We’ve all heard it said before – the more up front planning time you put into your project the greater your chances of project success are.  And that statement is really two-fold.  When creating your project schedule, make sure to stretch out the planning phases far enough to allow you, the team, and the customer to fully document and review requirements and risks and to properly plan for the project at hand.  But it also means that you, and likely your team, need to put enough time planning and developing the project schedule so that you have a detailed, and accurate, tool to use to manage the project.

So, break out the schedule of work, any estimates and documentation that Sales or some deal closer put together, and even grab the draft schedule they may have put together as a starting point for you and your team and get started plotting out your detailed project schedule.  You’ll likely need to go through steps similar to these following seven steps…

Identify phases

Break your project down into logical phases. These will come to represent specific, distinct areas of effort and team responsibility. Thus, each phase should be characterized by specialization, its dependence on prior phase completion, and its necessity for phases yet to come.

Plan start dates

Decide which phases must be executed consecutively, and which can be executed concurrently. In some cases, a phase cannot be started until a previous one has been completed. In others, you can begin work while previous phases are still in operation.

Estimate the duration of each phase

Next, decide how many days or weeks will be needed to complete each phase. (Basing your schedule on a preliminary estimate of hours required to complete each phase is an acceptable method that can be used at this step; however, be prepared to impose completion deadlines before finalizing the schedule.) Remember to overlap phases when they can operate concurrently.

Meet with the team

If your team has been assigned at this point, involve them in the schedule-planning step – the more likely to feel ownership and also more likely to work cohesively and cooperatively right out of the gate. Just as you should be allowed to establish your own final project deadline when an assignment is given to you, your team should be allowed – when possible - to participate in defining the time requirements for each phase.

Modify the schedule as needed

Listen to what your team tells you. If members responsible for a phase state that the deadline is unrealistic, seek solutions. Where necessary, modify your schedule according to your team’s response.

Prepare the schedule

Construct the Gantt chart you will use to track the schedule. As the project moves along, track the actuals against the original schedule. Keep up the monitoring and summary of the project so that you will be able to take action if and when delays occur.

Distribute the schedule