How to create an efficient project schedule

Atlassian By Atlassian
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Delivering quality products faster and more frequently can be challenging for businesses with multiple products, stakeholders from cross-functional disciplines, and deadlines that customers count on. An efficient project schedule consists of everything necessary to complete the project within a specific timeframe, including start and end dates, milestones, dependencies, and real-time status updates. It simplifies overall project execution and leads to more successful project outcomes.

This guide discusses the benefits of using a project schedule, the steps to create one, and techniques to follow to optimize project completion. 

What is a project schedule?

A project schedule provides your project's clear, up-to-date status, including tasks, assignments, dependencies, and milestones. Project scheduling software, such as Jira, helps teams break complex blocks of work into smaller, easier-to-manage tasks, improving dependency mapping, resource planning, and the accuracy of delivery dates.

Components of a project schedule

The project schedule is essential to the project life cycle. It efficiently communicates important information at a glance, using easily understood visual elements:

  • Visual timelines, such as Gantt charts, keep everyone in sync. Jira’s interactive timeline allows you to add epics, map work items, identify dependencies, and track releases.
  • Tasks and milestones break down the work necessary to complete the project. Grouping tasks in a logical sequence with dependencies allows you to set milestones and keep the project on track.
  • Durations and dependencies help project managers estimate milestones and overall completion dates. Tracking dependencies can help identify and overcome bottlenecks early in the project life cycle.
  • Budget summaries show the project spend-to-date against the budget. Linking the budget summary to the project plan helps manage expenses and allows project managers to adjust as needed throughout the timeline.
  • Resource tracking shows assigned team members for each task in the timeline, providing confidence that resources are adequate and not sitting idle.
  • Links to the project plan help team members reference goals, scope, process, and methodology.

Why use a project schedule?

Project management schedules help keep the project on track. Some of the benefits of using a project schedule include:

  • Clarity and direction keep the team focused on the purpose and how a successful outcome benefits customers and the business.
  • Time management improves with sequenced and defined work, increasing production.
  • Resource allocation becomes more straightforward with smaller, sequenced tasks that don’t overburden team members.
  • Risk management is more effective because it’s easier to see roadblocks and lagging tasks earlier in the project.

Steps to create a project schedule

Understand the project’s goals before creating a project schedule. Your project plan includes important information about the product you’re building and why. During this process, a core value of Agile project management, team collaboration helps ensure you include all work, identify dependencies, and estimate accurately. Use this foundation to create the project schedule using the steps below.

Define tasks and milestones

Break large blocks of work into smaller tasks that you can estimate easily. Identify the dependencies of each task, which will help with sequencing. Group similar tasks into milestones, but be ready to rearrange them later.

Sequence tasks

Determine the order in which to complete the tasks. Consider dependencies. Use project scheduling tools to visualize the project flow from start to finish. Sometimes, teams work backward to sequence tasks.

Estimate task durations

Estimating task durations can be difficult, but breaking work into smaller tasks makes it easier. Collaborate as a team to ensure your estimates are neither aggressive nor too liberal. Experienced team members usually have a good idea of how long a task will take.

Assign tasks to team members

Assign team members based on skill and availability. Be ready to move tasks around to avoid assigning everything to one or two people. Identify what tasks to work on concurrently rather than sequentially. For example, reorder a standalone task with no dependencies that’s part of the last milestone if resources are available in the first milestone.

Finalize the schedule

Before finalizing the schedule and beginning work, submit it to the project sponsor for review. If the timeline is shorter, this process may involve trimming the project scope to meet market demands or breaking the project into additional phases.

After adjusting the scheduled work to satisfy business needs, the project moves from planning to execution, and the team gets to work.

Share and monitor

The last step before work begins is to share the project schedule with stakeholders. This ensures everyone agrees on the timeline and knows how to stay up-to-date.

Continually monitor progress. Project scheduling tools such as Jira make identifying completed or lagging tasks easy. Encourage the entire team to monitor the project schedule and raise issues early. Adjusting the schedule for unexpected or missed tasks as soon as they arise keeps the project moving forward.

Techniques for project scheduling

Project scheduling tools and templates help break large projects into manageable, trackable tasks. It’s an effective and efficient way to create and monitor your project schedule.

Jira provides the building blocks to help you see the project through to successful completion:

  • Boards help the project team plan, visualize, and manage the work by displaying individual cards—or pieces of the work—that you can move into different areas of the workflow.
  • Dashboards provide a single view of all projects, assignments, and achievements for efficient progress monitoring.
  • Templates, such as the pre-configured project schedule template, provide essential elements for quickly transitioning from project plan to project schedule.

Here are some techniques for efficient project scheduling.

Gantt charts

Project managers often use Gantt charts because they provide a visual representation of the project timeline. The chart shows when each task begins and ends, along with its dependencies, to offer a holistic view of the entire project.

Task lists

Task lists provide a simple yet effective way to identify all necessary work and organize the activities to complete it.


Calendars help manage time-sensitive tasks and deadlines, such as stakeholder meetings, expected material deliveries, and user acceptance testing. While calendars do not include resource assignments and dependencies, they help keep high-level processes on track.

Create a project schedule in Jira

Understanding the elements and techniques of efficient project schedules helps you move projects across the finish line. Keeping stakeholders informed, juggling multiple workstreams, and meeting deadlines doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Jira’s timeline feature helps teams plan projects, define work, and track progress from idea to release.

With Jira, team members know what they’re working on, how it fits into the business goals, and where the product is going. It provides the flexibility to respond to changing priorities while keeping projects on track. Jira is purpose-built to manage the challenges of project schedules and more successfully.

Get started with Jira

Project schedule: Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between a project schedule and a project plan?

A project plan outlines the project goals, policies, methodologies, and procedures. It’s a higher-level document that informs the project schedule. The project plan usually includes scope, cost, and overall timeline. 

The project schedule encompasses all the milestones and tasks necessary to deliver the planned project in an established sequence, with dependencies and assignments.

What are common challenges in project scheduling?

Common challenges in project scheduling include estimating the duration of tasks and sequencing the work so that some resources aren’t overburdened while others are left to wait.

Visual timelines allow you to view the project as a whole and adjust the schedule to optimize resources. Fostering a collaborative team environment helps identify dependencies, and enlisting the team’s collective experience helps refine estimates.

How does a project schedule contribute to project success?

A well-developed project schedule identifies the tasks needed to complete the project, makes monitoring the status and milestones easier, and allows teams to identify roadblocks early. For example, if a task depends on implementing a new technology, but integration lags due to quality issues, you can see the risk as soon as it appears. This allows you to make decisions faster, improving your chances of keeping the project on schedule.