Top 10 Best Practices for Managing Project Schedules Within a PMO

businessman-gantt-chart

By Rebecca Bennett

Schedules can be managed various ways by individual project managers and they can all favor different tools. Despite your organization’s project managers all being certified, these differences can lead to gaps in schedule quality which effects the integrity of PMO’s (Project Management Office’s) overall project schedule. The top challenges of schedule quality that PMOs deal with are follows:

Top Challenges With Schedule Quality

  • Scheduling principles are not well understood by end users.
  • Inconsistent use of the tool and lack of adherence to standards.
  • Project managers spend too much time correcting or modifying project schedule
  • Schedules lack ability to provide rapid analysis of project status.
  • Schedules don’t reconfigure well for “what if” analysis to predict impact of changes.
  • Poor data gathering and estimation practices used which, which negatively affects management decision-making.

I address these top challenges with 10 best practices for managing project schedules below.

  1. Provide Training Based on Your Organization’s Standard Practices.

General project management training is useful for learning scheduling tool functionality, concepts and theory. However, specific training based on your company standards is more pragmatic and valuable. Project managers can employ a variety of tools and approaches to managing their project. The PMO should provide guidance on which approach and tools work best for your organization in order to streamline how projects are managed.

  1. Challenge and Validate Estimates.

Stress that your project managers are responsible to challenge and validate estimates they receive from their sources. They cannot assume the estimates they are given will be accurate. Non-project managers are not particularly trained in timeline estimation models such as PERT, the Monte Carlo Method, or Stochastic Modeling. They will generally give you an estimate based loosely on their past experience and what sounds good. Encourage project managers to refer to historical data, break down components to smaller work packages and push back on their resources to gain more confidence in their timeline estimates.

  1. Use Simpler Visual Tools in Team Project Planning.

Warn project managers against putting the Gantt chart up on the screen at the team meeting when planning. Gantt Charts are not powerful prompters to team participation nor as intuitive or engaging as affinity-diagramming tools like mind maps and work breakdown structures.

  1. Keep Project Schedules Simple.

Many project management programs are loaded with lots of tools to help in managing your projects. However, just because you have it doesn’t mean you have to use it. Decide what functions of your project management tool are the most critical to the successful management of your projects and train project managers to use these tools in the same manner. Set up menu shortcuts to these tools so that they are easily accessible.

  1. Use Functional Task Names.

Train project managers to formulate task names based on deliverables that are descriptive nouns rather than verbs. This will help in keeping your project plan simple.

  1. Leverage Standard Project Data Across All your Projects.

When managing multiple projects for a division where the resources, resource calendars, task types, custom filters, tables, views, and reports among other parameters are the same, provide a template to your project managers with these things already in place as defaults, that way everyone is operating from the same sources. This will minimize data entry to key fields as well allowing project managers more time to focus on other duties.

Examples of features that can be pre-set:

  • New Tasks are set as “Manual Schedule” by default. But recommend to set them as “Auto Schedule.”
  • Set your standard Duration metric: Recommend “Days”
  • Work is entered in “Hours” and default task type is “Fixed Units.” I recommend changing to “Fixed Work.”
  1. Provide Standard Project Templates.

Your project template suite should include standard project gate documents. These documents should automatically be included in the master project schedule template as deliverables. Creating project gate check-sheets is a great way to enforce use of these deliverables and keep project managers accountable for them.

  1. Follow Principals of “Dynamic Schedules”
  • Deadlines

Instill in project managers to only set deadlines on fully-defined tasks where there isn’t a hard deadline. Setting up fictitious deadlines just to have deadlines is not a best practice, and doesn’t add value.

  • Flexible Constraints

Encourage project managers to minimize their use of specific hard-date constraints on tasks. Try using intelligent scheduling options such as, “As Soon As Possible” “No Earlier Than” and “No Later Than” constraints. These allow for dynamic schedule changes and make it easier to manage project schedules.

  • Dependencies

Train project managers to connect all tasks to any of their dependencies (minus the 1st one) that way when schedule changes occur, everything shifts accordingly and they can stay on top of new calculated deadlines.

  • Estimations

Durations tend to vary more than the set deliverables or work. Therefore, have project managers set all task types to be based on fixed work. Then base estimations on work as opposed to durations.

  1. Manage and Update Project Schedules Regularly.
  • Set a regular status-update date. The general recommendation is to get an update the same day each week.
  • Ask for an update on work effort of all tasks using actual work percent complete.
  • Request all unfinished work in the project status.
  • Require all project schedules to have a baseline so you can use “Earn Value Schedule” metrics give a real measure of project schedule performance.
  1. Monitor and Audit Regularly.
  • Give reminders to resources to submit timesheets or task sheets if over due.
  • Give reminders to project managers to update Status on schedules if past the weekly deadline date.
  • Audit project schedules to be sure that they are not over detailed.
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