In projects, time is one of the key elements that has to be considered. Every project has deadlines to be met and goals to be reached. So, the way we manage and schedule time is a make-or-break element that project managers need to consider. I would like to share some time management techniques that have proved useful for us over the years, hoping they can help others succeed as well.
First things first - scope
Before you can start thinking about any type of time scheduling, you have to establish the scope of the project. This moment is vital because it will allow stakeholders to allocate resources wisely from the start, not wasting energy or time in aspects not relevant to the project. So, even if it sounds obvious, before you can assign any task some time and relevance, you should make sure what are the tasks that your project will require.
Project scheduling techniques - Critical Path method
According to Harvard Business Review, this method can be explained as: “a means of determining which jobs or activities, of the many that comprise a project, are “critical” in their effect on total project time, and how best to schedule all jobs in the project in order to meet a target date at minimum cost.” Team members put tasks in a sequence according to their importance and estimate a time of completion for each one of them. The maximum duration of all tasks defines the “critical path”. With this widely used method, companies can not only estimate and manage the schedules of a project, but also use contingency strategies when there is a deviation from the critical path.
To do so, the system contemplates something called “schedule compression” -a technique used when there has been a delay in some of the critical tasks, helping to complete them without reducing the scope of the project or affecting its results. This can be done through Crashing or Fast-tracking. However, companies should be careful to use this as the last resource and not as a recurrent practice, since any change in the critical path will surely add costs and risks to the project.
Traditional method - bottom-up estimation
The most traditional planning method is still estimation. It basically involves listing all the tasks involved in a project, assigning them a duration and estimating the total amount of hours that a project will require. While this is a very common strategy in projects, the simplistic approach may bring some setbacks once the project is on track, when unexpected requirements are introduced.
Another system worth mentioning is the Agile methodology (we have been using it for a while now). One of the most used methods is Scrum, which is in some ways similar to the Critical Path method, but has its own characteristics as well. When using Scrum, we can estimate the duration of a project, and divide that process into sprints of a smaller time frame. So, if the total project takes 2 months, we can divide it into 4 sprints of 2 weeks each.
First of all, we assign all the initial key tasks to the first sprint. Once it is finished, we check if those tasks have been completed or if there are some that should be moved to sprint 2. At the same time, new relevant tasks will appear and we can also assign them to that sprint. In that way, the Agile method becomes an active way of adapting the time frames of a project to the tasks required at each stage of a project. The scope of each sprint does not change, but the initial scope may sometimes change and adapt to the new requirements of the product.
As with everything in this life, only you can decide what the best strategy for your team is. However, it is always useful to plan in advance the method that you will use for your projects, or even testing different ones until you find the one that best suits your culture and work style. The challenge is not to underestimate the power of a good scheduling strategy and the impact it can have on the overall success of your projects. Smart planning takes time, but, it is time wisely used, that will certainly save you from many headaches in the future.
Want to read more about Project Management? Find out our The 3 Golden Rules To First-Class Project Management here!