Strategies for Managing your Project Schedules

We here at Systemates would like to thank those who were able to attend our Projectmates Power Hour webinar on August 13th. Kieran Stone, Director of Construction at Trader Joe's for 10 years, was a guest co-host and discussed the challenges and successes of leveraging Projectmates schedules for new stores, remodels, relocations, and expansions. Trader Joe's is a privately held grocery store chain with almost 450 locations throughout the United States.

Q&A with Kieran Stone
During the webinar, Kieran gave us insight on how Trader Joe's uses Projectmates to manage their entire project schedule, from the real estate phase through the store opening. Kieran indicated the main benefit of using the Projectmates schedule over previous methods (Excel, for example) is that everyone has a central place to go to review and update the project schedules.

"Before Projectmates, we did not have a specific method for managing projects. It was very decentralized, and up to the mercy of that particular Director of Construction managing the project," Kieran explained. "Having everything in one place has been the biggest benefit. To be able to have that centralized area and simply run a report has saved us a ton of time internally and let people focus on stuff that is less administrative based."

Trader Joe's has approximately 50 schedule items they track during the project lifecycle. The different project managers typically update their projects on a weekly basis. The schedule has multiple predecessors that make updating planned dates easy as the project evolves.

Trader Joe's has two main reports they run from the schedule information managed in Projectmates. A monthly milestone report is used to update management on the current list of stores in development. A second report is also generated to allow the project managers and the external team (Architects, GCs, Engineers, and more) to review tasks at their weekly meeting.

"Our managers get a quick graphical look where we are at with all the different projects going on at a particular time. With all the different projects, you get the big picture view of what is going on in the department," said Kieran.

Based off Kieran's experience, he indicated three good pieces of advice.

  1. Start with a simple schedule and add to it later if necessary. "It's a cliché for a reason. If it gets overwhelming with too many tasks, it's not going to get used," Kieran said.

  2. Use the resources tab in Projectmates to assign tasks to team members, so that items display in their Ball-in-Court. "This has been a big benefit to us, because this allows us to identify, quickly, who's got what."

  3. Lastly, use the schedule often. Projectmates works best as a collaborative tool; the schedule should be a living, breathing entity. "It's not a 'set it' and 'forget it' kind of tool," Kieran explained. "You need to be in there on a regular basis, updating it. Use it as a conversation piece and tool to see if its different tasks are something that will affect the schedule downstream."

Schedule Best Practices
In addition to Kieran's valuable insight, here are several best practices based off our experiences implementing and supporting Projectmates with many different customers that provide the best results for successful schedule management.

The KISS method (Keep it Simple, Silly), even though a cliché, is important to keep in mind when implementing a schedule. In Projectmates, you are not limited to the number of schedule tasks you can have. The main thing to keep in mind is that you are limited to the discipline that the team members use when updating the schedule. If you have too many items and the Project Manager finds keeping track of so many items in the system too much work, he or she will not use it. The best practice is to have what is needed only.

Baseline to Planned to Actuals Workflow
Projectmates has designed a workflow to give Project Managers a full set of historical information for comparison. Once the project has been initiated, set initial planned dates and create a baseline of this set of tasks in Projectmates. This will save this information to compare later as changed are made. As the site conditions change on the project, update the planned start and planned end dates by editing the different scheduled tasks. Finally, as the schedule tasks get started and completed, update the tasks with actual start and actual finish dates. Compare both your baseline to planned and planned to actual dates inside the schedule to evaluate the success of the project and gather lessons learned.

Predecessors are relationships that can be set between schedule task items. These can be used to make updating all other schedule tasks by making changes to just a few planned start and finish dates. By setting up the predecessors when implementing the schedule, the project managers will be able to quickly update the entire schedule, instead of having to manually change the dates for each task.

Milestones Consistency
Reporting is an important output of your schedules. Project Managers need to report the progress of the critical dates for the schedule across all the projects to which they are responsible. Apply a disciplined approach to the names and numbers of milestones in a project. By keeping the names of the milestones exactly the same and having the same milestones across the program, clear and consistent reporting will be the result.

In conclusion, Trader Joe's has benefited from having a central location for team members to keep up to date on projects and report against these dates to management and external team members in meetings. The Projectmates schedule is designed to be a living entity and should be updated often to get full benefits. Utilizing predecessors will make the schedule easier to update. When implementing the schedule, start small and add items later as needed. Use the Baselines, Planned and Actuals to generate historical data for lessons learned. Finally, remember to keep milestones consistent across the projects for better reporting.

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