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10 top tips for creating timing plans: Checkpoint charlie

We’ve now covered the basic elements of creating a project plan – but how do you create a timing plan to keep a project on track? In this penultimate post on creating timing plans we’ll cover off one of the key aspects of managing timelines with milestones and baselines. In this post we’ll explore how you keep a project on track, and account for when it’s no longer on track.

Why bother with milestones and baselines?

It’s a fair question, are milestones and checkpoints really that important? Using milestones ensure that when the project starts, the project team and the client are clear about the key dates the project needs to hit to stay on track. For clients who find it difficult to understand or read Gantt charts, milestones are a great way for them to understand a project’s flow, and the key dates within the project – providing deadlines and cut-off dates to ensure a project stays on track. Baselines can be useful for managing the client as they record the original timeline of a project so that any deviation from the original plan can be tracked.

Where to begin

In order to help you keep track of whether or not your project is running on schedule, add in milestones – a milestone significant event in a project that occurs at a particular point in time. . They may indicate either the start or completion of a significant series of events. Create milestones in natural, important control pints in the project that will be easy for everyone to recognize – for example, ‘Client supply of copy content’ or ‘Complete UX Phase’. The milestones identify major segments of work and an end date for each of them.

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Get baselining

When your project plan is finally signed off, it’s time to baseline – the baseline is simply a snapshot of your timing plan at any given time. Baselines help you see what has changed on your project by giving you something that you can refer back to. Milestones are simple – they ensure you stay on track, they’re a date that you have to hit whereas baselining enables you to track your progress against your original plan and should your project fall behind, it’s very easy to identify what aspect of the project caused it to run behind schedule. Check out a quick guide on how to do this in MS Project here.

A quick note on milestones – make them zero-day activities – a milestone should indicate when something is completed. Also, insert them into the project plan with predecessor and successor ties, ensuring they’re logic driven, not restricted to a particular date in the schedule.

Create regular baselines

However, you should create regular baselines, especially after a major change to your project schedule. For example, if you add in a new block of tasks, change the project scope to include more work or to take out tasks, or your key milestone dates change, then it is a very good idea to create a new baseline. If you are updating the schedule as a result of an approved change that has been through the change control process, then it is a good idea to create a new baseline.

Update your timing plan regularly

Remember to update your timing plan regularly. Your project schedule will change as tasks are marked as completed, new tasks are added, or dates change. It might be tempting to create a new baseline every time you change something on your schedule, but that really isn’t a good idea. You’ll end up with far too many baselines and it will be difficult to know which one to use if you want to see what has changed.

What do you think?

What do you think we’re missing? What else is there to defining the idea that should PM’s be thinking about when creating timing plans and project plans? We’d love to hear if you’ve got any more tips – why not share them using the comments below?

Check out:  10 top tips for creating timing plans: Finish well

A checklist for creating project plans

The following Ten Top Tips series is designed as a checklist for ways to approach creating project and timing plans. In this series of posts we’re looking at the following:

  1. An introduction to creating timing plans
  2. Define your workflow
  3. Establish your planning horizon
  4. Break it down
  5. Ask, don’t guess
  6. Question when questioning
  7. Allow time for amends
  8. Plan for it not going to plan
  9. Finish well
  10. Post project review & optimise
  11. Checkpoint charlie
  12. A summary to creating timing plans

About Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and VP of Client Services at FCV, a full service digital agency in Vancouver, Canada. I've been in the industry for more than 10 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS’, flash games to banner ads and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.