Project Schedules 101: Why You Need Them and How to Make Your Own

Headshot kontributor Molly TalbertMolly Talbert
8 Februari 2024
9 menit baca
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Summary

It’s harder to lose sight of deadlines and goals when they’re right in front of you. Project schedules map your project tasks on a timeline, so you always know what comes next. In this article, we’ll walk you through the seven steps to create a project schedule and share some of our favorite templates to get you started.

A new project at work often signals the beginning of another adventure filled with stakeholders, deadlines, deliverables, and tools. But whether your project is a new product launch, a vendor event, the annual editorial calendar, or even employee onboarding, you’ll need a project schedule to get you there.

Empowering yourself to create a project schedule with clear plans, processes, and responsibilities is essential to keeping your team on track, knowing who’s doing what and when, and seeing how all the pieces connect. While it may take some time up front, a well-done project schedule will increase efficiency, accountability, and clarity. And those three words are music to everyone’s ears (especially your boss, who entrusted this project to you). You’ll also be able to cut back on the tools that are supposed to help you manage a project but are actually making the process harder.

Your business card may not have the title project manager under your name, but guess what? For this project and many others you’ll encounter in the future, that’s your de facto role. Embrace it! When you learn to think like a project manager, you’ll be on your way to making work work again.

What is a project schedule?

A project schedule provides a general overview of your project, including the timeline, project tasks, dependencies, and assigned team members. Essentially, a project schedule should be able to tell you everything you need to know about your project at first glance. By outlining all the high-level details and components of your project, you can track project progress in real-time and ensure that you’re on track for success. 

Connecting the dots of your project schedule

Often, project managers use a work breakdown structure (WBS) to bring the project schedule to life. Work breakdown structures help you coordinate work and assign it to team members. The WBS is a visual hierarchy of your task list, broken down into task dependencies, so you can see how each one relates. The first level will have the parent task, the next level will have dependent tasks on those, and so on.

Levels of a work breakdown structure

How to create a project schedule

When you begin planning and drafting your project schedule, you want to include all project activities. At first, the project management scheduling process may feel a bit foreign to you—that’s normal! By following these steps, you can get more comfortable creating your own process for project schedule development and using it every time you plan a project.

1. Define your project goals. 

Write down key milestones or deliverables that will make this project successful in the end. Consider the broader impact of these goals on the project's success. Think about how each milestone contributes to the overall project and aligns with your strategic objectives.

Example: Imagine you're overseeing the launch of a new software product. Your goals might include developing the core software by Q3, beta testing with select clients in Q4, and a full market release by Q1 of the following year.

2. Identify all stakeholders. 

Make a list of every person that needs to interact with the project team, even if their role is a simple sign-off. Remember to include both internal and external stakeholders, considering their interests, influence, and the level of communication they require.

Example: In a website redesign project, stakeholders might include the marketing team, the web development team, a group of key customers for feedback, and the finance department for budget approvals.

3. Determine your final deadline. 

Decide when you need to be completely finished with the project. Be sure to give yourself enough time to account for conflicts or changes that might come up later during schedule management. Factor in potential risks and delays when setting this deadline to ensure it's realistic.

Example: For a charity event, your final deadline could be set two weeks before the event date, accounting for last-minute adjustments like changes in guest speakers or venue setup requirements.

4. List each step or individual task.

Take those milestones and deliverables you defined in the first step and break them down into smaller tasks and subtasks to be sure all bases are covered. This breakdown will ensure that each aspect of the project is manageable and clearly defined.

Example: If your project is to publish a book, tasks might include writing chapters, editing, cover design, final proofreading, and arranging for publication and distribution.

5. Assign a team member responsible for each task. 

Decide who will take on each task and subtask, and be transparent with deadlines. Remember that your colleagues likely have other projects going on at the same time. Be mindful of their workload so they don’t feel overloaded. Assign individual tasks based on each team member's strengths and availability.

Example: In an office relocation project, you might assign the task of liaising with the moving company to one team member, while another is responsible for updating the company address with clients and suppliers.

6. Establish task duration

Work backward to set due dates for each task and figure out how long each task will take to complete (its start and end dates), knowing that delays are inevitable. Sequencing is important to consider as well, since certain tasks will need to be finished before others can start.

Example: In developing a new mobile application, you might estimate coding the user interface to take three weeks, backend development four weeks, and user testing two weeks.

7. Organize and monitor

Organize your project schedule in one tool and share it with your team. You’ve successfully built your project plan, and now it’s important to organize it in a way that everyone involved can see and work from it. Finding a tool that can help you do both will be critical to your success. Regularly update and monitor the schedule to reflect the project's progress and make adjustments as needed.

Example: You might use a project management tool like Asana to track the progress of a marketing campaign, where each task is listed, assigned, and updated as the team progresses. 

Unlike everyday tools such as Microsoft Excel or Word, consider a project management tool that offers a more dynamic and interactive platform that enables real-time updates, seamless collaboration among team members, and the integration of various project elements in one centralized dashboard. This makes tracking complex workflows more efficient and visually engaging compared to static spreadsheets or documents.

Once you have a detailed project schedule in place, your hands-on project management time will decrease, and you (and your team) will have more hours in the day to spend on quality work. By ensuring all team members are in sync, an effective project schedule paves the way for project success.

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Project scheduling techniques

Project scheduling is an important step in breaking down a large project into smaller, more manageable tasks and subtasks. Among the various techniques available, several formats stand out for their effectiveness.

Task lists 

Ideal for simpler projects with few interdependencies, task lists are the most straightforward scheduling method. They outline all tasks and subtasks, assigning them to respective team members. 

For larger projects, though, the simplicity of task lists might make tracking progress difficult. Task lists can be made more effective by using online project management software.

Example: Imagine organizing a small office move, where the primary tasks involve packing, hiring movers, and setting up in the new location. A task list is perfect for such a project because it involves straightforward steps without complex dependencies. Each task, like "pack office equipment" or "hire moving company," can be assigned to specific team members, ensuring clear responsibilities and straightforward tracking.

Read: How to prioritize tasks in 4 steps

Calendars 

Calendars offer a clear view of all project tasks over time, making it easier to spot overlapping activities. While calendars help visualize project timelines, they fall short of assigning tasks directly and showing task dependencies.

Example: Using calendars can be helpful when planning a webinar series over the course of a quarter. This format allows you to plot each webinar date, visually identify any weeks with overlapping events, and make sure there's adequate preparation time between sessions. Calendars help maintain a clear timeline but wouldn't directly assign tasks like "prepare presentation" or indicate dependencies between choosing a topic and marketing the event.

Read: How to create and manage a project calendar

Gantt charts 

Gantt charts, which are popular among project managers, offer a visual representation of project timelines that includes task durations, start and end dates, dependencies, and overlaps. These charts make it easy to see the whole project schedule at a glance and enable accurate task completion time estimation.

Example: Consider the development of a new software feature, which involves stages like design, coding, testing, and deployment. A Gantt chart is ideal for this project because it visually represents the duration of each stage, shows which tasks must be completed before others can start (dependencies), and highlights any overlapping activities, such as designing the next feature while the current one is in coding.

Read: Free visualize work with a Gantt chart template

PERT 

Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT) is a sophisticated method that focuses on the tasks required to complete a project. PERT estimates the shortest (optimistic), longest (pessimistic), and most probable durations for each step or task. For projects with a lot of uncertainty, this format can be used to identify the critical path and any potential bottlenecks, which helps with more precise risk management and scheduling.

Example: Organizing a large, complex event, like a technology conference, with multiple uncertain factors (such as speaker availability or venue confirmation times) is where PERT shines. By estimating optimistic, pessimistic, and most likely times for each major task—securing sponsors, booking speakers, and marketing to attendees—PERT helps project managers identify the critical path for the event's success and adjust plans based on potential delays or accelerations.

Each of these project scheduling techniques offers unique benefits and may suit different project needs. Selecting the right format can significantly impact project success.

Using the critical path method to create project schedules

The critical path methodology is designed to help you create a roadmap of the specific tasks that get you from point A (the beginning of the project) to project completion. With the CPM, you identify the most important (critical) tasks, their dependencies, and a timeline for when they need to be completed for the project to be considered successful.

Critical path method: How to use CPM for project management

Project schedule examples

Once you’ve followed all of the above steps, you will have a clear schedule that outlines your project’s schedule and steps. Below are a few examples of what these might look like:

Event planning schedule example

Planning a virtual event? Your schedule will map out everything that needs to get done and when before your big day.

[Antarmuka produk] Contoh proyek perencanaan acara (Linimasa)

Product launch schedule example

For your next new product, create a work breakdown structure by mapping out all of your steps and dependencies, then view them in one easy-to-share project to keep your team on track.

[Antarmuka produk] Proyek peluncuran pemasaran produk di Asana (tampilan linimasa)
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Marketing campaign schedule example

Know exactly what’s going on at any given date in your marketing campaign with a project plan that schedules out every piece:

[Product UI] Marketing campaign plan project in Asana, spreadsheet-style view with project deliverables (Lists)

How is a project schedule used in project management?

Your project schedule impacts project execution. During project management, you can use your project schedule to ensure that you’re hitting key deadlines and staying on track. Project schedules also help inform project management processes and planning, including:

  • Project scope: By defining your project scope, you can ensure that you have the proper resource allocation for a certain project—such as time, budget, and staffing. You can then apply your scope to your project schedule to help you determine the timeline.

  • Resource management: Part of project management is ensuring that you have the resource availability to get from the start date to the finish date. Your project schedule will help you stay on deadline, preventing scope creep that can lead to potential overspending and overworking the team.

How to implement a project schedule

The purpose of a project timeline is to get more work done more efficiently. Seeing the overall picture of your project and creating a well-thought-out plan means less stress and more productivity. Once you’ve completed your plan, there are two more essential steps to take.

Share it with your team

By sharing your project schedule, team members will clearly understand their responsibilities for the project and have an avenue to give insights on their pieces of the plan. Start by sending the project schedule to everyone involved and asking for specific feedback (questions, concerns, or ideas).

Stay organized by offering a central location to deliver all responses and giving a firm deadline to promote timely action from team members. Once you’ve collected all the feedback, create an updated version of the project schedule and re-share it with all stakeholders. Additionally, make sure your project schedule is included in all of your important project planning documentation, like your project brief and executive summary.

Adapt it as you go

The only constant is change. That goes for your project plan as well. Once you’ve kicked off the project, make sure you’re checking your schedule consistently. Build out a change management plan, so you can adapt your schedule when unforeseen circumstances arise.

Managing your project schedule and all project assets in a central location will help everyone have a single source of truth and ensure the most updated version of the project schedule is being used.

Improve efficiency: Turn your plans and schedules into templates

To save even more time planning projects, use a proven template and stop reinventing the wheel every time you press “Go” on a new project.

If your current project is an annual event—say, a vendor expo—then it’s a no-brainer to get a solid project schedule in place now, so you can build off it for the next one. And what other projects do you work on that go through the same process each time? For example, your vendor expo might share comparable tasks with the virtual client luncheon you are hosting later this year. Having a project schedule template means you’ll be able to launch future projects faster and more efficiently.

Bringing your project schedule to life

It's one thing to map out your project timeline—but it's another to visualize that work in real-time. You've put in all of this time and effort into creating a project schedule, but the final step is using a tool to share it with your team. 

With project scheduling tools, you can map out your entire project schedule in a visual Gantt-chart like timelines, Kanban boards, or project calendars. Developing and managing your project schedule in a centralized system allows you to create each step and determine its duration with a project calendar, build tasks and subtasks, and assign them to the appropriate person.

As you need to adjust your project plan, you can quickly make changes in your project management software, and all stakeholders will be notified. This gives your team clear visibility at all stages of the project workflow on what’s happening and when. Ultimately, this helps you connect project deliverables with associated initiatives and reduce potential bottlenecks by keeping your whole project life cycle in view.

Work smarter with project schedules

Project schedules keep you organized and on track—something every project manager (and their teams) can get behind.

You can do all of the above (and more) with a work management solution like Asana. It’s your all-in-one project scheduling software, with built in task management that allows you to do so much more with every project.

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