Projects have a well-defined beginning and a clear-cut ending. It is crucial for any project to have an effective scheduling. This allows the organisation to list all the project’s activities, milestones, and final deliverables. It also gives organisations an idea of the resources needed for each project activity. One can look at project scheduling as a blueprint for completing the project within the predetermined time frame, including the tasks and resources needed for project completion.

The Scheduling Process

Effective project scheduling requires 6 key steps or processes. All projects must go through each of these steps in a sequential manner to ensure the accuracy of the final project schedule.

  1. Planning the Schedule Management

The planning stage sets out the guidelines on how the schedule can be created. This can include identifying contingencies, task dependencies, resources, and organisational procedures.

  • Defining Project activities

This stage identifies the different actions that the organisation needs to perform to produce the final project deliverables.

  • Sequencing Project Activities

The identified tasks need to be analysed to determine their unique relationships. This allows the project team to identify the correct sequencing of the different activities.

  • Estimating Project Activity Resources

Each activity calls for specific resources at the required quantity. These resources can come in the form of labour, facilities, tools and equipment, and fixed costs.

  • Estimating Project Activity Durations

Project teams need to determine the amount of time needed to complete each project activity. This can be accomplished through different activity duration estimation techniques.

  • Developing the Project Schedule

The last step in the project scheduling process is the actual creation or development of the schedule.

Precedence Diagramming Technique

The Precedence Diagramming Technique is one of the most effective strategies for creating an effective project schedule. It uses rectangles to represent project activities and arrows to define relationships or dependencies between the rectangles. Each rectangle is known as a node. The dependencies or relationships between these nodes can be in any of the following 4 types.

  1. Finish to Start – An activity must be completed first before the next activity can commence.
  • Finish to Finish – Two consecutive activities must be completed at the same time.
  • Start to Start – Two consecutive activities must start at the same time.
  • Start to Finish – An activity must be started first before the next activity can be completed.

Critical Path Analysis

This is another tool that can help organisations manage very complex projects, especially when it comes to the correct scheduling of activities and resources. Like PDT, critical path analysis or CPA focuses on the identification of tasks or activities that are dependent on other activities or tasks. 

Critical path analysis recognises the interdependence of tasks. It assumes that certain tasks must be completed first before the next activity or task can proceed. A good example is in construction projects. Painting a wall cannot commence until after the completion of the wall.

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Total Float vs. Free Float Scheduling

Scheduling pertains to the time needed to complete the different tasks in a project. As such, the organisation must determine two critical project time measures.

  • Total Float

This is the amount of time that a project activity or task within a sequence can be delayed without affecting the overall duration of the project. Project teams can determine total float by subtracting late start or finish dates from early start or finish dates.

  • Free Float

This is the level of acceptable delay for an activity. The delay is deemed acceptable if and only if it will not delay the early start date of the next or succeeding activity. Free float is calculated by subtracting the task’s early finishing date from the early starting date of the next task or activity.

Gantt Charts

Listing the critical activities in any project as they occur in a timeline can be confusing. A better way of presenting the different activities relative to the project timeline is by using a Gantt chart. This is a visual tool that allows project managers to list critical project activities in the first column and the estimated times (start, finish, and duration) of each activity.

Gantt charts can come in the form of a standalone desktop software or an online Gantt chart scheduling programme. In either type, the project team can input the estimated duration of each project activity. They can also identify the early start and finish and late start and finish dates of each activity. Gantt chart programmes allow the project team to update the project schedule. Online programmes are shareable, allowing different project team members to update the schedule.

Program Evaluation and Review Technique

Another useful method for the effective and accurate estimation of the duration of a project activity is the Program Evaluation and Review Technique or PERT. There are several time definitions that project teams that utilise PERT must understand. These time definitions play an important role in the computation of the PERT final estimate.

  • O – Optimistic time; shortest possible time of task completion
  • P – Pessimistic time; longest possible time of task completion
  • M – Most likely time; reasonable task completion time under normal circumstances

The expected time of task completion is the average of the optimistic time, the pessimistic time, and 4 times the most likely time. It is stated as follows:

              Expected time = (O + P + 4M) ÷ 6

Other Scheduling Tools

Organisations can also make use of other scheduling tools, depending on their needs.

  • Milestone Progress Charts

Milestones are key events in a project that signify a change. One can consider them as signposts that allow the project team to determine if they are on the right track or not. Milestone progress charts allow project teams to monitor critical events in the project’s lifespan.

The milestone progress chart can include the start and end dates of the different project phases, the key deliverables, the stakeholder and client approvals, key dates that can impact the project timeline, and important presentations and meetings.

  • Scheduling Software Tools

Project managers and organisations can also make use of scheduling software. These can be installed directly into the computer network of the organisation. It is also possible to make use of an online software instead.

Project scheduling gives organisations a clear idea of how the different activities of the project can proceed in a deliberate manner. This helps ensure that the project will produce the final deliverables on time.

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