Developing workable timelines can be a big challenge for project teams. In particular, our project management consultants have seen businesses encounter trouble when initiatives are complex, have a long duration, or are still on the horizon but need to have some structure created around them now.
If you’re having difficulty developing your project timeline, it could be linked to one of these 3 common reasons.
You’re scheduling more than just internal resources. You may have some control over schedules for inside collaborators and support teams, but outside vendors typically play a large role in project planning and execution, too. Their activities must be blended into your timeline if you want to create a holistic and workable schedule. However, coordinating windows of availability for external resources can be extremely tricky. Vendors aren’t always willing or able to share their full schedules, and some may not schedule as far in advance as you’d like. This makes identifying ideal timeframe options hit or miss.
You’re looking too far out to be accurate. Whether your initiative is expected to consume many months of effort or you’re trying to develop a timeline long before the project launches, it can be difficult to put things in stone when activities are still so far away. Even if you create a workable schedule today, it’s possible things could change in the coming weeks or months that completely reorder your timeline. Vendors may shift their priorities, leaving certain activities to be fit in where possible rather than reserving time for them now. Supply and labor availability could also change significantly. What appears accurate within your timeline today might become unreliable later.
There are still a lot of unknowns. Rarely do you have concrete information about every aspect of your project before you begin crafting the timeline. Those not-yet-determined factors can make scheduling a real bear, and the difficulties are compounded the farther away project activities are from today’s planning efforts.
• New regulatory guidance could be released that changes compliance or other deadlines
• Updates to existing QC procedures might affect the duration of testing and review tasks
• Vendor-side changes may impact how activities are scheduled or who executes them
How can you fix scheduling problems?
If you’re bumping up against one of these 3 challenges, consider some strategies to help you overcome your scheduling hurdles.
Maintain a reasonable level of flexibility. This is key to addressing numerous timeline challenges. Your initiative’s schedule needs to have enough wiggle room to accommodate vendors’ last-minute planning changes, unexpected delays in supply deliveries, staff vacations, and anything else that comes up mid-project. Identify where you could compress the timeline if needed and where contingency planning may be necessary to keep key milestones on track.
Gather more—and more accurate—information. Gaps in your knowledge will widen as your project moves forward if you aren’t diligent about filling them when better data becomes available. Take the time early in the planning phase to capture as much reliable information as you can. Even if a deeper level of detail doesn’t address all your timeline challenges, the additional insight may help you uncover other scheduling issues that can be resolved before your project gets underway.
Acknowledge the need for ongoing planning throughout your project. Resequencing activities or revising the timeline isn’t a sign that your planning efforts weren’t good the first time around. More often it’s a reflection of your project’s natural evolution. You and your stakeholders should be willing to revisit the schedule regularly so you can maintain alignment with your target completion date even as individual tasks are reflowed for better accuracy and increased efficiency.