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The Techniques and Benefits of Personal, Project, and Report Schedules

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benefits of Personal, Project, and Report Schedules


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The schedule is the foundation for any leader’s management practice. Personal schedules keep you on track both in the office and at home. Project schedules keep a project on track, organizing budget, timing, resources, and responsibilities. All project scheduling has the same goals:

  • Provide insight into what must happen over the course of time to meet your goals
  • Alert you to what is actually happening during the project
  • Reduce risk
  • Prepare you for next steps
  • Keep your team, peers, stakeholders, and bosses informed.

One way to view scheduling strategies is to think about the format: a task list, a chart (Cause-Effect, for example), or a calendar. That view is fine for your own personal use, but if you are responsible for scheduling projects, you will undoubtedly use software. The software you use depends on your industry and your responsibility or goal (budget planning, task management, or resource allocation, for example).

The following information on personal, project, and report schedules—and their benefits—applies whether you are working from a piece of paper or a sophisticated program.

Personal Schedule: Stress Reduction

Procrastinators are people who always know exactly where they should be at any given time—someplace else. If you want to capture the benefits of personal scheduling, you need to take control of your personal day and then have the discipline to respect both your home and work schedule. To develop good scheduling habits and better a schedule:

  • Know your goals. To know what’s important, you must know your goal. If you lack a goal, everything has equal importance, you are unable to prioritize, and your stress levels soar.
  • Know your role. Your role defines your responsibilities. if you try to take on more responsibility than you are assigned, you will duplicate work, complicate the work of others, and burn out.
  • Accomplish something every day. Break down large tasks into smaller that can be completed in one to two hours (the limits of concentration and focus). Schedules are formalized to-do lists, and crossing an item off brings great satisfaction and a reduction in stress.
  • Build flexibility into your schedule. Interruptions and problems almost always occur; and if they don’t you can use the extra time to clear your mind and prepare for your next task. Breaks reduce stress.
  • Set regular times for answering emails and voice mails and holding meetings. The more other people are aware of your regular practices, the more likely they are to wait patiently for when you have time for them—rather than interrupting you randomly and often. The more control you have over your schedule, the less stress.
  • Don’t overexplain and overmanage. One of the hallmarks of a leader is the ability to communicate clearly and know when to back away. Don’t transfer your stress to your team by micromanaging—their stress will only compound yours and increase the chance of mistakes.
  • Ready every night for what you must do the next day. Whether at work or at home, the better prepared you are for the next day, the less time you will spend stressing that you neglected something.

TIP: Sometimes the order of tasks is the most important issue in determining priority. If you cannot start B until A is done, then A has to be considered the higher priority.


Project Schedule: Risk Prevention

Every good project schedule—in many respects, every personal schedule—will achieve these goals:

  • Break down the project into manageable tasks. You cannot begin a project schedule until you know what must be done and in what order. Work Breakdown Structure accomplishes what its name suggests: dividing a big project into manageable bits. It must include 100% of the work and deliverables to avoid overlaps and duplication of work, and must focus on results, not the methods of achieving them. The Critical Path Method tracks the tasks that are required, their duration, whether the start of one task depends on the completion of another task, and when a deliverable needs to happen.
  • Calculate where you can save time and money. Among the methods that allow you to do this are the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT), which identifies your confidence in making the deadlines for each task; Critical Path Method (CPM), which identifies the series of tasks that will take the longest to complete to reach a goal; Fast Tracking, which identifies tasks that can be overlapped to accomplish more in a limited time; and Crashing, which lets you know where applying the most resources will have the greatest benefit.
  • Identify potential risks and “what ifs.” This exercise often occurs in the kickoff meeting at the very beginning of the project schedule. It relies on the whole team contributing to methods such as the pre-mortem, in which you imagine the project has failed and try to diagnose the reasons why. Sometimes simulation software is available to model possible catastrophes. Knowing the risks allows you to prepare for them—and build recovery time and resources into your schedule.
  • Know who is responsible for what. A matrix diagram tells you who is assigned to lead or contribute to a particular task and what stakeholder is involved. Again, scheduling is meaningful only if everyone knows their roles and responsibilities in the project.

TIP: How do you define a “manageable” task? The 8/80 rule says that a task meaningful to the project should take between 8 and 80 (two work weeks) hours. If it takes less than 8 hours, it should be combined with other tasks; and if it takes more than 80, it should be broken down into smaller task.


The Report Schedule: Better Communication

The project schedule helps determine the report schedule, which should be aligned with your needs as project leader, the length of the project, the frequency of milestones, and the overlap of tasks. The report schedule should give you time to modify the project schedule as needed before issues escalate into crises.

Reports increase transparency, pinpoint the areas where problems are likely, and allow the team to operate as an efficient unit. You need a report schedule that identifies how often must people report and in what form and to which person. Every report should include:

  • Project’s identification and phase
  • Author’s responsibility by task or area (budget, resources)
  • Current status of the task/area
  • Milestones reached; issues resolved
  • Alignment of current status/milestones with the schedule
  • Anticipated issues and risks

Team members should be encouraged to keep reports short and consistent. You may want to a form for each report on your schedule: weekly, monthly, milestone, and end of project.

The report should reference the metrics set up in the project schedule. For example, when referring to alignment with milestones, the team member should give exact numbers for whether the task is meeting or missing the schedule, budget, or resource expectations.

The information in the report should be clearly communicated to team members and stakeholders in a form they can understand and to the appropriate detail. Stakeholders may be more concerned with the general direction of the project and its overall conformity to budget, resource, and time restrictions. Individual team members may be concerned about whether other people have completed tasks that influence the timing, resource allocation, and budget of their own tasks.

To deal with issues and risks, the report should conform to the established change control and decision-making process to ensure that one change does not explode the entire schedule and that decisions are made quickly at the appropriate level, without distracting the rest of the team.

The reports are an objective basis for motivating the team. As the leader, you should be meeting one-on-one regularly with key team members—and preferably with all team members—to ensure that everyone is on track, has the information and support they need, and are not overwhelmed. Use the reports to praise and celebrate the achievement of even minor milestones.

TIP: Perhaps the most important report you will produce is the one following the project kickoff meeting. Distributed to team members and stakeholders, it sets expectations, ensures everyone is on the same page (including you), and makes it easier to control (and charge for) stakeholder changes.

Key Takeaways

Scheduling organizes your time, alerts you to critical overlaps, prepares you to ask for and acquire the resources you need, and increases transparency between team members and stakeholders. While many scheduling techniques and methods exist, the choice is less important than your commitment to respecting, maintaining, and sharing the schedule for the sake of your own stress levels as well as the team’s.

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