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The project calendar brings much-needed method to your project management madness.
This single document shows you all your tasks, their deadlines and who they're assigned to. It gives everyone on your team 24/7 access to their project management timeline.
This, in turn, makes your entire project more transparent. If everyone knows what's to be done (and when), they're more likely to hold themselves accountable.
A project calendar can be as straightforward or as complex as you need it to be. For simple projects, you might even use something as simple as pen and paper.
For complex creative projects, however, you'll need something that can keep up with the project requirements.
On that note, let's learn more about project calendars and how to create them.
There are four types of calendars commonly used in project management: base, project, resource, and task.
Let's look at the differences between them:
The base calendar is literally your base calendar. That is, this is the core template you use to create project, resource and task calendars.
The base calendar defines the standard working times for the project. It will show you the days of the week and hours of the day available for work. It also notes any holidays and nonworking days for the business (such as an annual company retreat).
Usually, an agency or business would have a single base calendar for its entire organization. This would be aligned with how the business operates (say, 9 to 5 regular hours with weekends off). The project manager for each project would modify this base calendar to fit the project requirements.
Larger organizations might have multiple base calendars for different work cycles or departments. For instance, the support department might have a 24-hour base calendar, while the product team would have a regular 9 to 5 baes calendar.
The project calendar is built off the base calendar. It shows the days, dates and time the project team is planned to work.
The project calendar is specific for a particular project. Consequently, the calendar takes the project's constraints and requirements into account. For example, if you're working on-site with a client whose collaborating team is only available between 12-5pm on weekdays, your project calendar would reflect this time constraint.
Additionally, the project calendar also shows key tasks and milestones. Some project managers also include task assignees in the calendar view. This effectively gives you a bird's eye view of the project.
The resource calendar shows the days, dates and time a specific resource is planned to work. The resource in question can be a person or a piece of hardware (such as a machine). The PMI, however, refers to resource calendars in the context of human resources only.
The resource calendar tells you when someone is available to work on a project (and when he/she is not). If a project team member is scheduled to take a vacation next month, the resource calendar will reflect this. If the team member is working on multiple projects concurrently (common in creative agencies), the resource calendar will show you this as well.
The resource calendar is a critical planning tool for creative project managers. When you're juggling multiple projects, you'll need a central place to figure out what all projects a particular resource is working on.
Combine the resource calendar with the project calendar to give yourself a clear overview of what each person on the team is working on, and when.
A task calendar is a calendar for a specific task. This calendar captures tasks (and resources required for them) that fall outside of the purview of the project calendar.
For example, suppose an app development project requires installing servers in a client's premises. This is a one-off task that requires its own scheduling and resources. You wouldn't assign your regular project team to this task; you'll have to bring in outside resources.
To capture such one-off tasks, you would use a task calendar.
This covers the core differences between base, project, resource and task calendars.
Let's now look at some ways to create project calendars.
Creating a project calendar is relatively easy if you already have a clear project plan and schedule in place. You can simply take the data from the project plan and express it as a calendar.
There are several methods for creating project calendars, as I'll show you below.
As a project manager, you already spend hours in Excel each week.
Turns out, Excel is also an excellent tool for creating project calendars - at least for small projects.
The grid-format in Excel can easily be turned into a calendar view. A single cell can hold information about tasks, resources and work schedules for a particular day.
The good part is that Excel has several built-in calendar templates. You can use one of these to get started quickly without dealing with tiresome formatting.
Of course, Excel is also exceptionally powerful with some tweaks. You can turn your calendars into comprehensive timelines, schedules and even entire project management dashboards. In fact, the MS Office website even shares a bunch of templates to help you do all of this.
If you're going to use Excel to create your project calendar, here are a few pros and cons you should know:
Avoid Excel to create project calendars. It might be an easy to use and familiar tool, but the lack of collaborative features make it a poor candidate for creative project management.
If you must use Excel, use it only for the final version of the calendar that doesn’t require any further edits or collaboration.
Google Sheets is Google’s online spreadsheet software. It doesn’t have nearly the same features as Excel, but it offers far better collaboration capabilities.
Incidentally, Google itself promotes Google Sheets as a way to create project plans.
You’ll use the same approach with Google Sheets as you would with Excel. You can divide rows and columns into day and time. Each cell can hold information about upcoming tasks, their assignees, holidays, etc.
Google Sheets is limited in its features compared to Excel. However, this lack of features is an advantage when using it to create project calendars.
By obscuring or removing advanced functions (which are unnecessary for project calendars anyway), Sheets makes it much easier for anyone to use it.
The good part is that Google Sheets is collaborative by nature. Since it is always online, you can communicate and collaborate with team members and clients in real-time.
This makes it an ideal alternative to Excel for creating project calendars.
Google Sheets is an improvement over Excel with better collaboration features. For small projects, it offers the perfect blend of usability and usefulness.
For complex projects, however, Google Sheets is too limited in scope and features. It requires a lot of manual work to set up. There is no way to automate processes.
Essentially, tools like Google Sheets and Excel aren’t really designed for project management. Sure, you can mold them to manage projects, but they can’t compete against a full-fledged project management tool in terms of features and usability.
Image source: Gizmodo
What better way to create a project calendar than using a dedicated calendar tool?
Most of us already use Google Calendar for managing our daily schedule. With a few tweaks, it can also double up as a project calendar.
Three things that make Google Calendar particularly good are its timeline view, notifications and sharing system, and integrations.
Plus, while you have to edit Excel and Google Sheets cells to create calendars, Google Calendar comes with one built-in. You can create calendars for each resource (i.e. resource calendar), project and task - all for free.
Let’s look at some pros and cons of using Google Calendar as your project calendar.
Although Google Calendar works well as a project calendar tool, it wasn’t originally designed for this purpose.
Consequently, managing complex projects with task dependencies is next to impossible within this tool.
And while it is approachable, Google Calendar also suffers from a lack of features, especially regarding work-based calculations (something Excel handles exceptionally well). Additionally, creating multiple calendars for each individual project and/or resource can quickly become overwhelming.
Google Calendar works well as a free project calendar tool. It is easy to use, fast and comes with a long list of integrations.
However, it suffers from a lack of features that makes it unsuitable for managing complex projects. It was never designed from the ground-up for creating project calendars, and this shows when you move to projects with multiple stakeholders, tasks and resources.
The final option on our list is also the most complicated (and efficient) - at least for untrained project managers.
Most competent project management tools will offer multiple ways to track the project schedule.
For example, in Workamajig, you can view the project schedule as a grid:
...or as a Gantt chart:
This drastically simplifies project calendar creation. Since the calendar is already tied to your project schedule, any changes you make to a task, its assignees or its duration will be reflected in the calendar automatically.
Competent project management tools also take advantage of task dependencies. If you increase the duration of Task A, its associated Task B also becomes longer automatically.
This sort of automation makes it radically easier to create a calendar for complex projects. You don’t have to manually manage the calendar in case of any changes; everything updates dynamically.
Besides this, there are several other pros (and some cons) to this method:
Of course, there are some disadvantages as well.
If you’re serious about project management, you need to use a PM tool to create your project calendar. The dynamic, automated nature of the software will save you hours each week. It will also make collaboration much easier, not to mention the dozens of other benefits of using a PM tool.
For complex projects, a project management tool should be your first choice for creating a project calendar.
The project calendar is one of the more important documents for managing a project efficiently. This simple document gives you a bird’s eye view of the project tasks, resources and timelines.
You can use several different tactics for creating your project calendar, such as using Excel, Google Sheets, Google Calendar and a project management tool. Some of these offer lower cost and higher familiarity (Excel, Google Sheets), while others offer ease of use and better collaboration (Google Calendar).
To be effective at project management, however, a project management tool with a built in project calendar is your safest bet.
How do you create your project calendars? Let us know in the comments below!
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