The Importance of a Flexible Project Schedule

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The author spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in technical SEO and Content Marketing.

All projects should have a clear plan and a schedule before work starts. But just because a schedule is documented doesn’t mean you should, of can, stick to it rigidly. Often disruptions to the original schedule are outside the project manager’s control so a flexible project schedule is always required.

The very nature of projects means that there are also benefits to being flexible and changing the schedule and the plan. This allows for changes to the deliverables that couldn’t be foreseen at the beginning of the project. And this doesn’t just mean dealing with unexpected risks and external influences. It also means that stakeholders can review their project requirements – often based on abstract ideas – once they have seen some interim deliverables. The fundamental premise of an agile approach to project management.

Projects naturally evolve over time, especially if they are complex or complicated. Or are trying to achieve something entirely new and untried before. That means there needs to be a way to be flexible in order to amend the project schedule and plan. This ensures the project can still be delivered successfully.

In theory a flexible project schedule should be simple. It’s a list of tasks that need to be performed, in a certain order and are expected to take a certain amount of time but once you add the fixed constraints of time periods to the schedule it becomes harder to change. Instead, consider adding relative time periods so that every task dependent on a previous task has a relative, not fixed, start date. This ensures the schedule is fully scalable and inter-dependencies can more easily be managed.

The Realities of a Project Schedule

Once a project is underway – even a project that has been well-planned and well-thought out with clear requirements and a clear business case – real live events can quickly impact the carefully planned schedule. Of course, external events and project risks occurring are to be expected. However, don’t under-estimate the impact of your time estimates being wrong. After all they are just that – estimates.

New projects are rarely similar to past projects so even though experienced project managers can use their experience to produce realistic estimates they don’t always get them right. Some would go so far as to say that they never get them right. After all how many times have you known projects to be off course before they’re even half way through the schedule or even earlier.

External Factors Impacting The Schedule

In addition to the problem of producing inaccurate time estimates for project tasks are the other factors that could impact the schedule. These could include lack of funds or the right human resources. Or lack of the right technology or core materials, changes in senior management and hence priorities, absentee stakeholders. The list goes on.

Small or simple projects will not experience major issues so their schedules can be adjusted easily. That won’t be the case with large or complex projects. The larger or more complex the project the harder the schedule becomes to adjust; they require a flexible mindset to take on board the new status quo and work with it instead of struggling to fit the new situation into a clearly unsuitable plan and schedule.

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Project management has developed into a fully-fledged chartered profession since the granting of the Royal Charter in the UK to The Association for Project Management (APM) in 2017. Training courses for project managers were already available and highly popular to help people gain professional project management accreditation, but with this wider recognition of the profession it is now seen as a desirable career path for many. Whilst the APM has the coveted Royal Charter and continues to develop its APM PMQ (formerly the APMP) programmes, there are also other internationally recognised qualifications that continue to be highly regarded such as PMP and PRINCE2.

Organisations have become increasingly project-focused in this era of rapidly emerging new technologies and they value the expertise that comes with experienced and fully qualified project teams and managers. By investing in their project management capability businesses can be confident of delivering their new projects in time and on budget more often and more successfully. Many major corporation are now training their people to have the right project management qualifications as well as relevant experience, through internal Learning & Development (L&D) programmes; or by using external project management training providers.

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