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January 28, 2007 2236 comments so far

Activity Scheduling Basics

Scheduling planned activities is the "art" of concretely planning activities in the time dimension, i.e., adding concrete start and finish dates to your project plan. Today we will look at the basic dos and don'ts around activity scheduling.

Arranging your planned activities in a concrete schedule is important, because it provides you with a "roadmap" for your project. It is important for yourself in order to stay on track and to know where you stand with your project regarding a desired completion date, and it is important for your project team members, so they can prepare (even if only mentally) for the next tasks while they are still working on their current assignments.

One of the most common mistakes of "newbie" project leaders is that they try to schedule activities much too accurately. I have often met project managers who tried to schedule activities on an hourly basis; I have even met once a guy who really insisted on doing it on a half-hourly basis. Those guys possessing common sense will quickly come to the conclusion that for high tech projects, scheduling on an hourly or even more granular basis does simply not work. The reason for this is that your plans will become faster outdated than you are able to update them.

Another, more general decision you will have to make is on what level you start scheduling activities. In my opinion, it does not always make sense to schedule all tasks if you only have a very small and quite dynamic project team. Instead, it might make sense to only schedule a number of phases with concrete milestones which you need for project controlling and potentially for synchronizing with other projects. All other tasks (especially very small ones) could be assigned to these scheduled phases and only prioritized.

To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time. Leonard Bernstein

As you might already have guessed, together with estimating work, scheduling activities is a quite complex topic and we cannot completely cover it in a single article. In addition, it requires a lot of experience in order to create a project plan that has some value for the "real life". So what I will try to do is to provide you with a few simple rules to start with and we will revisit this topic in a future post:

  • Schedule your work, because it is import for successful projects, but schedule only down to a level where scheduling still adds value
  • Do not schedule activities with durations of less than one day. Instead, group smaller activities together into a meaningful "package"
  • Try to avoid too many multiple-resource assignments for scheduled activities. Your schedule will change and if you have multiple resources working on the same activity, these changes might result in many resource conflicts (with other projects) which might not be easy to resolve