6 reasons your project timeline is not reliable (and how to avoid them)

In order to plan projects and avoid them collapsing on themselves, it is crucial to know when things have to happen. That means knowing the “TIMELINE” of activities, the schedule that keeps you and your team moving in the right direction.

By creating a simple project management timeline for each project, you’ll benefit in multiple ways.

  • Timeline helps to set clear directions and priorities
  • Next task to be completed will be clear to all team members
  • It’s easier to make decisions based on priorities
  • Everyone will be on the same page

Let’s cover what are considered the all-too-common mistakes project managers make — and advice for avoiding them.

1.       You’re working backward

A new challenge has been assigned to your team, the objective is clear as well as the requirements and dead line. Now you arrange the kick-off meeting with your team and starting from the assigned dead line, you set a timeline of tasks and milestones ahead of that arbitrary date.

It’s a common way of doing things, but it’s not very effective. You’re likely setting your team up for failure right from the outset.

Instead, it would be better  to start by taking a look at the overall project, and then breaking it down into its smaller deliverables. Then you can define what the tasks involved are with each of the deliverables so that you can estimate the time required for them.

Once you’ve understood what all the tasks are and the estimate of time required to complete each of them, you can add up those estimates to get a more realistic grasp on how long your entire project will take and use that to set a deadline that’s attainable but still motivating. Not happy with that date? Start again to check tasks, duration and resources availability in order to achieve a better outcome.

2.       You’re setting  unreasonable deadlines with the hope of staying on track.

Sometimes, due to the pressure from clients or management, project managers fall into a frequent trap, which is to be over-optimistic in estimates of tasks duration and therefore the project timeline. They hope to work in the “best” scenario, but usually real business is much harder, and full of unexpected issues.

Underestimating time in order to offer optimistic estimates will only disrupt your project resource scheduling and end in disappointing  your team, stakeholders and customers.

Your time estimates used to schedule resources and set deadlines must be always well-founded because if you’re setting end dates that are totally unrealistic, it means you’re setting your team up for failure right from the beginning and you will face the great risk of time and cost overruns.

Time estimates are hard, especially if you’re not a master in that topic. To avoid this problem, a manager should meet with each member of the team, ask them about their estimate and understand how they came up with their time estimates.

Furthermore, when it is possible, you should  add extra time to your estimate. Use a safety factor (1.2-1.5 it depends on you) to multiply your estimated time so as to consider any delay or new opt-in that could take additional time you didn’t plan for.

3.       You’re not including enough milestones

It seems obvious that a true timeline it is not just a kick-off and a go-live date of a project. A helpful project timeline needs to include far more than just a start date and a deadline, because it is everything in the middle that can create problems for you.

Milestones are small actionable steps that lead to your main goal, signposts you identify when creating your work breakdown structure. They should highlight key events and help ensure you stay on track.

Furthermore, when your team members know what milestone they are working towards, it gives them clarity on what tasks to prioritize.

So what is the tip for this point? Include milestones in your project timeline.

You can use milestones to mark key stages of the project and to mark deadlines for smaller deliverables. When your team reaches a milestone, don’t just let it be a mark in the project timeline, use that milestone to evaluate the project and make changes to the rest of the project timeline as needed.

4.       You’re forgetting about dependencies

It would be quite strange if your project was always linear: unfortunately certain tasks are dependent on each other and it means that people/teams are waiting on one another to finish different pieces. You should recognize the dependencies that exist within a project – it is important to define and articulate all of them. If you fail to identify these task dependencies, your project timeline will fall apart.

A full understanding of the time required for each part of a project and how each part connects with one another can avoid mistakes and delays. Clear communication and correct consideration of risks are the key to succeed in your goal.

You can use a project management tool to visualize task dependencies in your project timeline or adopt a Gantt chart that is very effective and easy to use.

5.       Poorly allocated resources and team members

As a project manager, it’s important to consider all the resources you’ll need and make you sure they are really available to work on your project. Sometimes what happens is that someone, a resource, who should be looking after his day-to-day work, is also allocated to several projects and ends up with a  working day of 15 hours. Sure, you can be challenging but this is not the best way to plan a project.

Be aware that when we speak of resources we are referring to people as well as everything that is required to achieve the final result such as equipment, meeting rooms, projectors, and outsourced services.

Have you ever found that your meeting was rescheduled because no meeting room was available since they were already booked?

To provide support in this, it is important that your organization has resource scheduling tools in place for planning resource allocation and mapping workloads out from the beginning.

6.       Not using a project management tool

Optimizing workloads, taking into consideration all the resources you’ll need, tracking your team’s progress, communicating through the team and keeping the project documentation up to date is a very hard task if done without the support of a software tool and there is the risk that it can end in a poor outcome.

Project management tools make it easy to track your project timeline and keep everyone on the same page. To keep on track, choose a tool that allows you to manage details of the project but that can also give you a clear visual overview of the status of your project.

Make sure everyone in the team has access to the tool. Update project documentation at least weekly so everyone on the project  will have accurate information about the status of the project.

As a project manager, it’s your job to create and manage the timeline. Use the above tips to avoid these common timeline mistakes and improve your results. Do you have other tips? We’d love to hear them!

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