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Project Scheduling Mistakes (#2 in the series Project Management Mistake – We Didn’t Have The Right Schedule)
By Lonnie Pacelli

The project schedule didn’t correctly address dependencies between tasks – When designing your project schedule, you need to keep in mind how those activities relate to other activities and define them accordingly. Establishing clear dependencies between tasks and having a true understanding of the critical path (the string of tasks that are the longest point between the start and finish of the project) is in my view one of the most important components of your project schedule. As you’re designing your schedule activities it’s helpful to keep dependencies clean by defining clear finish-to-start relationships. There are ways to accommodate this using most common project management software packages, but I recommend keeping your dependencies simple to understand and manage.

The project duration was too long – When designing your schedule, keep specific focus on the length of time that you go between celebrating successes. I’ve become a strong advocate of keeping project phases to no longer than three months in duration. This is not to say that, if you are implementing an Enterprise Resource Planning system that you should try to do the entire implementation from software selection to implemented system in that three-month timeframe. What I am saying is that you should phase the project in such a way that there is a defined beginning and end to the phase within three months. Why would I say such a thing? Simple; people (particularly management) live in a short attention span theater world and over time will become discouraged and lose interest if a project drags on too long. So ok, you’ve figured me out, I’m just breaking a $10 bill into two $5 bills, but I’ve seen teams perform better when they are able to have mini celebrations at the successful end of each phase because at any point in time the end of the phase of work is no more than three months away. This also gives the team and management logical review points to look at the project’s mission and ensure that it is in sync with management’s current priorities.

Some of the tasks didn’t produce useful deliverables – When you’re defining your project schedule, make sure you’re continually asking yourself these questions:

  • What is the deliverable that will be produced out of this activity?
  • What will it look like?
  • What happens if we don’t do it?

If you don’t have satisfactory answers to each of these questions, then seriously consider whether or not the activity is necessary. Remember, every activity that you do should be getting you one step closer to successful completion. If you can’t articulate what the activity is supposed to produce then chances are you don’t need to do it.

The team didn’t understand the plan – Your project team needs to have complete buy-in on the tasks, the durations, the team assignments, the dependencies, and the deliverables. What I’ve seen work well is doing shorter, more frequent informal reviews with team members while you’re developing the schedule. I’ve seen project managers hold themselves up in an office or conference room for days on end, emerge from their cave with the schedule to end all schedules, and then have the other team members storm the Bastille because they don’t see how they’re possibly going to be able to accomplish what the project manager expects (recall my opening store about my unrealistic schedule). It’s days like those that the project manager wonders why he or she didn’t take over the family delicatessen instead of doing this stupid project manager job. Get the buy-in along the way; it helps you avoid rework, allows the team members to feel more included in the process, and will produce a better quality plan that the team will believe they can achieve.

Lonnie Pacelli is an internationally recognized project management and leadership author and consultant with over 20 years experience at Microsoft, Accenture and his own company, Leading on the Edge International. Read more about Lonnie, subscribe to his newsletter, see his books and articles, and get lots of free self-study seminars, webcasts and resources.

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