A simple project planning tool that will save you countless headaches

What do you think of when you hear the word “management tools?” Soft skills like “ability to listen well?” Software tools like compilers and debuggers?  In this column, I’ll tell you about one of the  management tools I have used the most in my long career: a simple project scheduling template.

Background: Project Management 101

I was first introduced to what we now call “project management” years before there really was such a term called project management. Believe it or not, in the early days of IT we didn’t have project management methodologies, nice tools, or training. Today, project management resources are everywhere.project schedule template

When I first joined IBM in 1976, my Systems Engineer (SE) responsibility was to support existing clients with IBM computers and install new IBM computer systems, usually for small businesses who had purchased their first computer. We called it the “mini-computer” era. It was exciting and lots of fun helping small business owners automate part of their business.

We didn’t have laptops, no software to speak of for personal use – not even project management software. What we did have was a predefined form and a pencil along with knowledge of the tasks required to install a new computer system plus the business applications that went with it.

IBM trained me on their installation process. We didn’t call it project management, but that’s certainly what it was. With this training, IBM provided a blank installation scheduling form (template) by which we could develop an installation schedule for each new client.

30 years later

The process we used to install computer systems in the late 70s and 80s is exactly the same process we use today. You need a project schedule that includes a few basic things like:

–       Tasks required to do the job

–       Responsibility assignment for each task

–       Timeframe for completing each task

IBM gave me a form and a set of standards (tasks required to do the job) so I developed an installation plan, or schedule, for each new computer system I needed to install.  I used the schedule to manage the project, just like we use the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)  today.

Of course, in my IBM days, it was all manual with paper and pencils, so it was smart to have a good eraser close by.

When the PC came out in the early 1980s along with VISICALC, I put this paper form onto a spreadsheet. (I wonder how many people reading this article remember VISICALC, the first spreadsheet application.) It revolutionized much of the manual and tedious administrative work we used to do with pencil and paper that we now take for granted.

I still use this template in Excel spreadsheet format to manage projects. Even though I’m well versed in Microsoft Project, I always revert back to my simple project schedule spreadsheet template whenever I can. For me, it’s just quicker and easier to use and it works just fine in providing what I need to manage a project.

Simple tools work just fine, and you won’t find a simpler tool than this Project Schedule Template.

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