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Creating Schedules

Projects need a schedule, and people respond to deadlines. Whether in a check-off list, calendar view, text in an email, or a weekly breakdown, there are many different ways to communicate timeline and sequence. In addition, a project schedule should emphasize immediacy of needs. Distribution of a schedule is the proverbial lighting of a fire under everybody's seat. It is a wake-up call with an obvious message: “We are starting now. Here is what is due and when.” Strive for clear communication. Fully explain how missed deadlines have a domino effect. Many clients do not understand that when they are late with feedback, it retards the flow of the schedule and therefore the final delivery date. Some client education may be necessary and, if done in a goal-oriented manner, will probably be appreciated.

We recommend approaching the scheduling task in two ways. First, create an overview schedule that shows methodology chronologically. Then build a detailed date-by-date format that itemizes deliverables and approval reviews according to due dates. One follows and evolves out of the other; each communicates the message from a different perspective. Get both schedules approved by the client. Leave nothing up to interpretation.

Show Methodology

When you build the overview schedule, include methodology steps (i.e., these five phases) alongside due dates. Doing so provides an excellent visual overview of the process as a whole as it relates to the project's timeline.

No one should ever have to dig for a deadline. This information should always be available, front and center, and perhaps even emailed or posted to the online staging area as a weekly reminder. Schedules should communicate a sense of urgency and should keep both your team and your client on track.

Use Different Styles

The visual methods shown in this section are merely suggestions. People respond to different types of stimuli, and therefore different formats may benefit your projects. Some prefer a listing of key dates, and some prefer an overview schedule showing each day in calendar style. Use whatever style is necessary to communicate to your client and to your team.

Project Management Applications

For serious project management, Microsoft Project is an industry standard. When tracking multiple timelines and deliverables, MS Project can be a blessing. The application's greatest strength is its ability to recalculate an entire schedule based upon a single change. If client feedback is two days late, the program will automatically construct a new schedule for all remaining tasks. But be warned: except for the individual who created the plan, most people can't decipher it. A Gant chart is a Gant chart no matter how prettily displayed, and however much the reaction might be, “Wow, what a great Gant chart!” most people won't make the connection with the schedule. When creating a detailed schedule in MS Project, be prepared to create a modified version in Word or Excel for distribution. And remember: designers and engineers like to know the deadlines, not just the duration.

Overview Schedule

The overview schedule is just that, an overview. Easily referenced and descriptive, it's an excellent forum to present a big picture view — the whole project, complete with methodology and breakdown of major milestones and deliverables. This schedule, which can be quickly built, is appropriate both for the proposal stage and kick-off meeting and throughout the project as a point of reference.

Begin by separating the project into weeks or months as well as into phases and steps. We suggest using the core phases put forth in this book. See [3.15] for a generic example.

3.15. A sample 10-week overview schedule shows methodology and a summary of tasks and deliverables. (This example is in a simple table format created in Microsoft Word. Use whatever format best communicates to your client and your team.)

Detailed Schedule with Deliverables

Action items — deliverables being submitted or milestones that need to be met — push both team members and the client forward. A detailed schedule with deliverables becomes a concise, day-by-day list of action items. It communicates pacing to everyone involved, and pacing is critical to keeping the project on track.

The detailed schedule with deliverables grows out of the overview schedule. Keep your overview for reference (and, of course, update it if suddenly the scope balloons from 8 weeks to 13), but itemize and delineate on the detailed schedule [3.16]. Keep schedules current as the project moves forward and changes, and make sure schedules are easily accessible in your staging area. Communication is the key to avoiding schedule lags.

3.16. A detailed 10-week schedule with deliverables breaks the project down into weeks and days. (Set up in table format using Microsoft Word, specific deadlines and deliverables are clearly identified.)

For smaller projects, the schedule overview and the detailed schedule with deliverables can be combined, or the overview can be used alongside a detailed task list.

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