One of the most challenging aspects of project management is developing and maintaining a schedule. The primary reasons that most projects fail are because of poor planning and scheduling practices, such as unrealistic timelines and expectations. Here are three ways to stay on track while increasing efficiency and productivity.
Set the Target Path
Creating a detailed and defined project map will greatly contribute to the timely delivery of project results. Part of this will involve establishing a flexible critical path that can either be shortened to meet updated deadlines or lengthened to accommodate unexpected problems. Either way, having a defined critical path will ensure that tasks are completed and project milestones are reached.
However, identifying a project’s critical path requires industry insight and experiential knowledge that is applied to specific scenarios. Bear in mind that many project managers make the mistake of purposefully adjusting their Gantt charts by equalizing all of the individual bars. This naïve and pigeon-holing approach sows the seeds for future problems and scheduling conflicts. Always estimate tasks individually through identifying the task variables and dependencies.
All projects will have natural periods of inactivity with unscheduled downtime. Properly forecasting and preparing for downtime is extremely important to maintain schedule timeliness. For example, there should always be backup plans and tasks that can be completed if needed. When shipments are late or when contractors need a few more days to, there must be contingency plans that will allow employees to start working on upcoming tasks.
Chaotic schedules and work routine changes will naturally cause stress among employees. Avoid blaming employees for unexpected downtime. Instead, empower them to work with their supervisors to adjust their individual schedules and workloads. In this way, many responsible employees will simultaneously micromanage their own daily downtimes instead of just one project manager. This will drastically reduce delays and wasted time.
Sometimes, it is impossible to avoid shortened delivery times. Project managers can respond to this through streamlining processes and updating task details. For instance, if an IT project requires in-depth reports that take days to process, simply ask for basic target metrics that can be gathered in a few hours. If a construction project suddenly needs to be operational, re-schedule non-essential tasks until things are actually up and running.
Since it is difficult to provide faster deliveries while not reducing the scope and quality of work, be sure to carefully balance between realistic expectations and ambitious goals. Some project managers add additional resources to simultaneously work on identical tasks, or they assign a more effective or productive resource. This means that it may be necessary to substitute employees, which will require tact and sensitivity. Be sure to not assign too many critical tasks to the most productive resources and do not fast-track tasks that are mutually interdependent of each other.
In closing, the foundation of project management lies in the ability of the project manager to create and maintain an efficient and realistic master project schedule.