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A Bridge to Enterprise Project Management, Part 1


Eight Steps to Scheduling
How to develop a schedule for any project.

Tasks are units of project work with a start date, a duration, an end date and resources to accomplish them.  Schedules are only as good as their task lists.  As a rule, task durations generally range from one day to three weeks.  Phases, which are collections of tasks can have longer durations.  Tasks describe action, so as another rule, if the task name doesn't start with an action verb, then it is probably a note, an objective or a reminder. 

A planning-minded family's vacation underlies the following eight steps of scheduling beginning with the big tasks called project phases.   

  1. Listing tasks by their task names creates the simplest schedule: a "do list."

    Step 1: Start by identifying major portions of the project.  The family knows that their project is not simply "Go on Vacation."  This project includes preparing for their vacation and returning to reality after it is finished.

  2. Dependencies connect tasks so if a task finishes early or late, dependencies will determine how the change impacts the entire schedule.

    Step 2: Dependencies turn "do lists" into schedules.  Review the task list and establish a dependency or "link" between every two or more tasks where Task A must be completed or at least underway before Task B starts.  Preparing for vacation must come before the vacation itself, and returning can not take place until after leaving. 

  3. Phases are groups of tasks that occur in blocks of time during a project's start and end dates. 

    Step 3: A schedule's longest "tasks" are its phases.  The planning family realizes that the mountains will provide a different experience than the seashore, so they divided their vacation phase into two tasks now summarized by the phase "Go on Vacation."

  4. Subtasks are smaller components of project tasks, just as tasks are smaller components of phases. 

    Step 4: Tasks can be divided into subtasks though it is important to avoid dividing tasks too much.  As a rule, tasks and subtasks should not be less than a day in duration because scheduling at the level of hours or minutes is better suited to production control than project management.  This family has planned their separate seashore campsites as subtasks.

  5. Milestones, or events as they are sometimes known, are points in time. 

    Step 5:
    Phases, tasks, and subtasks have durations of a day or more, milestones might be reached in an instant or at least a short time.  Project-minded people that they are, this planning family has identified returning home safely as a milestone with vacationing on one side of the milestone and reality on the other.

  6. Iterative tasks, such as weekly project review meetings, are tasks that occur at regular intervals.

    Step 6:  Monday morning meetings are almost a tradition among project teams and they often appear on schedules as iterative tasks lasting only a fraction of the day.  The planning-minded family will continue their Monday morning meetings while on vacation and have now added them to the schedule. 

  7. Ongoing tasks, such as maintenance or quality control, are tasks that are done on an "as needed" basis

    Step 7: Long-term, on-going tasks respond better to operations management than to project management.  The planning family considers their return to reality an on-going task that does not belong on their project schedule.  Still, they have allowed a final day for unpacking, cleaning, repairing and other vacation-related chores.

  1. Emergency tasks are unscheduled tasks associated with risks. 

    Step 8:  Review the plan for any risks associated with phases or milestones.  Some risks, like the planning family car's broken starter are unavoidable, but many risks can be prepared for in advance.  Review the project plan and ask how each major risk should be addressed.  If the answer leads to a task list, often called a contingency plan, then emergency plans are in place even though they might not be used.  The schedule below shows how an unexpected mechanical problem shortened camping at Rockaway by one day, a change indicated by the revised Rockaway start date at the right of the lower red circle.

Ideas flow faster than effort and schedules provide a powerful reminder of the work required to go from an idea to usable results.  For more on scheduling using software see the five the Technical Pathways-produced videos.

Project planners can learn, develop and automate schedules in the Project Scheduling Workshop.
Software developers can find content development, testing and product support at
Project Management Software Development Support

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