Ever felt like your projects are a puzzle with missing pieces? Like there’s a constant race against time, but you can’t quite figure out the path forward? That’s the challenge of managing schedules without a proper plan.
Introducing the project schedule management plan: your roadmap to sticking to your project timelines.
Read on to learn what makes a good schedule management plan, how to make the right one for your project, and how to tackle common hurdles.
What is a schedule management plan?
A schedule management plan is a comprehensive document that organizes, manages, and guides the project scheduling process.
It defines how the project schedule will be developed, tracked, and controlled. Essentially, it’s your recipe for creating a realistic and effective schedule for your projects.
And that’s a big deal.
In a 2021 survey, project managers reported that only 55% of their projects finished on time. Poor or unrealistic planning was one of the main underlying issues they singled out.
A robust schedule management plan can help you “dot your I’s and cross your T’s” when creating your project schedule.
Schedule management plan vs. schedule management
But a schedule plan won’t help your team or projects if it’s just sitting in a PDF on your computer. You also need a process around it to make sure it’s followed.
That’s where schedule management comes into play — implementing your game plan in the real world.
Here’s how the two work together:
Schedule management plan:
- A document that outlines procedures and guidelines. For example, it covers how your team should respond to different changes in scope at certain project stages.
- Establishes criteria for developing, managing, and controlling the project schedule. Say goodbye to “rough estimates” or “eyeballing.” It outlines how much time to estimate for different factors — for example, adding two weeks to account for the local weather conditions for a construction project.
- Offers tools, techniques, and procedures specific to the project or organization.
- The actual process of creating, maintaining, and monitoring a project schedule. Includes setting milestones like “first pour” or “creative brief completed” as well as their due dates. It typically involves figuring out the critical path — the longest chain of dependent tasks.
- Requires regular updates and may involve using scheduling software. As you work on a project, you’ll inevitably find that your expectations are incorrect in some way. You need to adapt to the changing environment and requirements if you want your project to succeed.
- This process is guided and streamlined by the schedule management plan.
The former is the recipe. The latter is the process of baking your cookies (and reaping the rewards).
Benefits and challenges of schedule management plans
Because it’s virtually impossible to foresee all eventualities before starting a project, an accurate project schedule is hard to come by.
You may be tempted to give up the whole idea and “go Agile” with minimal upfront planning. But a robust schedule is crucial in many types of projects — construction or manufacturing, for example.
A good project schedule management plan can help you get as close to perfect as possible. To see how it helps you achieve this, let’s take a look at its top pros and cons:
- Standardization: Provides a consistent approach across projects. No project team needs to reinvent the wheel when starting the project planning process.
- Efficiency: Streamlines the scheduling process, reducing errors and oversights. Clear scheduling estimates and procedures help speed up the process.
- Clarity: Clearly defines roles and responsibilities in the scheduling process.
- Transparency: Keeps stakeholders informed and aligned.
- Initial Setup: Time-consuming to develop a comprehensive plan up front.
- Rigidity: Can become outdated if not regularly reviewed and adjusted.
- Complexity: This can be overwhelming if overly detailed.
The payoff is there, but getting the right plan in place can be a challenge. You might need several iterations over multiple projects.
A schedule management plan is most useful in companies that tend to do many similar projects over time. Think like a marketing agency, construction firm, or wedding catering company.
How to create a schedule management plan that works
If you’re convinced that a schedule management plan is right for your company, here’s how you can create one the right way.
1. Understand and define project goals
First, you need a crystal clear understanding of the goals and scope of the project. How do you do this?
- Clarify what you want to achieve — get granular.
- List out all the major milestones and project requirements.
- Talk to project stakeholders to get feedback to make sure you’re on the right track.
Don’t try to do steps one and two alone in your office and then meet the team and stakeholders later. Instead, set up a project meeting with everyone involved and go through those steps together.
2. Review the work breakdown structure (WBS)
Once you’ve gotten clear about the exact tasks that need to be done, you create some sort of initial schedule.
Traditionally, this would be the work breakdown structure — a step-by-step plan that lays out all the smaller (more detailed) tasks included in the larger project.
Look at your previous WBS (or other project plans) and compare.
- Are there any tasks where you underestimate their timeline?
- Are there any tasks that you didn’t predict at the start of the project?
The (honest) answer to both questions will probably be yes. That's normal. The important thing is that you note the degree to which your team was wrong. Then, you can adjust your next WBS accordingly.
3. Choose a scheduling methodology
Once you’ve looked at historical performance, you need to choose a project scheduling method.
We already covered the critical path method, where you identify the longest chain of tasks, but it’s not your only choice.
There’s also PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique), a visual project mapping tool developed by the US Navy, or Gantt charts, a waterfall-style chart of cascading tasks, including dependencies.
Which you choose is less important than familiarizing yourself with the best practices of each method. (We’d need another 1,000 words to get into that here, so please read our dedicated guide for the one you choose.)
4. Pick your scheduling software
You no longer need to rely on whiteboards and phone calls to manage projects. Thanks to cloud-based software, you and all your project team members can have a real-time view of project progress.
All online project management software includes a scheduling component (like Gantt charts or a calendar view with tasks and milestones).
Make sure to choose one with features that make sense for your company’s size and needs and support your scheduling method.
5. Resource planning and allocation
If resources aren’t planned and allocated properly, tasks can get delayed. When one task gets delayed, it often has a ripple effect on the rest of the project schedule.
For example, if pouring the concrete foundation is delayed, you can't start work on the interior, like flooring, tiling, or kitchen.
Or if a shipment of cotton cloth from a supplier is delayed, you can't magically start creating t-shirts from thin air.
To avoid this, you need to:
- Determine what’s needed (people, tools, equipment, funds).
- Confirm that the resources are available.
- Have the flexibility to adjust to unforeseen delays (by switching focus to other milestones).
You always need to consider the strict relationship between the scope, schedule, and available resources. This is referred to as the project management triangle.
If you change the scope, budget, or resources, you'll be impacting the timeline of the project. This can mean missing deadlines or forcing a rush job (and delivering poor-quality results).
6. Develop and establish a schedule baseline
A project schedule baseline is essentially a model of where you expect the project to be at different points in time.
You can set the schedule baseline by flagging important milestones and creating realistic estimates for when they should be completed.
You can then compare progress in real-time to your expectations and adjust as needed to stay on track.
7. Track progress and handle changes
To compare the work to date to the baseline, you'll need to measure progress towards the milestones you've set.
The easiest way to do this is to set them up in a calendar or Gantt chart in a project management tool.
Establish variance thresholds to set acceptable limits for schedule variance. For example, if a priority task with many dependent tasks gets delayed by two days, an alert can be sent automatically.
The best way to keep things going according to plan is to be proactive. To help you or your managers do this effectively, you need to lay the right foundation.
Implement change control procedures to understand how to make adjustments to the schedule if needed.
- Who can authorize a change?
- What’s the process for proposing and implementing changes?
For more information on how to effectively use your baseline to gauge and adapt accordingly, read our guide on earned value management.
8. Contingency planning
"If anything can go wrong, it will." Murphy's law still rings as true today as it did seven decades ago.
The only way you can avoid (proverbial) disaster is by identifying key risks before they strike.
Ask yourself (and your project team):
- What could go wrong with this project? Break it down by deliverable, requirement, and task.
- How can we prevent this from happening? Plan contingencies, like finding alternative suppliers in case your first choice has issues.
Even if you think you've identified every risk possible, it's good to be cautious. Create your schedule with a bit of leeway to give yourself room for flexibility when something unforeseen happens (it usually will).
9. Reporting protocols — how you’ll keep stakeholders updated
The next part of the plan is to outline exactly how you’ll keep your project’s stakeholders up-to-date.
- Choose suitable report types for different stakeholders — Gantt charts, project status update reports, and other reports or meetings.
- How often will you send the different reports? For team members, a real-time chart or task board is a good daily reminder. For a project sponsor, weekly or monthly status updates on progress toward milestones are more suitable.
10. Review and monitoring
The last step of the plan is to outline your process for reflection (and learning from your mistakes).
- KPIs and metrics: Decide ahead of time on which metrics to focus on. On-time completion percentage is a great metric to use as your north star.
- Create a review schedule: Plan regular moments to check progress against the schedule.
- Make adjustments: Change the plan based on new insights or your outlook on scheduling.
How Motion makes it easier to stick to your schedules
Most companies struggle to keep their project schedules. That’s the whole reason you need a schedule management plan in the first place.
And while getting the plan right can help you address management inefficiencies, implementation is often the main problem.
Motion helps you treat underlying issues of poor time management, lack of clarity on responsibilities, and lack of flexibility in the schedule.
Our algorithm can automatically assign and schedule tasks to your entire team based on priorities, deadlines, and other factors.
It also creates a single centralized view of your project tasks (and progress).
It even allows for dynamic rescheduling as non-negotiable tasks, like last-minute client calls or emergency bug fixes, pop up.
The bottom line is that Motion’s AI capabilities allow for more flexible schedule management planning. When things fly off the rails, and your schedule needs to be adjusted, you don’t need hundreds of Slack messages or phone calls to figure out how to tweak everything. Motion takes care of it automatically, optimizing your high-priority tasks. It’s like having a little robot schedule manager.
Try Motion for free for 7 days and experience first-hand how it can transform your scheduling.