10 Key Project Scheduling Techniques to Know in 2024
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10 Key Project Scheduling Techniques to Know in 2024

Post Author - The Toggl Team The Toggl Team Last Updated:

Project managers have a lot of different plates to juggle when scheduling projects—and there isn’t much room for error. They must schedule tasks to meet tight timelines, manage different resources, and keep clients happy. 

The reality is, 29% of project managers say an inadequate goal setting is the main reason for project failures. And then there’s burnout—not just for team members but managers themselves. In its recent Work Trend Index study, Microsoft found that 48% of employees and 53% of managers report burnout from their to-do lists and a lack of clarity around tasks. 

There is no silver bullet to overcoming every one of these project management challenges. 

However, project scheduling techniques can help avoid overload and taking on too much work. For project managers, this means less risk of burnout and missed deadlines. 

This article contains ten key project scheduling techniques, their key elements, pros and cons, and how you can use them to schedule projects better. 

Let’s dive in.   

Why is it important to use project scheduling techniques?

Project scheduling techniques are strategies that help organize a project’s timeline, scope, and resources. These techniques help project managers keep projects on track and on budget.

Let’s look at some key reasons why you should use project scheduling techniques:

  • More accurate time estimates: When you plan projects using scheduling techniques, you set more accurate and realistic start and end dates for your projects. 
  • Fewer missed deadlines: Accurate time estimates keep you on track to avoid delays and meet deadlines. 
  • Plan for the unknown: Scheduling projects can help you spot potential project risks and set up contingency plans to handle unexpected issues. 
  • Better resource allocation: Planning your project with scheduling techniques can help you optimize and allocate your resources more effectively. 
  • Helps plan dependencies: Project scheduling techniques help to map out task dependencies within the project and streamline workflows. 

10 project scheduling techniques to know

Here’s our list of project scheduling techniques: 

Graph showing 10 project scheduling techniques.

Let’s explore each in detail. 

1. Critical path method (CPM)

The critical path method is a step-by-step project management technique to map out project tasks and create a timeline to complete them on schedule. 

Applying the CPM technique involves:

  • Breaking down a project into a detailed list with every task  to get it from start to finish
  • Assigning a time estimate to each task
  • Creating a project network diagram with the sequence of tasks and their dependencies. A project network diagram is a visual tool that project managers use to map out schedules and work sequences. 
  • Calculating the earliest and latest start and finish times for each task
  • Determining which tasks are flexible and which form the critical path.  A critical path is the longest sequence of project tasks that must be completed on time to finish the entire project. 
  • Monitoring and adjusting the critical path as the project progresses

CPM is one of the more complex project scheduling techniques and only works if there are hard deadlines. But it can also help allocate resources effectively. Here are the main pros and cons of CPM:

ProsCons
You create a clear timeline and identify key tasks for more accurate planning
You discover which specific  tasks you need to prioritize
You allocate resources more efficiently
The success of this method relies heavily on accurate estimations
The larger the project, the more complex it is to apply this technique 
You don’t have the flexibility for delays

2. Program evaluation and review technique (PERT)

PERT is a risk analysis technique that focuses on calculating the most realistic timeframe required to complete a project. 

The basis of this technique is every project has uncertainty, especially around how long it takes to complete a task. However, PERT accounts for this uncertainty by helping project managers create more accurate time estimates. 

When using PERT, you need to calculate three time estimates for each task:

  • An optimistic time estimate.  The fastest time possible to finish the project
  • A pessimistic time estimate.  The longest time possible for project completion
  • The most likely time estimate. A realistic estimate for finishing the project if nothing unexpected happens

Here’s how the PERT technique can hurt (or hinder) your  scheduling process:

ProsCons
Improves time estimate accuracy by considering different scenarios
Sets expectations  with stakeholders by providing three possible project outcomes
Requires complex calculations and can be time-consuming
Doesn’t account for unexpected delays

Toggl Track can help you use PERT by easily setting project time estimates and track project progress

Here’s how to create project estimates in Toggl Track:

  1. Click ‘Create New Project’ or ‘Edit Project’ and go to the Time Estimate section in the popup window that appears. 
Toggl Track screenshot.
  1. Enter your custom hourly time estimate, and then go to the Project Dashboard and compare your estimates with the actual amount of time worked.
Toggl Track screenshot.

3. Sprint scheduling

Sprint scheduling is a core component of Scrum methodologies that defines deliverables and strategies delivered in the sprint. 

Sprint scheduling involves breaking down the project into manageable ‘sprints’ or shorter timeframes to complete project tasks in groups. 

Here’s a quick overview of how sprint scheduling works:

  • Define a clear, achievable goal for your sprint that fits the overall project strategy.
  • Meet and collaborate with team members to decide what work they can commit to.
  • Create a sprint backlog with the task you must complete to achieve the sprint goal.
  • Hold daily stand-ups to discuss progress, address obstacles, and adjust the backlog.
  • At the end of the sprint, wrap up any unfinished tasks and then move on to the next sprint.

Here are the pros and cons of sprint scheduling:

ProsCons
Sprints stop project overwhelm. Even large projects can be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces
Helps team members focus on specific goals
Encourages frequent feedback
May not be effective for all types of projects
Can lead to burnout if not managed carefully

4. Duration compression

Duration compression is a project scheduling technique for teams to complete projects faster without changing the project scope. 

Project managers typically use schedule compression techniques when the project has delays or if work will finish up sooner than planned. 

The pros and cons of duration compression include:

ProsCons
Offers flexibility in project scheduling
Can lead to time and cost savings
Can produce  lower quality work if tasks are rushed
Increases the risk of project overload and team burnout

The two techniques project managers use for duration compression to shorten project durations are fast-tracking and crashing:

  • Fast-tracking. A method of speeding up a project by performing overlapping tasks simultaneously. For example, when building a website, a developer may start coding its basic structure while designers still work on the final design details. Instead of waiting for the complete design to finish, the developer starts working on their task, thus speeding up the project workflow. 
  • Crashing. This is when more resources are added to a project to finish it faster. For example, you may hire more developers to speed up coding on a website project. This method is likely to raise your budget costs. 

Toggl Plan’s Availability Overview feature can easily spot unbooked team members and assign them to priority tasks. 

Toggl Plan screenshot.

This view shows how many available hours each team member has and their booking percentages. 

5. Resource leveling

Resource leveling is a project scheduling technique that balances a project schedule based on resource demand and availability.

Using this technique, project managers aim to distribute tasks optimally throughout the project to ensure everyone has the right amount of work. 

Here’s how resource leveling can help you and its drawbacks:

ProsCons
Optimizes resource allocation
Helps avoid scheduling conflicts
Prevents resource overbooking
Can delay the entire project timeframe
Can lead to budget overruns

Toggl Plan’s Availability Overview feature helps you prevent resource overbooking by showing each team member’s available hours.

Toggl Plan screenshot.

The Team view is also a useful feature for avoiding scheduling conflicts. Thanks to a visual overview of everyone’s assigned tasks, it can prevent overlaps in your team’s schedule when planning work. 

Toggl Plan screenshot.

Toggl Plan’s Time Off feature also helps project managers schedule work efficiently by clearly showing who is available and who is not. 

Toggl Plan screenshot.

With this feature, you get a scheduling conflict warning every time a task and time off overlap.

Toggl Plan screenshot.

6. Monte Carlo simulation

The Monte Carlo simulation is a technique project managers use to predict outcomes in uncertain projects. 

Monte Carlo simulations can analyze how different factors, such as time, resources, and external variables, might impact a project’s timeline, costs, and outcome. 

Here’s how a typical Monte Carlo simulation works if the task duration is uncertain:

  1. Instead of using an exact value for task duration (2 or 3 days), assign a range of 3-8 days instead.
  2. Then, set the desired probability distribution (typically, the normal distribution, known for its distinctly shaped bell curve, is used here).
  3. The computer would then run thousands or even millions of iterations, choosing a random value for task duration from the range you set.  This creates a wide range of possible timelines based on different combinations of task durations.
  4. When the simulation is done, you must analyze the results to understand the likelihood of meeting the project deadline.

The Monte Carlo simulation can also identify critical tasks with the highest impact on project length and judge the overall project risk. 

The Monte Carlo simulation technique comes with the following pros and cons:

ProsCons
Helps project managers predict unknown variables
Improves decision-making 
Can be time-consuming and costly

7. Gantt charts

A Gantt chart is a visual project management tool used to track progress against your planned schedule. It uses horizontal bars to show how much each task takes within the project timeline. 

Let’s look at the pros and cons of Gantt charts:

ProsCons
Provides a clear visual timeline
Helps  identify task dependencies
Easily make schedule adjustments
It can get cluttered with large projects
May not show detailed and  complex task dependencies
Needs regular updates to keep schedules accurate

Toggl Plan’s drag-and-drop Gantt chart creator makes it easy to schedule and track tasks at a glance.

You can use the Project Timeline with Gantt charts in Toggl Plan to see:

  • Task deadlines
  • Team members assigned to each task
  • Task status
  • Checklists and notes
Toggl Plan screenshot.

To set up a Project Timeline in Toggl Plan, follow these steps:

  1. Click the ‘+’ sign next to PROJECTS on the left sidebar. 
Toggl Plan screenshot.
  1. Enable the Timeline view from the popup window.
Toggl Plan screenshot.

Along with the Project Timeline, Toggl Plan also lets you access Team Timelines, where you can see each team member’s workload and availability in Gantt charts. 

Toggl Plan screenshot.

To set up this view, you need to create your team first. Here’s how:

  1. Click the ‘+’ on the upper right in the Team list and give your team a name
Toggl Plan screenshot.
  1. Add users to the team

8. Kanban boards

Kanban boards are used in Agile and Lean project management to visualize a project’s progress. 

Originating in the Japanese manufacturing sectors as a scheduling system,  , Kanban is now widely used by many teams to visualize workflows and build better processes. 

Kanban boards come with the following pros and cons:

ProsCons
Increased visibility for project and task scheduling
Easy to edit schedules when priorities change
Adds transparency to  team communication and coordination 
May oversimplify things and not work for complex projects
Can become cluttered and less effective with large projects

9. Time blocking

Time blocking is a time management technique that divides a working day into blocks of time. 

Each time block is attached to a specific task, which improves focus and minimizes distractions to get more done. 

Here are some pros and cons of using time blocking: 

ProsCons
Reduces the urge to multitask and boosts focus
Improves productivity and reduces overwhelm
Can be rigid and make it difficult to adapt to unexpected tasks
People may find the strict schedule limiting and stressful 

10. Calendar

Using a calendar to schedule projects and visualize project timelines is a straightforward scheduling method. 

Project calendars give a clear, day-by-day view of what needs to be done and when. It’s a simple way to approach project planning and tracking and it’s accessible to the whole team. 

Some project managers combine calendar scheduling with other techniques like CPM or time blocking to keep track of milestones and deadlines. 

There is also an added bonus of using one common calendar with your team. If team members are working in different time zones, it’s easier to figure out when meetings and tasks should be scheduled. 

The pros and cons of calendar scheduling are:

ProsCons
Simple to implement with no learning curve 
Easy (and cheap) solution for remote teams
May not be suitable for complex projects
Needs frequent updates to stay accurate

Toggl Plan makes it easy to visualize project activities on your calendar in the short and long term by using Zoom Levels.

You can choose between weekly, monthly, 3-month, and annual views. 

Toggl Plan screenshot.

How to schedule tasks and manage project timelines

While there are many project scheduling techniques to choose from, first, you must understand how to create a project schedule. 

Here’s a quick step-by-step plan for scheduling work more efficiently:

  1. Define the project scope: Clearly outline the project’s objectives and deliverables. This includes goals, outputs, timelines, and deadlines. A well-defined scope helps prevent scope creep and keeps the project focused on its original goals.
  2. Break down tasks: Break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable units.  Breaking down complex tasks makes them easier to assign and complete. Task breakdowns also improve time and resource estimations. Work Breakdown Structures are especially useful for this. 
  3. Assign responsibilities: Assign each task or subtask to specific team members. This involves defining roles and expectations for each team member to ensure they understand what to do. 
  4. Implement scheduling techniques: Choose and apply appropriate scheduling techniques, like the ones we covered above (e.g., Sprint Scheduling, Kanban Boards, Monte Carlo Simulation). The technique you choose depends on the project’s nature and complexity, team size, and specific goals. 
  5. Set milestones: Establish key points along the project timeline to assess progress and align team objectives. Milestones are important for measuring progress, setting project targets, and helping stakeholders track progress.
  6. Monitor and adjust: Regularly review project progress against the planned schedule and milestones. Monitoring helps catch deviations from the plan early and implement corrective actions swiftly. 
  7. Feedback loop: Implement a system for collecting and integrating feedback from team members throughout the project. This feedback mechanism can help identify areas for improvement, address team concerns, and enhance overall productivity. 
  8. Risk management: Proactively identify potential risks to the project timeline, budget, or quality. Develop contingency plans to manage these risks. Effective risk management means you anticipate potential problems before they occur and have strategies ready to mitigate their impact.
  9. Project review: When your team finalizes the project, evaluate and assess what went well and what didn’t. This review should look at process efficiency, team performance, and achievement of objectives. 

What’s the most effective project scheduling technique?

Every team and project is different. A technique that works for another team might not work so well for yours.

While there is no one-size-fits-all scheduling technique, some prove effective for most teams and projects: 

  • The critical path or PERT methods are widely used for projects of all types and industries to boost productivity and performance. 
  • Agile methodologies also help many teams improve schedule management by providing flexibility and adaptability.

However, most teams use multiple project scheduling tools and techniques tailored to their specific needs and challenges to deliver effective scheduling outcomes. 

What are the key components of a project schedule?

To be effective, project schedules must include the following components:

  • Tasks: The building blocks of a project schedule, tasks break down a project into manageable work so it’s easier to estimate and complete on time. 
    Each task has clear start and end dates, helping project managers define the project’s scope and team members understand their responsibilities and deadlines. 
  • Milestones: Project milestones are indicators of progress as they mark key project phases and help teams evaluate project success. They also keep the project team motivated and focused.
  • Dependencies: Dependencies establish the order in which tasks happen. 
    Project managers use dependencies to schedule projects, ensuring a logical flow of activities, prioritizing tasks, and effectively meeting project deadlines. 
  • Resources: Good resource management when you schedule projects minimizes idle time and maximizes project productivity
  • Timelines: Timelines offer a comprehensive view of the project from start to finish. They include project tasks, milestones, and deliverables and help monitor progress and anticipate challenges. 

Pro tip:  Check out our article on how to create a project schedule.

Over to you

Project managers can use these scheduling techniques and a step-by-step plan to ensure all tasks are accounted for and prioritized. 

The right project scheduling technique can balance workloads, mitigate scope creep, and prevent missed deadlines. 

On top of this, you can use a project management software like Toggl Plan to:

  • Easily handle resource availability
  • Avoid scheduling conflicts and scope creep
  • Schedule projects more effectively

Sign up for a free Toggl Plan account and level up your scheduling. 

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The Toggl Team

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