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An Accurate Project Schedule; a Gift that Keeps on Giving!

A project schedule is a foundation tool. For most accidental project managers, the schedule is the plan. Given this, one would expect that on an average active project, the schedule should be current and accurate. Unfortunately, the quality of many project schedules reflects the value placed on them by their creators – a number of the cardinal issues with such schedules have been covered in one of my previous posts. These project managers may state that they are in control of their timelines and their project teams, and hence, the effort associated with keeping project schedules current is not warranted.

So what are some of the other benefits of an accurate project schedule beyond its primary value as a work management and tracking aid?

  1. It is a powerful communication tool – whether you are presenting project status updates to senior management, your customer, or reviewing upcoming work with team members, an accurate project schedule provides an objective method of communicating schedule progress, as well as highlighting the potential impacts of project issues.
  2. It is a wonderful medium for knowledge capture – a critical weakness in most organizations is the inability to effectively capture and leverage expert knowledge. A well developed, accurate project schedule can cut down on the ramp up time for new staff and can incorporate lessons such that they are more readily learned.
  3. It facilitates compliance with organization policies and procedures – embedding critical steps from operational or quality checklists into a project schedule increases the likelihood that they will be followed. If a checklist or standard operating procedure is documented, filed in a binder and referenced only during initial staff training, it becomes easy to forget. On the other hand, if the key steps within the procedure or checklist are built into a project schedule, not only is it hard to miss by team members, compliance issues become much more visible.
  4. It is a fundamental input into risk identification at all stages of the project lifecycle – while a risk register should be developed early in the lifetime of a project, it loses value if it is not reviewed and refreshed at regular intervals. An accurate project schedule can provide an efficient basis for ensuring that all remaining activities are considered from a risk perspective.
  5. It can reduce the effort required to analyze change impacts – without an accurate schedule it is difficult to assess the schedule, resource and cost ramifications of a significant project change. Not only can a schedule improve the quality of impact analysis, it also provides a means of simulating the impacts of different approaches to a proposed change.
  6. It facilitates project and portfolio-wide resource planning – human resource availability is one of the top constraints and ongoing sources of risk to projects.The ability to forward plan resource allocation through use of detailed, accurate project schedules is crucial to being able to proactively identify and avoid resource bottlenecks.

In summary, a project schedule is merely a model and like any model, it can only bring order and predictability to chaos if it is accurate. While you should avoid the temptation of spending too much effort in the development and ongoing maintenance of the “perfect” project schedule, striking the right balance between accuracy and effort will reap multiple rewards, beyond just knowing that you are “on track”.

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