Learning Curve

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No rookie project manager wants to make a mistake, especially when it comes to a fundamental like scheduling. Roughly 1 in 4 organizations blame project failures on critical aspects of scheduling, such as task-time measurement and resource forecasting, according to PMI’s 2015 Pulse of the Profession: Capturing the Value of Project Management.

And being the new kid on the block doesn’t help: Of projects deemed failures, organizations cited an inexperienced project manager as a primary cause 20 percent of the time, the Pulse report says.

Inexperienced project managers should follow these pro tips to avoid common scheduling mistakes.

Counter — and compromise.

Rookie mistake: Caving to stakeholder demands for an unrealistic project timeline leads to missed deadlines.

Veteran solution: Project managers should present the reasons why the schedule isn’t viable. But they also need to recommend an alternative timeline built on reliable projections for resource constraints and dependencies on deliverables, says Michelle Colodzin Gunsher, PMI-SP, PMP, senior project manager, Dignity Health, Rancho Cordova, California, USA.

“It takes a project manager with strong interpersonal skills to communicate the importance of taking the time to fully evaluate what will be required and influence stakeholders to allow the due diligence to move forward,” she says.

Adjust your aim.

Rookie mistake: Over-planning at the start locks the team into flawed timelines that can be difficult to adjust as the project moves toward the finish line.

Veteran solution: From start to finish, the schedule should account for uncertainty. By building in flexibility, you won’t need to waste time remaking the schedule later, says Alberto José Monzón Belmonte, PMI-SP, project control engineer at Tecnicas Reunidas, an engineering and construction firm in Madrid, Spain.

Newbie project managers should also go in armed with a full understanding of rolling wave planning and turn to the team’s subject experts to help create educated estimates, he says.

Give the full picture.

Rookie mistake: Showing only percentage of work completed in status updates often creates surprises and delays.

Veteran solution: A status update that shows both percent complete and time remaining for tasks is a more useful and tangible measurement for stakeholders and team members, says Sean Lavery, PMI-SP, senior project planner-scheduler at project delivery firm WorleyParsons, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Relying only on percentages often can result in floating tasks that appear stuck on “99 percent complete” for weeks, Ms. Colodzin Gunsher says. Without knowing how many days, weeks or months are left for a given task, project managers are “only guessing at when deliverables will be completed and will frequently find themselves having to explain why they didn’t realize the work had fallen behind in time to do something about it,” she says.

Rookie scheduling mistakes don’t have to wreck projects or careers — as long as newbie project managers communicate, track and adapt.