When you're a kid, it's monsters under the bed that keep you awake. As an adult, it's deadlines. But when a project is scheduled, outlined, and thoroughly planned, deadlines serve as a benchmark for progress, not a looming end date you're afraid you can't meet. Project scheduling has many different facets which vary from project to project and industry to industry, but there are are few tips and tricks that are applicable across the board.
- Know the Deliverables
The first key to creating a solid project schedule is knowing exactly what deliverables are expected to come from the project. Once you know the deliverables, you can split them down into actionable segments. For example, if the deliverable is a website, you might break the process down into design, content creation, editing, development, testing, and launch. This makes it much easier to create a process.
- Determine the Process
Having a specific process with a specific amount of time allotted for each part, allows for setting reasonable goals and deadlines. When each individual on the project knows exactly what their role is, when they come into play, and when their pieces are due, everything can move smoothly forward.
- Prioritize Critical Tasks
What parts of the process are most likely to have issues or go wrong? As much as possible, get these things done first. That gives you the rest of the time to fix issues, rather than having to scurry around at the last minute to get it fixed on time. It is also important to identify bottlenecks right off the bat. When you know what challenges you are going to face, you can implement plans to help mitigate their consequences.
- Be Flexible
Scheduling is important, but it also has some drawbacks. A schedule that is inflexible makes it difficult to keep up with the changing demands of a project. Sometimes things take longer than planned. Sometimes things go quicker than planned. If you plan flexibility into your project schedule, you leave wiggle room for hiccups and alterations.
- Involve the Team in Planning
Who knows exactly how long a task will take? No one. But the person that does the work is likely to be able to give you the best estimate. When you involve all team members in the planning process, not only are you allowing them to have some ownership in the final product, you allow them to understand how their role impacts other parts of the process.
- Understand Team Members' Workload
Everyone has different projects they are working on, so understanding how much time and effort your team members will be able to put into a project on a weekly basis is critical. It helps to know how to allocate tasks evenly, but also in a way that will get them done most efficiently. In addition, if something breaks, you need to know which team member has the capacity to fix it.
- Plan Efficient Meetings
Nothing is more frustrating than a meeting that doesn't accomplish anything. When you set up times for your team get together, set specific goals for the meeting, and when you've accomplished them, end the meeting so everyone can get back to work. If you come up against a roadblock that starts the conversation spinning in circles, end the meeting and solve the problem before meeting again.
- Schedule Regular Check-Ins
Micromanagement is overkill, but it pays to stay on top of the progress your team members are making on their tasks. Are they hitting unplanned roadblocks? Do they need additional tools or resources to complete their work? The longer it takes you to learn about these issues, the longer it will take to solve the problem. Setting up regular and expected check-ins allows your team members to prepare to discuss the challenges they are facing, and gives you the opportunity to address them.
- Provide the Appropriate Tools
Of course your team will need the tools that they typically use to accomplish their tasks, but there are other project scheduling tools that can be helpful as well. Tom's Planner can help you manage tasks and deadlines. Basecamp can help team members organize and keep track of tasks, documents, and conversations around a project. Osmosis can help you understand the proposal and exactly what the client is looking for. Which leads to...
- Understand the Client's Needs
The most important item for project scheduling is understanding the client's ultimate needs and goals. What part of the project is the most important thing to your client? That element should be the first thing to be completed. Why spend hours or days developing an add-on that the client doesn't really want or need, while neglecting their primary value proposition? By understanding what the client needs, you can focus your team's time and energy on giving them exactly what they want, despite the challenges and struggles that may arise.
Although sometimes it's tempting to jump into an interesting project without much forethought, taking the time to plan and organize is crucial to meeting deadlines and creating a product that meets the demands of the client. Then, you won't need to worry about deadlines… or monsters under the bed.