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5 Essential Steps to Project Scheduling in PM

Project scheduling involves more than just dates and times. Here’s how to make an effective project schedule.

By Shayna Waltower  •   January 18, 2024  •   8 min read

Every project has its twists and turns, and finding the best way to navigate them while keeping everything on track is key to success. A project schedule, for example, acts as a “You are here” marker on a map; it shows you exactly where you are in your project and what lies ahead so you can help your team stay the course. Below, learn about the importance of project scheduling and how to create an effective schedule.

What is project scheduling?

Project scheduling is the process of organizing the many parts of your project and creating a timeline for completing them. When scheduling a project, you’ll lay out all the key tasks, milestones, outputs, and resources involved. Think of it as making a to-do list with deadlines, just on a larger scale. You’ll include estimates of how long each task will take, along with a rough start and end date for the entire project.

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Collaborate on meeting agendas, assign and sync action items with project management tools, and keep track of meeting decisions in one place, ensuring actionable outcomes in every meeting.

Project scheduling vs. project planning: How are they different?

Project scheduling and project planning aren’t quite the same, but they go hand in hand. On one hand, project planning involves defining the scope of your project, setting objectives, creating a budget, and identifying the resources you need. During this phase, you’ll also consider risks and constraints.

Scheduling a project, on the other hand, focuses more on the project’s timeline and schedule. When scheduling a project, you’ll consider each of its many elements based primarily on when you need to complete them. You’ll look at how your tasks depend on each other and how long it will take your team to complete them.

Benefits of using a project schedule

A project schedule can add some extra efficiency to important processes and act as another tool for tracking your team’s progress. A well-defined schedule helps you see where your team is hitting their marks and where they might need some extra support.

The level of organization that comes from a great project schedule gets rid of those “I thought we were doing that next week!” moments. Instead, everyone knows exactly what’s due and when. This keeps you and your team in sync and on the same page to glide confidently and efficiently through your project.  

A structured project schedule also encourages consistency among your team and helps prevent hiccups along the way. That’s because, as you move from one project to another, you can reference other schedules you’ve used. With this approach, you can make informed decisions about setting deadlines and give your team a handy guide to your standards for project excellence.

5 project scheduling techniques

Here are some common project scheduling management techniques well worth trying out.

1Critical path method

The critical path method (CPM) helps you form a more-than-feasible project timeline. To determine a project’s critical path, you’ll pinpoint the longest sequence of dependent tasks. The result is a visual roadmap for your project timeline that leaves plenty of wiggle room.

2Program evaluation and review technique

The program evaluation and review technique (PERT) helps you find the most realistic estimate of how long you’ll need to complete a project. This technique factors in three estimates to figure out this timing.

The first estimate is the least amount of time you think you’ll need to complete each task. The second is the maximum amount of time, and the third is the most likely amount of time. You’ll then take these estimated totals for all your tasks and use them to set your project timeline. You’ll start with the project end date, though, so you meet your deadlines no matter what.

3Gantt chart

A Gantt chart is a project management tool that outlines tasks and their timelines in a bar chart. In this chart, horizontal bars represent tasks, and the lengths of the bars reflect the duration of each task.

Gantt charts use arrows or lines between task bars to show dependencies, helping you better see which individual tasks most affect your project’s timeline. This also helps you track progress, manage resources, and communicate schedules for project management.

4Duration compression

It happens: A stakeholder moves up a due date, or it takes your team longer than expected to finish some tasks. Even with this time crunch, you don’t want to compromise on the goals you’ve set. You might thus lean on duration compression—also known as schedule compression.

Duration compression involves shortening a project’s timeline without affecting its scope. It incorporates a few techniques, including one called “crashing.” This strategy involves pinpointing activities where you can get the highest value for the lowest cost and assigning additional resources to those areas.

Fast-tracking is another compression technique, and it involves rearranging tasks. You might decide to start certain tasks sooner than originally planned or execute certain tasks at the same time instead of one after the other.

5Task lists

Project management software is a game-changer for scheduling—you can use it to create detailed task lists that organize your project’s many moving parts. With this software, you can assign tasks to team members, set deadlines, and leave comments to foster efficient collaboration.

Additionally, AI task management tools automatically prioritize tasks and manage activities so you can stay on top of deadlines without using extra brain power. They also allow you to create workflows that give you repeatable processes for moving tasks from start to finish. It’s the best of both worlds—clear tasks and schedules—in one tool.

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How to make a project schedule

Now you understand project scheduling and some techniques to use, but where do you start? Below are the steps to create an effective project schedule plan.

1Make a work breakdown structure

The main purpose of a work breakdown structure (WBS) is to simplify complex projects so you can more easily plan, execute, and control them. To create a WBS, start by clearly defining your project’s deliverables. From there, you can break the deliverables down into more detailed components, such as brainstorming notes within a project proposal deliverable.

2Determine your task dependencies and project activities

Project activities are the little pieces that make up your project’s big picture. Before diving in, you should understand how they’re connected. For example, if you can’t start Task B until Task A is complete, you should know that before you get halfway through Task B. Once you understand these task dependencies, you can properly order your activities.

3Determine the resources and duration for each activity

Resources are more than materials and money—they also include time, software, skills, and labor. When scheduling your project, you should figure out which of these you need for each task. From there, you can work closely with your team to estimate the time required for each activity. Think about potential risks, uncertainties, or dependencies affecting each task’s timeline. Your goal is to create as realistic a schedule as possible.

4Create the project schedule

Use the information you’ve gathered about all your tasks to create a comprehensive project schedule. Set start and end dates for each task and figure out your project milestones. Add task details in your task management software, set resources, and assign task owners. A well-organized project schedule gets rid of confusion and gives your team members a thorough reference for tracking progress, knowing their responsibilities, and hitting deadlines.

5Monitor your schedule

Creating a project schedule is only the first step in successfully pulling off a project. You should also continuously track and update your project schedule. Treat your schedule like a living document—regularly revisit it and, when necessary, update it. Get your team’s input, too, since they might be closer to the work and thus know better when schedule changes are necessary.

When you keep a close eye on your project schedule, you catch any deviations right away and easily get your team back on track. Your schedule should be so detailed that it covers every little moment, including deadlines for scheduling meetings and rescheduling existing meetings based on task progress.

How to keep your project team in the loop using meeting notes

Meeting notes help you and your team be transparent in your communication, leading to great collaboration. Notes are, after all, documented records of discussions, decisions, and action items. Below are some tips for getting the most out of your meeting notes.

Use the right note-taking tools

Software made for note-taking gives you thorough, useful notes after every meeting. These notes come in handy when anyone needs to reference key talking points. Plus, with Fellow, you and your team can collaborate on meeting notes during your most important conversations.

Record key meeting items

Instead of typing out every word spoken during a meeting, focus on the most important tidbits. This way, your notes bring attention to the points that really matter. Key items to add to your notes include how you all covered your meeting agenda’s biggest points, any new meeting action items, and any remaining questions.

Make your notes available to your team and clients

Your project has all kinds of elements that you’ll discuss during your meetings. That’s why sharing your meeting notes with your team and project stakeholders keeps everyone on the same page. Fellow’s AI Meeting Copilot makes this easy—it captures your team’s discussions and creates your meeting transcripts and summaries in just seconds. This way, everyone stays in the loop, and you don’t have to add another task to your list.

Scheduling success with Fellow

Fellow’s objectives and key results (OKRs), action items, and feedback features all come together to perfectly power your project scheduling. Fellow also integrates with your favorite project management and video conferencing platforms to give you a cohesive experience.

Fellow’s library of free templates can help you start project scheduling easily, such as this Agile Project Kick-Off Meeting template. Once your project gets rolling, use this Project Check-In Meeting template to get updates on current projects’ progress and challenges. Just as with the tasks in your project schedule, connecting everything is key to success—go ahead and get to planning!

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