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How to do Project Scheduling and Avoiding Scope Creep from the Start

By: Hajime Estanislao, PMP, CSM

Have you ever wondered how top project managers deliver complex projects on time, even when unexpected changes and challenges arise?

Project scheduling is more than just plotting tasks on a calendar. It is an essential aspect of project management that involves defining, sequencing, estimating, and allocating resources for activities to ensure timely project completion. With a well-structured project schedule, you gain a powerful tool to monitor progress, manage resources, and meet crucial milestones efficiently.

Imagine having a clear roadmap that guides your project from start to finish and seamlessly integrates with every crucial aspect of project management. Meeting deadlines is not just about enhancing the overall project delivery system; it is also about ensuring project success.

Do not let poor scheduling be the bottleneck. Master the art of project scheduling to keep your projects within scope, under budget, and on time.

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What is Project Scheduling and Scope Creep?

Project scheduling is an aspect of project management that involves the sequencing and timing of project activities. Based on the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition, it encompasses defining, sequencing, estimating, and allocating resources for activities to complete the project on time. Project scheduling provides a timeline for when project tasks and milestones are completed and helps monitor and track the progress against these targets.

Scope creep, also known as requirement creep or feature creep, refers to the gradual expansion of a project’s scope after the part when managers create a project schedule. Scope creep does not correspond to resources, budget, or adjusted timelines. It involves new features, tasks, or requirements for a project that were initially excluded from the original plan. It typically occurs when the project scope is not clearly defined, documented, or controlled and can result from informal requests or changes that accumulate over the project timelines.

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Reasons You Need to Know Project Scheduling

Understanding project scheduling is a must in both traditional and agile project management because it directly influences the balance of the iron triangle – the critical relationship between scope, time, and cost. Mastery of project scheduling allows managers to effectively navigate this balance, ensuring that adjustments in one area do not adversely impact the others, maintaining project integrity and alignment with strategic goals.

Control Over Project Scope

Proper project scheduling is essential to managing and containing the project scope. This includes setting clear timelines for deliverables and providing well-defined project deliverables. In some instances, proper project scheduling tools make this process more efficient and effective.

Optimized Budget Management

By scheduling tasks accurately, project managers are more efficient in their cost forecasts, ensuring the project remains within budget.

Enhanced Quality of Deliverables

Scheduling provides structured timeframes for quality assurance processes, reducing the risk of defects and rework. It also incorporates the prevention of rework in the quality of project deliverables and execution.

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Improved Stakeholder Satisfaction

Timely and transparent scheduling ensures that expectations are met, enhancing satisfaction and trust.

Increased Team Efficiency

Schedules with clarity help teams understand priorities and deadlines, improving coordination and reducing time wasted on confusion or unclear objectives.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Particularly in agile project management, effective scheduling allows for adaptability to changing requirements while keeping the project on track.

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Importance of Preventing Scope Creep

Preventing and monitoring scope creep is expected from the project team because it can impact the project timeline, budget, and scope, often leading to significant challenges; therefore, a project manager must monitor the project progress due to its impact on the following:

Project Schedule

Scope creep can lead to increased work without extending the deadlines correspondingly. It often results in missed deadlines or rushed work that can compromise the quality of the deliverables. The project team members may feel pressured to deliver more within the same time frame, leading to stress and potential burnout.

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Project Budget

Uncontrolled scope can significantly inflate project costs. As new tasks and features are added, resources (such as labor, materials, and technology) that were initially excluded from the budget may become necessary. This can lead to budget overruns, requiring additional funding or resulting in cost-cutting in other areas.

Project Scope

Due to scope creep, the project’s original goals and objectives can become diluted. The focus may shift from its initial targets to newly added features, possibly leading to a product or outcome that does not meet the intended purpose or stakeholder expectations. This can reduce the overall value and effectiveness.

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Step-by-Step Instructions Project Scheduling Techniques

The following step-by-step project scheduling process helps project managers create a robust project schedule that aligns with planned objectives while remaining adaptable to necessary changes. These steps include:

  • Define the Deliverables – Clearly outline what needs to be completed, guided by the definition of done or expected project outcomes.
  • Break It Down – Decompose deliverables into manageable tasks.
  • Sequence the Events – Determine the order and dependencies of tasks.
  • Estimate the Effort – Assign a realistic time duration and appropriate resources.
  • Control and Communicate – Implement change control and communication plans.

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Define the Deliverables

The first step in preventing scope creep is to define the deliverables. It involves identifying all the expected project outputs, including products, services, and benefits.

Engage with stakeholders to gather requirements and ensure mutual understanding and agreement on the project’s end goals (the Definition of Done). This clarity will be the foundation for all subsequent planning and scheduling activities.

Break It Down

Once the deliverables are defined, break them down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This process, known as creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), helps in organizing the project work. Each task should have a definition and be sufficiently detailed to assign resources and estimate durations. This breakdown minimizes ambiguities and prevents unauthorized tasks from creeping into the plan.

Sequence the Events

With the tasks clearly outlined, the next step is to determine the logical sequence of these tasks. It involves understanding the task dependencies and establishing a realistic work or activity order.

Use Gantt charts or network diagrams to visualize the task sequences and identify critical paths. Sequencing helps highlight the most efficient way to progress through tasks, ensuring timely project execution.

Estimate the Effort

Accurate estimation of time and resources required for each task is crucial. Use historical data, expert judgment, and estimation techniques like PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) or CPM (Critical Path Method) to assign realistic durations and resource requirements.

This step ensures that each task has sufficient time and resources planned, reducing the likelihood of needing to expand the scope due to underestimation.

Control and Communicate

Implementing a robust change control and communication plan is essential in maintaining the integrity of the project schedule. Establish clear procedures for managing changes, including how changes are proposed, reviewed, and approved. Regular communication with stakeholders about the schedule’s status and any potential impacts of changes helps manage their expectations and deliver the agreed-upon scope.

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Key Considerations for Successfully Scheduling and Preventing Scope Creep

Successfully scheduling a project and preventing scope creep requires more than just following a series of steps; it demands understanding the project’s environment and a proactive approach to managing changes. Here are some insights for mastering these aspects of managing projects:

Stakeholder Alignment and Education

It ensures that all stakeholders understand the implications of changes to the project. Educating stakeholders about scope management and the impact of scope creep can foster better collaboration and minimize unauthorized or informal changes.

Regular alignment meetings can help keep everyone on the same page and reduce misunderstandings or miscommunications that might lead to scope creep.

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Flexibility Within Structure

While having a structured approach to managing scope and schedule is beneficial, allowing some degree of flexibility within that structure can be helpful, especially in dynamic project environments.

It could mean building contingencies or buffer periods within the schedule to accommodate feasible changes without disrupting the project flow. Manage the introduced flexibility to the project and ensure it does not open the door to unchecked scope creep.

Use of Technology and Tools

Leveraging project management software and tools can significantly enhance the ability to develop and maintain a detailed project schedule, as well as monitor and control the project schedule and scope. These tools can provide real-time visibility into the project’s progress and facilitate better communication among team members and stakeholders. They can also help document and track any changes, ensuring that every modification to the scope is well-recorded and approved.

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Project Managers, take note!

While adhering to a well-planned schedule management is crucial for project success, what are the considerations if a change is required? The following are the pros and cons:

Positives of Changing the Schedule

  • Increased Adaptability – Adjusting the schedule can make a project more responsive to unforeseen challenges or opportunities. For instance, if a new technology becomes available that could significantly improve the project outcome, then revising the schedule to incorporate this technology could be beneficial. It enhances the relevance and value of the project.
  • Enhanced Stakeholder Satisfaction – Responsiveness to stakeholder feedback and changing needs can improve relationships and satisfaction. Adjusting the schedule to better align with stakeholder expectations or to accommodate their constraints will enable the project managers to foster goodwill and strengthen collaboration.

Negatives of Changing the Schedule

  • Potential for Scope Creep – As project schedules are adjusted, incremental additions to the project scope may occur, potentially leading to scope creep if not managed.
  • Increased Costs and Resource Strain – Extending timelines can lead to higher operational costs, such as prolonged labor expenses and increased administrative overhead. Additionally, changes can disrupt the planned resource allocation, affecting other projects or operational areas.

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Wrapping Up Project Scheduling and Scope Creep

Whether you use project scheduling software or create a schedule manually, understanding this knowledge area is fundamental. This capability helps prevent scope creep and ensures that the project remains aligned with its initial objectives, delivering the intended outcomes efficiently. Thus, whether you are a novice project manager or looking to sharpen your skills, investing time to understand this core facet of project management is indispensable for leading successful projects.

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References

Project Management Institute. (2021). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK guide) (7th ed.). Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK guide) (6th ed.). Project Management Institute.

Hoban, S. M. (2024). What is project scheduling & how to use it to wow your stakeholders. The Digital Project Manager. Retrieved May 2024, from https://thedigitalprojectmanager.com/projects/managing-schedules/what-is-project-scheduling/