What have you done for me lately, project management? Often, as project management professionals we hear the all too common phrases from managers or team members who want to skirt the process in creating project schedules. “We don’t have time to create a detailed schedule.” “We have to be in production by a certain date so we’ll just use that date and plan back.” My all-time favorite phrase though has to be “we don’t need a schedule because everyone already knows the work they have to do, we just need to start the work.” My response is always the same “Great! If the team already knows the work they need to do then, we’ll be able to develop this schedule in no time!” Rarely does planning ever go that smoothly.
As I’m sure most project managers have experienced, once we have the team in the room, we find that in actuality, they know some of the work that needs to be done but not all of it, nor do they know how an individual’s work impacts the ability of others to successfully complete their work. One might recognize these relationships as the concept of networking everyone’s work activities. The simplest and most common example being that one activity cannot start before the preceding activity is complete.
Which brings us back to our original question, what should your project schedule be doing for you? At the most basic level, a project plan helps the team to keep the project on time, on budget, and within scope. This concept is known as the triple constraint. A properly constructed project plan should provide both management and the team with several benefits including managing and reporting on: the amount of time resources spend working on the project, the cost of the project, and whether the project is running on-schedule.
A properly managed schedule allows the team and managers to make informed decisions about the best way to proceed forward with the project given the actual state of the project. Every manager wants to present current forecasted completion dates and costs to leadership along with having the detailed knowledge and ability to walk leadership through the “why.” Accuracy in planning leads to accuracy in reporting. Accuracy in reporting leads to higher confidence levels not just within leadership but within the project team.
A project schedule can be created by gathering the identified team members and conducting a planning session. This is often the area that we as project managers receive an extensive amount of pushback, as it is typically the most time-consuming planning activity. The key here is to relay the benefits of taking this time to plan with the team. Walking management and the team through the numerous benefits of spending time up front in planning is an effective method of gaining team buy in and ownership of their project. Education is one of the most powerful tools a project manager has in their toolbox. An educated team on the planning process is a cooperative team.
With upfront planning work, you can take an entire program from firefighting to fire prevention. Remember, only YOU can prevent project fires… with a little help from your team, of course.