As a project manager, you know well enough that creating an optimal project schedule is challenging, but you have plenty of project management tools and techniques at your disposal. Still, it’s possible that you’ll run into some scheduling issues. Things get even more complex when you’re working at a company responsible for delivering multiple projects at once. This is where the chance of schedule overlaps and double-booked employees is even higher.
Luckily, you can avoid most of the schedule-related conflicts by following the best practices of resource and project management. We’ve listed some tips below—follow them to manage your projects more successfully.
Why do scheduling conflicts arise?
Let’s take a moment to outline some of the most common causes of project scheduling issues. Once you understand them, it will be easier to pinpoint improvement areas in your project management process.
- Inaccurate estimates. When a task should to take a few hours but instead takes a week, your schedule is likely to suffer.
- Insufficient resource forecasting. Yet another factor that can make or break your project at its very beginning. If you fail to account in advance for all resources needed to deliver your project, it may very well cause delays in your schedule or conflicts with other projects happening at the same time.
- Unforeseen project dependencies. Your project’s schedule may look good on paper, but dependencies you didn’t plan for may require you to adjust the timeline.
- Underestimating the scope of the project. Without collecting requirements from all stakeholders and project scope management, you stand a high chance of underestimating what needs to be done in order to achieve the business goals.
- Lack of schedule visibility among different project managers. This is a common problem for companies with multiple projects: agencies, software houses, consultancies. Unfortunately, lack of visibility and communication between different PMs and team leaders will almost always lead to some scheduling conflicts.
What can you do to avoid project-related scheduling conflicts?
Granted, some circumstances are out of your control. Take the current situation, for example. As we’re publishing this blog post (June 2020), thousands or more of project schedules have been put on hold or altogether scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic. You can’t control everything that may happen to your project. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t introduce some preventive project management measures to keep scheduling conflicts away.
Increase the visibility of your project and its schedule.
The easiest way to increase the visibility of project activities and team members working on them is to introduce a resource calendar. It’s a space where all or designated employees can see which project people have been booked for, who has some time to spare (and may join another team that is struggling to keep up), who’s unavailable at all, etc. Teamdeck is the tool we’ve built to help companies better manage their teams and their projects:
A central resource calendar will be especially appreciated by companies working on several projects at once. When you have a couple of schedules, deadlines, project teams, it’s that much difficult to avoid clashes or overlaps. Say that you want to add a new person to your project team. When you don’t see the schedule of other projects, you can only assume that they’ll manage the additional workload. With a single source of “scheduling truth”, every PM can actively avoid scheduling conflicts when planning a new project or adjusting the existing one.
Pay more attention to resource allocation.
In order to succeed with resource allocation, you have to determine what kind of people you need for your team. What are their desired skills? Will professional experience play a significant role? Perhaps particular geographical locations will be better because the employees will need to meet in person with the client? You may have several requirements for your “dream team”, and it’s important to spell them out. The risk of booking the first available group of people without paying attention to the factors listed above is that you will need to reallocate resources later on and potentially cause scheduling issues.
Of course, you also want to check if your team’s personal schedules are aligned with the timeline of the project. You can do that easily if your resource management tool stores time off data as well (Teamdeck does). Sure, you can’t always plan your schedule around people’s vacations: the key thing is to be aware of these absences or else you’re in store for a problem with the schedule.
Effectively communicate with your team members.
Open communication and a sense of project transparency will help your team members as early as on the project estimation stage. While you shouldn’t expect your team members to come up with 100% precise estimates, the assumptions they provide need to be at least within the realm of possibility. How can you help? One thing project managers can do to support project estimation is to make sure that the team fully understands the project: business objectives, end-user needs, all functional and non-functional requirements. This should help your employees create more realistic estimates.
Identify the dependencies between tasks and roles within your team.
It’s one thing to keep in mind the dependencies between different tasks, but you also have to remember about the dependencies between different roles in the project. Your frontend developer will only be able to fully work on the project when the designer delivers their part. If one person is late with their tasks, other people may follow suit simply because of dependencies between their roles.
Make sure your team is aware of these dependencies. Such an awareness will help them make better decisions at the estimation stage and prioritize their tasks later on.
Collaborate with other project managers, communicate your intentions.
We’ve already mentioned that you need some visibility in the schedules of other projects at your company, especially if you’re using the same resource pool. But how can you get visibility into other people’s intentions? Let’s imagine you’re prepping for a new project and are about to assemble the team. You go through the list of employees and spot someone that would be a great fit. You decide to assign them to the project as soon as you get an official kick-off confirmation from the client. When that day comes, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise: another PM has already booked that employee for their project. If only you were able to “call dibs” on a particular makeup of the team...
With Teamdeck, you are able to communicate your intentions and book employees tentatively—just add a dedicated tag to your booking. You can also create custom tags to, for example, express different levels of urgency or confidence in a given booking. All in order to avoid conflicts with another project’s schedule.
Monitor the progress of your project.
Monitoring the project progress and reporting is a crucial part of project management: it allows you to keep stakeholders up to speed, but also better understand the health of the project yourself. Resource and project management tools, including Teamdeck, often enable you to create reports of project activities, time logged, resource utilization, etc. Use them to avoid having to adjust your schedule.
For example, you need to regularly check the actual time tracked by your employees and compare with the initial estimates. Is everything going more-less according to the plan? Great! On the other hand, a discrepancy between estimates and actuals may be an indicator of future scheduling issues.
Prevent scheduling conflicts from happening with Teamdeck
A scheduling conflict may have significant consequences for your project. First, the whole process’s timeline may change. It’s terrible news if you have a strict deadline you need to meet (e.g., event, media launch). Second, as you move resources around trying to mitigate the conflict, the project’s overall costs will likely increase. Finally, scheduling problems can prove to be extremely frustrating for the employees (including you, the project manager). This, in turn, may hinder productivity or cause interpersonal conflicts.
All in all, it’s best if you create an environment where it’s easier to avoid scheduling problems. It’s possible when your company implements a resource calendar, where every part of the project management team can analyze the schedules of currently active projects and plan their own comfortably. Tools like Teamdeck allow you to assign employees to different projects, track their time, and monitor the progress of work efficiently, without having to dig into details.