Whether you’re thinking about becoming a project manager or you already work in a project management capacity, it’s essential to understand the different constraints that can impact your project’s success.
One of the most crucial project constraints is time, which is part of what’s known as the “triple constraint” alongside cost and scope. Project managers must carefully consider due dates required to meet the organization’s goals and key milestones that must be hit along the way.
It should come as no surprise, then, that project managers have created an entire body of knowledge around schedule management to account for this constraint. Below, we explore the details of a schedule management plan and outline the key steps involved in creating one.
What is a schedule management plan?
The schedule management plan (SMP) is a document that details how a project’s schedule will be created, managed, and monitored. Typically, a schedule management plan includes information about the scheduling methodology that will guide the project and any relevant information about scheduling tools or processes.
“Schedule management is concerned with the processes that will be required to ensure that the project is developed to the deadlines imposed by stakeholders,” says Jacques Alexis, associate teaching professor in Northeastern’s project management program. “From a management perspective, the schedule management plan is the first pass in managing the schedule of a project. It tells stakeholders how the project schedule will be developed, monitored and controlled throughout the life of the project.”
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PMs typically generate a project’s schedule management plan as a part of the overarching project management plan. Notably, the schedule management plan itself does not include the project’s schedule or program; it simply details how the project schedule will be developed, monitored, and controlled. The schedule or program will be generated at a later stage and will include specific dates and timelines for individual tasks.
How to Create a Schedule Management Plan
1. Understand the project objectives.
Before you start to compile the schedule management plan, your first step is to ensure that you clearly understand the project’s objectives. What are the goals of the project? Why is the organization pursuing these objectives, and why now? Are the objectives time-sensitive in any way? Where do they rank in terms of priority amongst other objectives of the organization?
The answers to these questions will inform not just the schedule management plan, but many other project documents as well, such as:
- Scope management plan
- Resource management plan
- Communications management plan
- Risk management plan
- Stakeholder engagement plan
- Requirements management plan
2. Review the project’s Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).
Once you have a firm understanding of the project’s objectives, you should generate (or review) the work breakdown structure (WBS), which outlines the project’s deliverables according to importance.
“The work breakdown structure will form the heart of the scope management plan,” says Alexis. “[The information in] the WBS will act as the foundation upon which the schedule will be built, detailing the size and complexity of the project. Without the details found in the WBS, it will be difficult to generate a schedule management plan.”
3. Identify a schedule management methodology.
The next step is to determine which schedule management methodology makes the most sense for your project. This will be one of the most critical decisions impacting your eventual schedule and project, so it is important to consider it carefully before making a decision. In most cases, a PM will choose between predictive or adaptive scheduling.
“With predictive scheduling, the goal is to plan the entire scope of the project in advance, while with adaptive scheduling, the goal is to plan the project piece by piece,” Alexis says. “Each approach has its own benefits and drawbacks depending on the context and type of project being pursued.”
4. Select a scheduling software.
Smaller projects which are not as complicated can often be managed without specific scheduling software. However, most medium- and large-scale projects will require dedicated scheduling software to ensure that tasks remain on track. The choice of this software will largely depend on the project management methodology chosen for your project.
Even if your organization already has one (or multiple) software applications to be used throughout the project, it is essential to document this information in the schedule management plan. If the organization does not yet have an appropriate piece of software, this is when one should be selected.
It is important to note that you will need to account for implementation and training in your project plan if you intend to implement new software for the project. Alexis says that this detail is surprisingly easy to overlook.
5. Identify the resources required to complete the project activities.
In order to generate an accurate project schedule, you will need to understand the availability of various resources required to bring your project to fruition.
Thus, your schedule management plan must account for all necessary project resources and the duration for which each will be needed. Without this information, you may generate an entire project schedule only to discover that certain key resources will not be available when you need them.
Some examples of time-sensitive resources include:
- Team members who will be away or on leave and who will be unable to contribute to the project
- New hires, who must be onboarded and brought up to speed
- Equipment that needs to be rented, purchased, or is already allocated to a different project
- Materials or components, which may need to be sourced and shipped far distances
- Funding deadlines, which are especially important in larger organizations with strict budgeting seasons
To complete this planning, you must first generate a resource management plan—a document used to allocate, manage, and control the resources required to complete the project’s work and deliver upon its objectives.
6. Define how the schedule will be monitored and controlled.
Finally, Alexis says the schedule management plan should detail how the schedule will be monitored, controlled, and changed, if necessary. PMs should include any and all tools and techniques that will be necessary to manage the schedule successfully.
“This part of the plan answers the question: How will we know if we’re on schedule, ahead of schedule, or behind schedule?” Alexis says.
Gaining the Skills to Create a Schedule Management Plan
Completing a relevant master’s degree, such as a Master of Science in Project Management, is an excellent way of gaining the skills, knowledge, and expertise that you will need to succeed in the project management field. In seeking a program, however, it is vital to look closely at the curriculum to ensure that it includes coursework dedicated to important skill areas, such as schedule management.
In Northeastern’s MS in Project Management program, for example, students are required to complete a course focused exclusively on project scheduling and cost planning. This course teaches students critical scheduling methodologies, techniques, and frameworks they will use in their project management careers. Additionally, students must complete coursework focused on scope management, project risk management, quality management, and more, leading to a well-rounded foundation of knowledge.
To learn more about how an advanced degree can help you advance your career in project management, explore our program page.