Today’s society is very dynamic and constantly changing, and this is something that affects the daily lives of companies. The way organizations work, manage projects and plan tasks is constantly evolving. However, there are different ways to cope with the uncertainty of these times. One of them is schedule management that planners and, in general, any Human Resources Department should know.
- A schedule is a diagram that indicates the process to follow to carry out a project and meet delivery deadlines.
- This tool helps detect possible problems and obtain detailed information on when it will be possible to deliver a project.
- The most common types of schedules are the Gantt schedule, the PERT schedule, and the milestone schedule.
What is a schedule?
A schedule is a resource that seeks to establish a route of specific activities that must be completed within certain time periods to achieve an objective. In other words, when a person or a company wants to achieve an objective, such as delivering a product or project to a client, it is possible to develop an itinerary by breaking down that larger goal into small tasks , which makes the entire process easier.
It is about creating the best possible step by step to guarantee compliance with the objectives within the established deadlines and, in many cases, required by the clients or the entities in charge of financing the project.
What are the benefits of creating a schedule?
Pursuing goals without a clear route is not a good strategy to achieve them. It would be like a person driving aimlessly through a city trying to get out of it only to realize, in the end, that he is on a road that will not take him to the destination he needs to get to.
Instead, the ideal would be to use available resources to find the best route to the correct road. These are the benefits that can be obtained from creating a project plan:
- It is a way to ensure that you always start with the tasks that serve as a basis to facilitate the rest.
- Helps find or establish the best route to reach the final goal.
- It allows you to detect possible problems that the person or company may encounter and prepare to face them.
- It is a way to identify, search and organize the essential resources for the project.
- It provides some level of certainty of when it will be possible to deliver final results.
- Helps establish alliances with entities or people related to the objectives of the company or department.
- Facilitates the evaluation of job performance.
- Avoid or reduce waste of essential resources.
In general, companies, institutions or any type of organization, especially in the Human Resources Department , benefit from schedules as tools that allow them to reduce costs, optimize the use of resources, avoid unforeseen events and guarantee results on certain deadlines .
What are the drawbacks of using schedules?
Not everything is rosy in this world, and project management tools are no exception. They also have their disadvantages or weak points, which must be taken into account when implementing them. In any case, here is some advice for dealing with each disadvantage:
- When planned well, they offer the best possible routes to successfully complete a project, but they are not an absolute guarantee that this will be the case.
Tip: It is important to be aware that these tools do not guarantee 100% project success, so it is always advisable to have a plan B.
- Unforeseen problems can derail the entire project and, with it, the resources invested in creating the milestone calendar.
Tip: It can be very useful to complement the schedule with a daily update of internal and external eventualities that may affect the project organization.
- Making a mistake in the design of one of the basic tasks for achieving the project would be detrimental to the activities that depend on said task.
Tip: It is advisable to generate a draft first, and not a final version. Discussing this draft with members of the organization will help detect possible weak links that could generate an adverse chain effect for the project.
- Designing and developing work itineraries involves the investment of resources that can end up being wasted if planning is not followed correctly.
Tip: you need to make sure you hire qualified project management personnel as part of the Human Resources team or simply train current members in this area.
- Larger projects are generally subdivided into countless tasks that can cause confusion among team members.
Tip: Establishing clear roles and assigning specific responsibilities for specific activities will be very helpful. Many times, the big picture of a project only needs to be seen by team leaders and managers, while other members may be limited to seeing the sections that apply to them.
In summary, schedules are not magic formulas that ensure the successful completion of each project, but they do considerably increase the chances of carrying out the process in the best possible way.
What schedule models exist?
There are many different project planning models. Below are the most used ones, which stand out for their versatility, precision and usability:
Also known as a Gantt chart, this model is one of the most popular for project management. Its operation is quite simple, since it is made up of three key elements :
Vertical list with specific activities or tasks on the left.
Horizontal top list to control delivery hours, days, weeks and/or months.
Between both, horizontal bars whose lengths represent the completion periods of each task and the interconnection points between those that begin when another ends.
It is a versatile model and valid for practically any type of organization.
The PERT (program evaluation and review technique) diagram is a project scheduling and organization technique focused on the interrelationships that may exist between different specific tasks to achieve an overall objective.
Under this approach it is guaranteed that tasks do not conflict with each other. To ensure easy and clear interrelationships, this model has a design similar to that of concept maps, with keywords and interconnecting lines.
This is a modality similar to Gantt, since it is made up of milestones, that is, tasks or activities , on the one hand, and start and end dates on the other. The tool is simple and flexible, and can be adapted, for example, to variables such as the absenteeism of a key employee for the project.
What are the steps necessary to create a schedule?
The preparation of a good schedule is something that, in itself, requires a step-by-step process designed in phases adjusted to the particularities of each organization. Broadly speaking, it is possible to identify four essential steps:
Establish tasks to be performed
First of all, it is necessary to break down the general objectives of the project into the specific tasks that need to be carried out to achieve it. Thanks to this, it will be possible to assign roles and responsibilities to the most appropriate team members and, if necessary, incorporate others. Here it will be particularly valuable to reward the dedication of those involved who are most committed to collective success and not reward workplace presenteeism .
Define the relationships that exist between the different tasks
From the previous phase, it will be equally viable to detect those interrelationships between the multiple tasks to be carried out. For example, those that can be developed simultaneously to optimize resources, those that depend on the completion of others to begin, or those that can begin to be developed from the intermediate progress of other activities.
Set relevant execution times
At this point, you will obtain a more complete picture of what it means to move forward with each task (financing, materials, tools, contacts, alliances, personnel, etc.). As a consequence, it will be possible to have a greater capacity to establish more realistic execution deadlines, as well as profitable ones for the company.
Gather all the information and create a visual design
Finally, it is enough to unify the broken down tasks and established times to recreate a project calendar that is intuitive and accessible to everyone, so that comments and suggestions can be provided before considering it as a final version.
What are the best tools for making a schedule?
Project planning with execution deadlines is not something new, but has been used for many decades, when these plans were written by hand. It is now possible to use project planning and organization software to make things even easier. These are some tools that can be very useful:
Windows Excel or Google Sheets
This type of tool, especially the first, has for many years been the most basic to represent, for example, a Gantt chart using its cells, formulas and color highlighting functions.
It is an excellent alternative to graphically represent the different specific tasks and activities that must be carried out to achieve a general objective. It has the advantage of including, for example, the available resources and those that must be sought, the additional hours that were required for certain tasks or the key actors in each activity.
It is based on the use of specific assignment cards with delivery times and the persons responsible for each case. These cards can be named as “tasks to do”, “tasks in progress” and “tasks completed”. In addition, each one has a chat system so that those responsible for executing them (and managers) can share relevant information regarding the project.
It is important to mention that there are also digital platforms that were created specifically to create business, academic, corporate, scientific, and even government schedules. An example of this is the Microsoft Project software , which, unlike the alternatives mentioned above, is paid.
What can be done if a schedule is not met?
As already mentioned, schedules are project management tools that can be really useful if planned and designed properly. However, a schedule is not a guarantee of compliance with the project deadlines, and there are times when, for different reasons, it may be the case that a company or a team does not comply with what is established in the diagram.
In these cases, it is essential, first of all, to know how to analyze the situation to identify the reasons why the schedule has not been met. Some common errors that can lead companies or teams to not comply with a work plan are, for example, having objectives or priorities that are not well defined or clear; setting deadlines or delivery dates that are too strict or unrealistic ; a lack of commitment from team members; a lack of planning, or unforeseen events and changes to the project that were not taken into account when designing the schedule.
Knowing the reasons why the schedule has not been met will help avoid these errors in the future. It is essential not to beat yourself up, to reflect, evaluate the situation and learn from those aspects that have not worked as well as the team expected . In this way, it will be possible to carry out more precise planning when organizing other projects. For example, using SMART goals can greatly help solve some of these problems.
On the other hand, it is also important that, when a company sees that it will not be able to meet the established schedule, it notifies and informs the parties that may be affected, tries to offer solutions and propose a new deadline or delivery date. If any of the parts or tasks of the diagram are not fulfilled, the company must analyze whether it needs to modify and update the rest of the schedule to comply with it.
Schedule Examples and Templates
There are many types of schedules, and there are many aspects of the company’s day-to-day life and the types of projects that can be organized using this tool. The most appropriate design will always depend on the objectives of the organization and the type of project. Below are three sample timelines that may be helpful.
Timeline for content creation
A milestone schedule is a good option to organize the creation of content for a company’s website or social networks. It will be necessary to indicate, in the first column or on the left side, the name of the task or phase. Some examples are writing, editing, publication, evaluation of the impact of the content,… On the right side of the graph, the start, end and duration of each of the phases will be indicated with horizontal stripes.
Company Events Schedule
For companies that organize many events that require planning several months or even a year in advance, a schedule can also be very useful. A good option is to use an annual calendar and use horizontal stripes of different colors to indicate the dates on which different tasks need to be carried out. If you have to organize several events at the same time, it may also be a good option to assign different colors to each of them.
Although, in this case, it is not a project as such, a work schedule can be of great help, especially during vacation periods. This is a diagram or table that indicates information about the schedules or work methods of each of the team members. In a table, the names of the employees will be indicated in the first column, and the other columns will correspond to days or weeks. Thus, it will be possible to see, in a simple and visual way, which workers are on vacation , who works full-time and who works part-time , who is on leave , who works in person or remotely,…
How can you calculate realistic time frames to make a schedule?
The best way to make calculations that are truly approximate to reality is to designate those responsible for each activity to do them. After all, specialists in certain tasks are best suited to know how much time is needed to complete them satisfactorily. Afterwards, it will be the planner’s responsibility to calculate the total of the project as a whole and add extra time to have some margin for possible unforeseen events.
An example would be when managing sick leave or other member problems. Furthermore, it is interesting to carry out these calculations taking into account the legislation and the control of workers’ hours, to have a real vision of the time frames.
What type of schedule is best for the business environment?
Considering that there is no single business environment, it is necessary for each company to adopt the model that best suits its needs and objectives. For example, for a construction project, the Gantt model would be useful, while, for a content agency, the best alternative would be the milestone-based model.
Should schedules be flexible or can they be fixed?
The general recommendation is that they be as flexible as possible, to facilitate the adaptability of the project to unexpected factors that directly or indirectly impact its development. An example can be seen when considering the possibility of working overtime to complete a task that, for any reason, was delayed. A basic flexibility measure would apply here.