Before learning and adopting best practices for project management, developing a project schedule was a pain. I used to grab the project proposal and other available documents and then spent several hours (days) behind my computer working on the MS Project. No matter how much time I dedicated or how focused I was, the outcome was never detailed or comprehensive enough.

PMD Pro made me understand that there are many steps prior to the scheduled development, such as the Logframe review, WBS development, sequencing activities, estimating resources and duration, and establishing the critical path, to finally develop the project schedule.However, I still struggled to understand why I needed to follow all these steps, one by one, instead of simply applying their techniques at once. After all, when thinking on a task or set of activities, our mind naturally assembles all aspects at the same time: when task will start and end, the required resources, who will be responsible for it, etc.

Here are a few reasons why following these five steps is crucial to develop a more accurate and comprehensive project schedule:

1) Participatory

Including a variety of stakeholders (project team and partners) in planning improve quality, ensure more accurate estimations, and promote buy-in at all levels. The person responsible to perform a task is the one who better knows the time and resources required to implement it. In addition, by participating in the planning process, he/she will most probably take ownership.

When developing a schedule involves a group of people, it is important to concentrate efforts on one aspect at a time, keeping everyone in the same page and collecting specific feedback from all participants. For example, when the group is at Step 3, everybody is focused on the resources each task will require, responsible person, policies, constraints, and possible alternatives. 

It might impossible to develop an accurate schedule if part of the group is suggesting more activities, some are trying to sequence the current and new activities, some are listing resources and estimation, all at the same time.

2) A particular steps’ sequence

Why sequencing activities after defining them? Because sequencing while including new activities will demand shifting the network diagram back and forward, creating a complete mass of activities packages.

Why estimating resources before estimating duration? Because training 100 people in one room for 20 people, with one facilitator, will last much longer than if have enough funds to hire 2 trainer and rent two bigger rooms.

In other words, the sequence has a logical reason – but is common to navigate across the steps, coming back to add more activities or review previous definitions. E.g. we might need to go back to Activity Sequencing (Step 2) and review it because we realized that we have enough resources (Step 3) to implement a few tasks at the same time.

3) Visual tools

Some people prefer to develop an indented WBS, while others prefer the graphic format. However, it is easier a “indented person” to understand a visual development rather than a “visual person” to follow a technique that uses only numbers and words.

As a group, it is also easier (and quicker) to move paper notes on a board or wall than re-writing lines on a projected computer screen. Let’s keep in mind the first recommendation in this article: schedule development is participatory.

4) Breaking it down

Developing a full project WBS and network diagram will probably require using all walls in your organization – or more! But it is possible to assign high-level activity packages to each group member (or subgroup) and ask them to break it down into more smaller tasks.

Following the five recommended steps will help combining the detailed packages. For example, one group works on the details (Step 1) of the “children educational kits procurement” while other group works on the details of the “kits distribution” activity. When moving to the next step (Activity Sequencing), it will be easier to understand if these two high-level packages start at the same time, one after the other, or there is an overlap on their implementation.

The best part: we do not need to add all details to the visual network diagram being developed, just two activity packages.

5) Review, update, and stage planning

Once the schedule is developed, it will be much easier to review and update the schedule if we have access to all five steps records: photos, WBS and diagrams systematization on software, and the schedule itself. Adding a new package and rearranging the schedule step by step will allow a better understanding on the impact of this new addition. 

In addition, projects are planned and implemented in stages. A detailed schedule development process will be very helpful when a new phase is planned – not only to review and redesign repeated tasks but also to develop new ones that are dependent of tasks in the previous stage.

6) Software: planning or implementation?

Bitrix, MS Project, Asana, Podio, Basecamp, Trello, among others, are not schedule development tools. They help systematizing all information (schedule), monitoring and tracking tasks, sending automatic reminds, alerting about delayed tasks, producing performance reports, and connecting with other systems lime accounting and procurement software.

There are dozens of project management tools available, but none of them is neither a development nor a participatory tool. It is possible to mitigate the distance between team members by using an online platform, but no virtual connection, technique, or software replaces the good old post-it colored wall.

Schedule development is one of the most important steps of project management – it is definitely worth taking it step by step to avoid stumbling over other planning activities (budget, monitoring planning, stages definition) and the entire project implementation.

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