6. Work planning and scheduling

Work planning – get as full a picture as you need of all the different tasks that need to be done for all of the project deliverables to be completed. Use a Work Breakdown Structure or similar hierarchical system to understand what needs to be done. Include project management, promotion or communications deliverables like quarterly financial reports, press releases or blog articles. These all take time and people working on them, and you need to manage them. You may have to complete a report to a donor or it might be someone else, but you will surely be asked to provide information. Good practice suggests that it is most efficient to include tasks which take no less than 2 days to complete (so you’re not trying to manage tiny tasks) – but you should use the level of detail that you will need to make sure work is progressing. If a team is inexperienced or you anticipate problems, then you might need to break tasks up more. In the humanitarian sector it is a more common problem to leave tasks in lumps that are too big, making them hard to keep track of.

Scheduling – Use a simple Gantt chart to keep track of when different pieces of work are scheduled to start and end. Regularly discuss with team members whether their estimates have changed, or some problems have emerged that will mean that the schedule needs to be changed. If the estimates have changed, then look at how this will impact the date for completing the project. Include all the tasks on the schedule, and consider using specialized project management software if you have many tasks to keep track of. It will make your life much easier.

As with work planning, make sure that you’ve broken the work down into small enough pieces. In the humanitarian sector, it’s quite common to see schedules that have four elements like “Assessment” “Start-up” “Implementation” and “Close and Reporting”. This is not useful. You need to get into the details of what work will actually be completed and how long it will take to do that. This is the only way you can test the initial assumptions about what the end date will be, and give you the opportunity to find solutions if the assumptions were not right.