First, let me state that we are new parents. Not really “new” parents, but rather parents of a newborn son. My wife and I have lots of children and have been parents for many years, but that newborn schedule always takes some (read…lots!) getting used to no matter how many times you’ve been through it. You go through the very early phase of letting the baby dictate the schedule. Basically…it’s, “Feed me every two hours or else!” Then, eventually you – as the very sleep deprived parent – try to gain control by attempting to force a feeding schedule as this new little addition starts to eat more and more. That’s where we are right now – working on that 10, 2, 6 schedule. Meaning a feeding every four hours with a schedule of 10am, 2pm, 6pm, 10pm, 2am, 6am, 10am….etc. 10-2-6. That way, eventually (hopefully!) they’ll give up that 2am feeding and you’ll get to sort of sleep through the night. Eventually.
The early schedule develops
So, where the heck am I going with this discussion of my current ‘new parent’ experiences? Well, I liken this to our early project schedule. We begin with a draft schedule of some sort – and that may just be a series of key dates emailed to us from the project sponsor or some account manager who closed the deal. Or it may be an actual draft schedule that someone – not a project manager and not you for certain – put together based on what they think they know about the project. Or better yet, it’s a collection of relevant tasks, milestones, deliverables that you have managed to put together with the help of other key resources – possibly your project team if they are fully assembled at this point – through the use a good organizing/planning tool like mind mapping software. It may be rough, and it certainly isn’t going to be detailed enough to be really usable and it won’t have you sleeping through the night (you’ll be in the same boat as me with my now 7 week old infant son). But it’s a start – something to work from.
Building out the detail
Next, we work from the statement of work (SOW)…assuming one exists…and identify the true key dates, deliverables and milestones because all of those have to be in that project schedule. The next step – for me, at least – is always to reach in to my private stash of good, successful project templates and find one that is closest to the type of project and tasks that I’m about to manage. Starting from scratch is fine, but if you can find a good template that’s worked for you in the past, then you’re less likely to let some key step or task or review or sign off step fall through the cracks. You need it all in the schedule. The more detail the better – although there is such a thing as going overboard. I once had a schedule with 9,354 tasks for a huge government project I was managing. I’m not sure it was overboard…it was a very large project…but I finally got smart and assigned various portions of it to the proper functional area managers on the project and relied on them to do their own updates before having my staff pull it all together for the weekly project client call. It kept me – and my staff – from going insane.
The key is to go from chaos to organization. Get from allowing the baby to manage your schedule to you managing the baby’s schedule. It’s ok to not have all the detail at the very beginning. Or to have it all accurate with every task correct and in the right place. Do your best, but expect it to change. As the engagement progresses you’ll build more detail into the schedule, if necessary, and some tasks or even phases may have to be rearranged. Be prepared to be flexible, but do manage the project schedule closely because it still needs to be detailed enough to drive the management of the progress of the project.