How to Create a Good Workback Schedule (With Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 5, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Scheduling your project is a crucial part of delivering high-quality work on time. A workback plan enables your team to plan a project from start to finish, establishing timelines as soon as possible to allow for future planning. Understanding workback schedules can assist you in developing your own and preparing your team for potential project issues. In this article, we explain what a workback schedule is, explore the advantages of using it, discuss the challenges associated with this type of schedule, outline how to create one, and provide you with five tips to help you make your own.

Related: What Is a Performance Improvement Plan? (With an Example)

What is a workback schedule?

A workback schedule is a framework used to outline the life cycle and significant phases of a project backwards, which means from the delivery date to the start date. If your employers have ever given you a task to manage with no parameters or guidelines other than a deadline, you've likely used a workback plan. The best way to organize in this case is to open your calendar, note the deadline date, and work backward to establish when and how you can complete the major project milestones to meet the deadline.

Related: Understanding How to Complete a Risk Analysis

The advantages of using a workback plan

A workback plan is defined by two bookends: the start and finish dates of the project. Between these dates, the project manager can plan tasks and resources as they see fit, as long as they complete such tasks within the specified deadline. The primary advantage of use a workback plan is to ensure you set and meet important deadlines. This is critical, as the project can only be successful if the team completes tasks on time. When reaching a deadline is just as vital as the deliverables themselves, workback plans allow you to structure the project accordingly.

Related: Create an Effective Work Plan For a Successful Project (With Template)

What are the challenges of a workback schedule?

One challenge of using a workback calendar is scheduling all the project's necessary components and tasks for completion by the deadline when you have limited time. Suppose you believe that meeting the proposed deadline while adhering to your team's or organization's standards is unattainable. In that case, you can have an honest discussion with the client or project stakeholders about either extending the deadline or adjusting the project to match both the intended outcome and the preferred delivery date. Setting realistic goals is essential for a successful project.

Another challenge is estimating the duration of specific project stages or tasks . It can be helpful to consider previous projects and how long each component took, and compare it to your current needs. Consider possible challenges and risks that may delay any aspects of the project and account for them in your estimates. If this is your first time using a workback schedule, you can gain valuable insight into how to set and estimate realistic delivery dates and milestones from senior leadership.

How to create a workback plan

Consider the following steps if you want to create a workback plan for your team project:

1. Organize your deadlines

To create a workback plan, collect all deliverables, targets, and due dates assigned to your team and organize them chronologically. Estimate the time required to meet each deadline with your team. Your team can speak with clients, other teams, or anybody else involved in the project to set delivery dates. If possible, try to schedule deliveries on the same workday each week to promote a consistent work routine.

2. Create columns and rows

On spreadsheet software, you can design a simple workback plan template. To begin, establish columns with the following information in order of left to right:

  • Order number: Your order number may be a unique identifier for your deliverable. It typically indicates the task's position inside your objective list.

  • Quantity: This column shows how many of each deliverable or job you intend to complete in the remaining period. You can use this column for deliverables, keeping track of the quantity required by a specified date.

  • Task name: By naming tasks with recognizable phrases, your task name column can aid in task organization. Consider using broadly understood phrases to describe your work, terms that your staff, clients, and stakeholders can all comprehend.

  • Current state: You can use the current status column to keep track of the progress of a particular project stage. You can populate it with information on what your team is working on, who is working on it, or any other indicators you believe can aid in communicating task status to project participants.

  • Responsibility: Your team can use the responsibility column to indicate who is in charge of each task. They can assign the project to one or more team members and change them as needed to keep project data relevant.

  • Summary: Summarizing your workback plan tasks can help keep communication with your entire team current and can help set expectations for the project's success. This makes it easy for the team to reference and understand quickly.

  • Time left: The time remaining cell indicates how much time a team has remaining before a project's deadline. Keeping this part current can be quite beneficial when interacting with a large team.

3. Enter the details of your project

Create rows for each deliverable, task, and objective in the order they appear in your columns. It may be faster to establish details as a team, simply because other team members may have more knowledge about tasks they're currently completing. Try to make as much progress as possible toward accomplishing your goals to better plan for future deadlines.

4. Consider using colour coding

Establishing a colour code is an innovative way to aid teams in understanding your workback plan and keep materials organized. You can generate a colour code for each team member and associate it with the deliverables they're responsible for completing. You can use your colour code to indicate how much time remains until the delivery date. For example, the colour can move from green to yellow to red as the delivery date approaches. Your team can use colour coding to allocate tasks to self-directed categories, such as those about a specific department or those requiring a meeting.

5. Take holidays into consideration

Consider considering any holidays that may hinder the team's work when constructing your timetables. This includes holidays recognized by your organization, days on which employees may request vacation, and any holidays observed by your clients, stakeholders, or coworkers. Considering the holidays of other stakeholders can help your team perform better, demonstrating to your coworkers that you're both caring and a careful planner.

6. Review your work with the team

After you have collaborated with your team to create your schedule, consider reviewing to ensure that all the information you have included is accurate. By working with verifiable dates, you can ensure that your progress toward future project deadlines is smooth. You are ready to proceed once you receive consent from all of your members regarding timeframes and deliverables.

Related: How to Write an Action Plan to Help You Achieve Your Goals

5 tips to consider when creating a workback plan

Creating a workback plan is intricate and commonly requires trial and error. Here are five vital tips that can set you up for success.

1. Keep task due dates in mind

This is an important element of any workback plan. Creating tasks with defined trajectories and due dates lays the groundwork for successfully completing the project. Knowing the project's original due date enables you to alter upcoming tasks appropriately if there's a delay.

2. Allocate resources wisely

When working backwards from the deadline, there's a risk of devoting too many resources at the conclusion of the project and leaving insufficient for the beginning. When this occurs, the beginning of the project suffers, and the remainder of the project faces numerous obstacles. It may be easier to handle this by distributing resources and allocating them evenly. If you have leftover resources after the conclusion of a project, you can always transfer them to future tasks.

3. Prepare for unforeseen circumstances

Take possible risks into consideration. The best way to minimize risk is to develop contingency plans so you feel prepared for unforeseen circumstances. This entails creating a strategy for adapting the schedule while preserving the same due date in a workback plan.

4. Experiment with different versions of the workback plan

The most excellent project managers weigh numerous alternatives before finalizing a schedule. A workback plan entails spreading out activities and allocating resources in novel ways until you discover the optimal answer. Try to make a series of mock-ups and compare them. Modern scheduling systems simplify this process.

5. Make use of scheduling software

You can use project management software that has scheduling capabilities to encourage creativity and flexibility. Some tools automatically store every update online, so you can stop worrying about losing critical data while making changes. Consider Gantt charts, schedules, and calendars to ensure that you can create a comprehensive workback plan.

Explore more articles