One of the best aspects of using Microsoft Office Project 2007 is that it can calculate a realistic schedule for you, often based solely on task durations and task dependencies that you enter. Sure, you might have other scheduling controls, such as start and finish dates and calendars, but those are the exception, not the rule. Because a schedule's accuracy relies so heavily on accurate durations, spending a little brainpower on developing your durations will pay off.
Tip: This article is part of a series of articles within the Project Map that describe a broad set of project management activities. We call these activities "goals" because they are organized around the project management life cycle: Build a plan, track and manage a project, and close a project.
Start with some basic research The information that can help you estimate how long certain tasks take to complete can come from several sources.
Find sources for duration estimates
Tip: Consider starting small by creating a project that is broken down into small chunks of work (tasks) that can be completed in a month. When the month's worth of tasks is complete, start another month's worth of work. This is the technique that the agile method of project management uses to help reduce the margin of error in task durations, while providing fast feedback about the health of a project.
Build a time buffer into your project
Because you can't anticipate every issue that might delay your tasks, even the most accurate durations need a little "wiggle room." This provides a measure of risk management for your project. There are different ways to build a time buffer into your project:
Create a milestone When you want to identify a significant event in your schedule, such as the completion of a phase, create a milestone in your project.
Estimate durations You can model a project by using best-case and worst-case scenarios to help you accurately estimate the durations for your schedule and to simulate future resource loads and their effect on project timelines.
Enter a duration After you determine how long it will take to complete a task, it is time to enter a duration. Enter an estimated duration if you still aren't sure how long a task will take to complete.
Interrupt work on a task If two tasks occur simultaneously, you can pause the work on the task that starts first, begin the second task, and then start work again on the first task when the second is finished.
Create a calendar To identify working and nonworking time for a specific task, create a calendar. For example, a piece of machinery that is needed to complete a task may be available only on certain days of the week. You can identify the working time on a task calendar, and the task is scheduled accordingly.
Assign a calendar to a task After you create a task calendar, you apply it to the task or tasks that you created it for.
Add supporting information about a task Add more information about a task in the form of notes, documents, and links to Web pages.
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