Among the essential project management skills, scheduling can affect, either positively or adversely, the most areas within a project. Ineffective project schedules can create drag on your project time management and downtime for people and production equipment – wasting time and money, and leading to project failures.

Here are four techniques that can help you improve project time management and keep your entire project on schedule.

1. Determine the Critical Path

Focusing on the critical path can help you deliver a project on time – or even cut its duration and complete it ahead of schedule. Maintaining the critical path will ensure a timely delivery, while extending it means the project will be delayed.

Here’s how to determine the critical path:

  • List All Necessary Tasks: Make a list of every individual task required by the project. Don’t be tempted to enter them directly into a Gantt chart. Include estimates of the work needed to accomplish each task to help you get a sense of the overall time needed to complete the total project.
  • Prioritize the Tasks: Each task will fall into line according to what needs to happen first. Decide which tasks have the highest priorities and continue through the entire list.
  • Make a Gantt Chart: One essential project time management skill is learning how to prepare an accurate Gantt chart. Be sure to use the time estimates you listed previously and adjust tasks based on priority.
  • Determine the Critical Path: The longest path of tasks on the Gantt chart is your critical path. Keep in mind you may have more than one critical path in your schedule. Don’t overlook additional assignments that are not part of the critical path(s).

2. Build Slack Time Into the Schedule

Deliberately adding slack time into your project timeline is a smart way to stay on schedule. Project management professionals know that the unexpected is the one thing you can always count on; therefore, flexibility is a valuable project time management tool.

Slack time allows a project manager to delay a task when necessary, without affecting the rest of the project schedule. In other words, slack time means that holding off on Task A will not prevent the on-time launch of Task B. Slack time is normal; as a project manager, you can identify and minimize it, but you won’t likely be able to avoid slack time completely. Your role is to determine the best path to improved productivity through slack time, such as moving idle team members to tasks that need more attention.

3. Crash When Necessary

Sometimes, stakeholders request a quicker turnaround time, and project managers are expected to deliver a completed project in a shorter time frame, with no reduction in scope. Crashing is a powerful project time management tool in which you reduce the time to completion for tasks in the critical path. It’s helpful to know that reducing time to complete non-critical tasks – those outside the critical path – will not reduce the project delivery time. So focus on crashing tasks in the critical path.

Crashing happens when you double the team members assigned to a task, so it’s completed in half the time, or when your team is flexible enough that you can reassign more productive people to the most critical tasks, so they are completed in less time. Be creative when considering crashing methods. Determine the risks and rewards of each option, and choose the one with the best chance for success.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Fast-Track Tasks

Fast-tracking is another method to cut the project schedule when necessary. In fast-tracking, the project manager rearranges the project schedule so that tasks that were planned for completion in sequence are reassigned to be worked on simultaneously. This doubling-up of tasks can reduce completion time by half, but only works when Task B’s start is not dependent on Task A’s completion.

Stay on Schedule to Be a More Effective Project Manager

Effective project management tools can help you manage time more efficiently. However, a project manager must retain a firm grasp on the basic fundamentals of project time management to help keep every project on a concise and manageable schedule. Follow these four tips and you should see immediate improvements in your project scheduling.

About the Author: University Alliance submitted this article on behalf of Villanova University’s online programs. Villanova offers project management certificate courses along with many articles on their site like these project management tips.