controlling the schedule within a project. Some common ones include Gantt Charts, Critical Path Analysis, PERT Diagrams, Earned Value Management, Schedule Compression, and Resource Leveling. Each of these has its strengths and weaknesses, so it is essential to choose the one that best fits the needs of your specific project. As a PMP holder, there are many factors to consider when choosing a scheduling methodology, including the size and complexity of the project, the resources available, and the team’s preferences.

Let’s look at some of these in more detail.

Schedule Network Analysis

A project schedule network diagram is a graphical representation of the logical relationships among the project schedule activities derived from the project schedule. It will:

  • provide a visual representation of the interconnectivity across project activities,
  • use activities, activity duration, and interdependencies to show the overall project schedule,
  • use rectangles, circles, solid lines, dotted lines, and arrows to represent schedule components and their relationships, and
  • serve as a tool to communicate schedule progress and issues.

For example, Project Managers use a schedule network diagram to identify the critical path and float for the project to understand the overall project schedule better. Additionally, the project manager uses the schedule network diagram to communicate progress within the project schedule.

PERT Diagram

Project Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) is a diagramming tool that links tasks in consecutive order with milestones. Organize tasks by using the three project management timing calculations: 

  • Optimistic timing (O) – the soonest time the project can finish
  • Most likely timing (M) – the most realistic amount of time needed to complete the project 
  • Pessimistic timing (P) – the longest time the project will take to complete. 

Determine the overall estimated project duration using the project management formula: (O+4M+P)/6.


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Earned Value Analysis Methodology

Those with a PMP certification know Earn Value Analysis (EVA), a project management method used to measure the amount of work completed using the budget, cost, and time metrics. Within EVA are scheduling metrics. For example:

  • Schedule Variance (SV) indicates by how much time a project is ahead or behind schedule by calculating actual progress against expected progress.
  • Earned Schedule (ES) uses EVA duration metrics to forecast how much time is left until the project is complete.

The accuracy of the numbers used to determine Earned Value directly impacts the forecasts’ accuracy. As a result, earned Value Analysis can provide data-driven decisions to keep the project on budget and schedule.

Gantt Charts

You do not need a PMP certification to have used Gantt charts, a prevalent diagramming technique that uses bars (one bar per task) on a grid (showing a timeline) to convey task duration and sequence. Most project management software provides a Gannt chart option for scheduling support. The Gantt chart provides a holistic view of all project activities from start to finish, where tasks overlap, and where one task must finish before another can start. As the project work continues, the Gannt chart can be updated to show progress.

Duration Compression | Crashing and Fast-Tracking

A project schedule can be crashed or fast-tracked to reach completion sooner.

Crashing and Fast-tracking are project scheduling techniques used to reduce the overall project schedule. However, there are inherent quality risks in shortening or stacking tasks, so use them carefully.

Crashing

Suppose the project manager can secure resources, including personnel, software, budget for overtime pay, external materials, etc. In that case, use the duration compression technique of crashing to complete the project sooner than first estimated. More resources are applied in a shorter period to finish the project sooner.

Fast-tracking

Another duration compression scheduling tool is fast-tracking, which assumes that more tasks completed simultaneously equate to a shorter project timeline. It is a project scheduling tool in which tasks are “stacked” to coincide.

Simulation Method

For a project schedule with many uncertainties, the simulation method is a powerful means to test the assumptions to better understand risks, gaps, and opportunities with less impact on the live project. Create multiple schedule simulations to test assumptions and evolving estimates to see potential outcomes. In addition, develop simulations throughout the project to provide insight into how to manage the overall schedule as project work continues. The simulation method is beneficial for managing schedules with many unknowns.

Resource Leveling

Any project management method aims to maximize all resources to reach the best possible outcomes. Resource leveling is one of the project scheduling techniques to better ensure that each resource is not over or under-used. For example, suppose all assigned resources are used consistently, with no periods of inactivity or over capacity. Ideally, project costs can be better managed, and the project schedule will stay on track. Use resource leveling along with other project scheduling techniques for cost and schedule management.

Project Management Software

There is a plethora of project management software, all with scheduling functionality, available in the marketplace. To use the software effectively, the project manager must understand the purpose and application of project scheduling techniques, methods, and tools. Project management software scheduling is only as good as the data entered into it. And to analyze automatically generated scheduling, interpret recommendations, and forecast the potential scheduling impact of changes, a project manager must know the project scheduling tools and methodology regardless of the software used.

Summary

Project scheduling falls within schedule management as part of overall project management. Project scheduling uses data for project activities, milestones, start dates, end dates, and deliverables to estimate how long the project will take to finish. Unfortunately, for project managers and PMP holders, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to choosing the best scheduling methodology or tool. The best approach is to carefully consider the needs of your project and select a method that will best help you achieve your goals.

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Megan Bell
Megan Bell
Project Manager & Writer at Project Management Academy
Megan Bell