Plan / Refine Project Schedule

In planning or refining a project schedule, the recommended approach is to first take the list of known project activities, identified through the project scope planning, and sequence them in their natural order of occurrence. The key in sequencing activities is to identify all activity relationships and dependencies that will impact the flow of activities.  Once relationships and dependencies are recognized the order of activities can be established.

The most common relationship between project activities that will impact your project schedule is one in which one activity has to be completed before another activity can begin.   By identifying these activity relationships (or the mandatory dependencies) you have laid out the natural order of the project, and thus the flow of the project will become clearer. This is important because you will also know which activities may be carried out in parallel, or concurrently, as no mandatory dependency exists.  Also important in sequencing your activities is to understand what external dependencies or constraints (factors out of your control) may affect the timing of project activities. Examples include the delivery of equipment from a vendor, the decision of an ethics committee, activities that are time-of-year sensitive, or availability of resources (people, facilities, equipment, and materials).

With project activities sequenced and realistic durations estimated, a project schedule can be identified. It is recommended that a Gantt chart be used when creating a project schedule. A Gantt chart is a visual representation of your project activities against a timeline. It provides researchers the ability to easily communicate a project schedule, and aids in the monitoring of project progress.

Finally, as part of planning or refining a project schedule, researchers should identify project milestones. Milestones are reference points in the project’s progress that represent accomplishment. For example, approval from an ethics committee or regulatory body, accomplishment of a deliverable/objective, or indicator or a major reporting requirement. The milestones for a project should reflect a clear list of events that incrementally build to the project completion. Having a well-documented milestone list will aid in the monitoring of project progress once started.