The most important skill a project manager can master is project time management. If a project is planned and scheduled well, it can run smoothly with a light touch.
But all the people skills, communication skills, and problem-solving skills in the world won’t save a project that has baked-in unworkable timelines or impossible deadlines.
In this article, I will share seven time-tested project time management tips that will help you develop and maintain a project schedule that sets you up for success. My objective here is to help you feel a little more prepared and confident for the next project you tackle.
The term “project time management” may seem self-explanatory, but like all industry jargon, it has a specific meaning. It refers to the methodology of planning a project schedule within the field of project management.
While tools and techniques are always evolving, certain processes have stood the test of time and become standard practice for project managers.
These include developing time estimates, planning for contingencies, and identifying the necessary sequence in which tasks must be performed.
There may be a lot of stakeholders who depend on your project’s successful execution.
Those could include bosses, colleagues, investors, and customers who need your project to be finished before they can proceed with their own work. If a project has setbacks and delays, it can cause a chain of disruptions that go far beyond the project itself.
That is why project time management is so important whenever the coordination of people and resources is at stake.Also read: 10 Best Chrome Extensions For 2021
You may already use a project management checklist, but these tips are more focused specifically on project time management and how to successfully schedule your project. Consider the following tips a supplement to your other project management checklists.
Some project managers work exclusively in spreadsheets, but there are more user-friendly tools that are built specifically for project management.
Researching and comparing all the available tools is a lot of work, but fortunately, there are plenty of articles that can help you select the right project management tool.
There is no shortage of project management tools on the market, so your choice will depend on the features you need, affordability, and preference. If your project involves doing work that you ultimately want to share with a client, I recommend using client portal software with project management functionality built in.
A good way to begin the planning process is to first unload everything from your brain by making a list of everything. Every milestone, deliverable, contingency, and resource comes to mind.
The goal here is to write down everything that is utilizing your short-term memory so that your mind can be free to think and draw connections.
At this stage, you don’t want to use software that causes friction or slows you down, but on the other hand, you should write in a tool that makes it easy to reorganize all the elements later. So using a spreadsheet or project management software will ultimately be more convenient than a Word document.
Organizing a project’s timeline requires a knowledge of all the priorities, dependencies (which tasks depend on which other tasks are being completed), durations, and resource availability.
If the project requires outdoor work, it even requires knowledge of the weather!
A huge part of the work of project time management is figuring out the optimal sequence of tasks. To do this effectively, you need as much information as possible, so be sure to consult with colleagues, management, team leads, and even suppliers and vendors. Get their input up front, and then have them review the draft timeline.Also read: Top 10 Websites and Apps Like Thumbtack | Hire Best Local Pros With These Thumbtack Alternatives
There is a lot of overlap between managing your timeline and managing your team since people are often our most time-constrained resource.
As you are planning your timeline, it is a good practice to identify who will do what so that you can balance the workload appropriately. You want to have the flexibility to edit and revise the timeline before it is finalized, but you also want your team to know the tasks are provisional. So you should apply a label or category that lets your team know that the assignments are not finalized, and you can even invite their input.
Milestones serve as short-term goals, occasions to celebrate, and occasions to evaluate progress. Therefore it is important to identify steps in the project to serve as milestones.
Sometimes the milestones are obvious and natural, such as when you finish an important component of a project. At other times they may be more artificial, such as reaching a certain arbitrary number.
Ideally, you can identify milestones that allow you to subdivide your project into segments of relatively equal duration and have them align with other markers of time, such as months or quarters.
I previously mentioned that even the weather can be an important factor when planning a project. Since nobody can predict the weather, that is an obvious contingency that you should plan for by allocating extra time in the schedule for potential delays.
Other contingencies could be workforce availability, issues with suppliers, and economic factors – there is no limit to the things that can go wrong to disrupt a project. Your job is not to predict the future, but to do your best to identify potential roadblocks and build buffers and backup plans into the project timeline.
Mind maps and flow charts can be useful tools both for organizing your own thoughts and for conveying information to others.
I find it helpful to start with a mind map when brainstorming, then convert that to a flowchart when figuring out the sequence of a project, then convert the flowchart into a Gantt chart.
My go-to interactive whiteboard of choice is Whimsical, which you can use for free. However, even Excel has all the visualization features you need to build a helpful mind map or flow chart.
In project management, as in most things in life, preparation is key.
If you schedule a project right, it can go smoothly. But if you fail to make realistic estimates, balance resources, or plan for contingencies, you are in for a big headache.
That is why project time management is such an important discipline. Hopefully, the tips shared here will help you organize your scheduling process and get started with confidence.
If you take only one thing from this article, let it be the importance of investing time at the front end of a project to get the schedule right. It is the difference between smooth sailing and a shipwreck.
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