Project Management for Small Business VIII
Nothing is impossible……for the person who doesn’t have to do it.
Project commitments are often worked out in a conversation that sounds something like this:
- Business Owner: This project is absolutely critical. When can you have it done?
- (Inexperienced) Project Manager: I’m not sure. I think we can do it in 3 months.
- Business Owner: That’s not soon enough. How about 6 weeks?
- Project Manager: We’ll get it done in 2 months.
swahily clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When do you think this project will get completed? I can assure you, it won’t be two months. For project managers, if you’re asked when you can complete a project on the spot like this, you have to respond by saying, “let me schedule it out, and I’ll be able to give you a solid date.”
Turning to schedule development, new project managers often think that they get extra points for creating the most detailed schedule possible. They create a schedule to impress their boss, then find that the schedule has quickly become irrelevant because it’s too difficult to maintain.
A schedule is a tool for communication – so that the stakeholders can get a sense for the status of the project – as well as a tool for the project manager to keep the project organized. A good schedule does not have too many or too few tasks. When you’re creating the schedule, be aware that you are going to have to update it at least weekly, if not more often. Don’t make your schedule too hard to maintain.
The project schedule is the list of all tasks that need to be accomplished to complete the project. A solid project schedule will contain the following items:
- Task Categories – these are the major groups of tasks such as planning, documentation, implementation, testing, piloting and launching.
- Tasks – these are the individual activities that need to be completed for each task category. At a minimum, each task should have the following details included:
- ID – an identifier for referring to each task
- Short description
- Individual assigned to complete the task
- due date (you may also separately include Start Date)
- percent complete (for tracking).
- Milestones – these are the major deliverables for a project. For example, when planning is completed, you have achieved the planning milestone. Milestones are the primary checkpoints on a project. If you are missing milestones, your project is in trouble.
For moderately complex projects, you can also specify which tasks are dependent on other tasks. For example, if you cannot start testing until implementation is done, then testing is dependent on the completion of implementation.
Sophisticated project schedules use terms like float, lag, dependencies, and critical path to develop a schedule. Formally trained project managers scheduling a complex project can use a tool like Microsoft Project to create a sophisticated schedule. But for the typical small business project, this is not necessary. Microsoft Excel will work just fine for most projects. If team members in multiple locations need to access your schedule, use an online tool such as Google Docs or Basecamp to store your a living version of your schedule.
As you build your schedule, keep in mind what Mozart exclaimed to Solieri: “too many notes“. This means make sure your schedule has enough tasks – but not too many.