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 keep your team on track, know who’s doing what by when, and see 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 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.
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.
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 would be dependent tasks on those, and so on.
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 use it every time you plan a project.
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.
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.
List each step or 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.
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.
Work backward to set due dates for each task. Figure out how long each task will take to complete (its start and end date), knowing that delays are inevitable. Sequencing is important to consider as well since certain tasks will need to be finished before another can start.
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.
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.Create a project schedule template
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
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:
Planning a virtual event? Your schedule will map out everything that needs to get done, and when, before your big day.
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.
Know exactly what’s going on at any given date in your marketing campaign with a project plan that schedules out every piece:
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.
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.
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 ask for specific feedback (questions, concerns, or ideas).
Stay organized by offering a central location to deliver all responses and give a firm deadline to promote timely action from team members. Once you’ve collected all 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.
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 on 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.
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.Create a project schedule template
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 a project scheduling tools, you can map out your entire project schedule in 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.
Project schedules keep you organized and on track—something every project manager (and their teams) can get behind.