This article answers the question of how to create a project plan and examines the process of developing a project plan or a project schedule.

Project Schedule creation is a set of process steps.

Some hear the work ‘schedule’ and think ‘easy Gantt chart.’ Don’t get caught in that trap.

To properly execute a project and deliver on-time, the schedule needs to be developed methodically and managed carefully.

The accepted process is:

  • Plan Schedule Management
  • Define Project Activities
  • Determine Dependencies
  • Sequence Activities
  • Estimate Resources
  • Estimate Durations
  • Develop Project Schedule
  • Monitor and Control Project Schedule

Here is a breakdown of each process scheduling step of the process of developing a project plan:

Plan Schedule Management

  • Baselines – the schedule baseline, is the approved iteration of the schedule at any given time.  The project time plan can, and likely will, change over the course of executing the project.  We learn new things, add tasks as we gain understanding of the scope or as scope changes deemed required. The active version is the baseline.
  • Iteration control (changes) - anything that changes the schedule will require an approval process along with a way of differentiating an old version versus the present version.
  • Stakeholders – who is gets a copy of the schedule, and how are they updated with changes.
  • Format – the software to be used: Primavera, Microsoft, Excel, etc.
  • Lookaheads – Will lookaheads be used? If so, how many weeks? The length of the project may dictate how far out the team will be planning.

Define Project Activities

  • Scope – The approved scope, which is recorded as the scope baseline.
  • Team members input – Historical, Subject Matter Experts interviews
  • Generate WBS – the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is the breakdown of the scope to individual components.  This breakdown decomposition refines the scope to specific activities and deliverables.

Determine Dependencies

We have written an article about dependencies in a previous article Dependencies in Project Management which describes this interconnection of tasks.  The way we sequence the tasks, will have an impact on the probability for project success (risk and rework reduction), as well as optimizing in a way that reduces the critical path, or the shortest path to deliver the project’s objective or scope.

Sequence Activities

  • Rough cut – the way we sequence the activities will impact the total duration as well as level of risk to which the project schedule and cost.  To play with alternative sequencing, we sometimes use sticky notes to simulate and think through to discover the optimum sequence to meet the project objectives.
  • Arranged based on dependencies
  • Review rough cut with project team

Estimate Resources

  • Talent – The manner we plan to achieve the project objective’s is connected to the types of talents and skills we have available. Seasoned team members may be more skilled at a particular deliverable than a new hire. In theory, the seasoned person may be able complete the work more efficiently. Person hours available comes into play here depending on the organization. Team members maybe have regular job assignments as well as other project commitments. NOTE: Developing estimates itself is a skill and may be better to have the department or assigned person provide the hours estimate.
  • Material – do we need special material, are we making prototype parts, perhaps 3D printing of assemblies?  How much? From experience, customers will provide the total number of prototype parts early in the project, but later will need more than originally defined.  In times of supply chain disruption, the planning for this material and acquiring takes time and can be costly. This possibility should be noted on a Risk Register.  We have worked a project where the customer desired some special processes in acquiring and recording the incoming material with a safety certification.  This became known after the original scoping of the project and as such resulted in additional project actions to achieve the objective.
  • Tooling – some projects may need to produce tooling that will produce the product such as molds.  To estimate these will require a very specific set of skills.
  •  Capital Equipment (Capex)– some projects may have equipment to purchase as either the project objective, for example setting up a manufacturing line equipment, and sometimes the project will require special equipment to achieve the scope objectives, for example thermal chamber or vibration table to be able to test the product.  A company undertaking numerous projects will need to pay attention to the aggregate of the Capex spending.

Estimate Durations

  • Historical Lessons learned from previous projects.   Even anecdotal or experiential input can help in making estimates or provide a basis for decision making.
  • Statistical – for groups that perform tasks for projects over time, we may have sufficient information to draw some statistical inferences for some of the tasks, rather than experiential approximations.
  • Analogous – consider a company that develops instrument clusters for vehicles.  For a new instrument cluster project, we can use our previous projects that are analogous or similar to this project that is under consideration.

Develop Project Schedule

  • Input information into chosen software package
  • Schedule Baseline is an input to cost management
  • Define the entire project from start to finish.
  • The schedule should list all the project activities, milestones, and deliverables.

Schedule Approval

  • Approval of the schedule establishes the baseline. From here monitoring and controlling starts.

Monitor and Control Project Schedule

After answering the questions of how to create a project plan it is imperative to note that metrics around the project schedule are important to have any chance of being able to assert control.

If we do not have some tangible and measurable way to determine where we are in the actual work, we do not know where or how to exert control. Consider if you are dropped down in the middle of nowhere, no information about where you are, and are then asked to make your way to another destination. This would be impossible.

Tracking actual against measured is the mechanism by which we are able to make decisions and exert some control.

  • Allows for predictions about completion
  • Corrective actions
  • Process changes

Conclusion: Developing a Project Plan

Project Schedule Building or developing a project plan is a cornerstone of project management. Being able to forecast the future and present the future in a form that the stakeholders understand is a critical step to project success.

So, take the time to build the best schedule based on the initial information received using the process, each and every time you have to build a schedule.

More information can be obtained from The Project Management Book of Knowledge ©PMI.