Assignment or Project Scheduling Guide
Start by deciding what to achieve. Sometimes the assignment or project has been clearly and concisely explained. Other times it is vague. Try summarizing the topic in a few sentences.
The Assignment Objectives
In school, the assignment aims to
demonstrate certain skills. For example, you may be being
assessed to research a topic using a number of different sources, and
sound case for a particular point of view. A consultant to a
Presidential candidate aims to provide the candidate with the material
and ideas that will further the campaign. The objectives differ
from the topic. The topic is the subject on which the project
focuses. The objectives
are the broader aims for doing the project.
What are the things to be produced, sometimes called the "deliverables?"
What is the concrete "thing" being produced? Hopefully this will be easy to identify. However, sometimes it is a little vague and some further questions may be required of the person setting the assignment. Deliverables can be essays, models, presentations, speeches, web sites, or the like.
What are the important intermediate steps to complete the project?
List the tasks that must be
completed to produce the
project. Include everything from the very beginning to the
absolute end. For
example, for an essay, these might include setting the topic, initial
research, first draft,
secondary research, second
draft, review etc.
Estimate the time needed for each step
How long will it take to complete each essential task? Some estimates will be easy to do accurately and some uncertain. One way to handle this is to estimate an interval around the best guess for how long it will take. When relatively certain about the period, for example 6 days, just put it down as 6 days. If very uncertain, put the best guess plus or minus half that best guess; for example, from 3 to 9 days if the best guess is 6. The more confident, the smaller the interval around the best guess.
Estimate the time available
This has two aspects.
First, you have a deadline
(if one has not been set, you need to set one). Second, work out how
much time it is
devote to this project between now and the deadline. With a
group, this is an
estimate for all. Consider how much time you have for meeting
together for collective work and how much for each individual.
For example you might plan that each group member is expected to
contribute 15 hours a week.
note down the assumptions you are basing the estimate on.
Decide the sequence of the work
Look at the project steps, and work out the order in which they will happen. Some steps can usually be performed in parallel, some must be preceded by certain others.
To make a project manageable, define milestones. A milestone is a point where we complete a component of the project. It is not the date, but the work product or progress reached at that point. Achieving a milestone may depend on completing one or many activities. Projects constrained by time typically become more manageable if we can focus on milestones rather than on how long each task should take.
Milestones should involve the completion of
and concrete goals for the project, not something like 40% of the draft
complete. A milestone might
completion of research, finish the first draft, or have a layout in
place. Milestones should be often enough to sustain focus
but separated enough to make each a smaller project.
Create a Milestone Schedule
Pull together the previous material to create a schedule for the duration of the project. The inputs for this schedule include:
Remember to build in "spare" or unassigned time
or week). Scedule to get as much
of the project done early as possible, leaving some spare time at the
will need it when the unforeseen occurs.
A Sample Milestone Schedule
|Milestone||Days Needed||Meetings needed||Date to complete||Tasks involved (collective and individual)|
|Initiate||0||1||receive assignment and do preliminary reading for familiarity|
|First concepts||2||1||Prepare list of first ideas and plan assignments for each member, after brainstorming on issue (presumably after initial reading).|
|Research reports 1||3||2||Each member prepare statement on joint and individual research, circulate to others before meeting.|
|Section Reports 1||3||0||Members prepare initial arguments by section, summarize unresolved problems and deficient evidence, circulate before meeting|
|Section reviews 1||Members review each other's research and arguments, circulate reviews.|
|Structure||Prepare paper outline or structure, decide strategy of argument.|
|Rough Draft||Complete a full draft of paper|
|Review Rough||Review draft; get "external" reviews; circulate written reviews; determine needed improvements in argument and evidence|
|Prefinal draft||Compose final rough draft; review and make final additions|
|Final draft||polish paper (focus on mechanics, grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure) and submit|
Expect things to go wrong. Ask yourself how often you complete a project without a hitch? If the answer is 'not often,' then learn from the past. Expect hiccups. Make allowance for these hiccups in your planning, and when they happen, don't stress about it. Never get caught saying 'If everything goes to plan, I will just make it.' You are really saying, 'I know it will probably not go to plan, so I will probably fail.' What we need to do is to brainstorm what could go wrong before we start. When we come up with a risk, we need to look at:
Where a risk has two highs (It is highly likely to happen, and it will have a high impact) we need to look at what we can do about it. Depending on the size of the project, we might also want to look at high/medium and medium/medium risks.
A plan is not static. Things are bound to change. The schedule is not just something you file away and forget. As time passes, review the schedule. Enter the actual time spent. Adjust the time estimates if they change. Organize your work to adhere to the schedule. Importantly, focus on the next milestone. Work towards the next milestone and adopt the railway station approach. Provided you go through each station on time, you will get to your destination on time.