Make Your Schedule Work for You


Six Tips to Maximize Schedule Performance



By Christa O’Brien and Trevor Grindland

Northrop Grumman

North Texas, USA


How many times have we sat in a schedule update meeting thinking to ourselves, “What is the point? This is just a paper exercise. We’ll either complete the tasks to achieve a schedule milestone or miss it.” Or how about, “This schedule doesn’t reflect reality.” Or, “All we are doing is documenting the schedule slips.” Lastly, and a personal favorite, “The time I’ve spent creating and reviewing the schedule was time I could have been working to complete the schedule tasks.”

That all ends now! This is not a traditional how-to-build-a-schedule discussion. We have created six tips to turn the schedule into a team’s most lethal weapon as a program manager. By viewing the schedule as a tool and not an end-product, a program manager can shift the schedule paradigm from a check the box activity to input for a team’s next program management steps. We will explore concepts and approaches each program manager and their team can implement to better utilize the schedule in their program management.

We have successfully implemented these tips on numerous programs with repeatable performance results. Now when we walk into a schedule meeting, we think “Yes! What am I going to learn today and roll back into my overall program guidance to a team?”


Schedule, technical, and cost objectives are the essential cornerstones of any program. Without a properly managed schedule, key technical objectives or scope may be overlooked leading to product failures and design or test rework. Similarly, without a properly managed schedule, a team is inefficient, lacking discipline, and delaying program completion which can drive negative cost and financial impacts.

A program manager has the privilege of driving the culture, mindset, and business discipline into a program team. By following these six tips, a program manager is now well equipped to turn the schedule into the most critical tool for managing a program.

The Six Tips are:

  1. One-size Schedule Does Not Fit All
  2. A Schedule is a Tool, Not a Deliverable
  3. A Schedule is Not a Task List
  4. Critical Path is a Risk Mitigation Tool
  5. Scheduling is a Team Effort
  6. Schedule is Key to Predictable Cost Management

Tip #1 One-Size Schedule Does Not Fit All

Every program manager knows that a schedule is one of three critical pillars to managing a program. With so many different types of schedules, how does a program manager evaluate and select the best schedule for their unique program? A program manager must not only evaluate the different types of schedules, but also understand the scope of a program, the size of resources, and the technical complexity to make the proper selection.

Let’s begin by explaining the different types of schedules that are typically within a program manager’s toolbox.

A Single Page schedule (Figure 1) is often used to provide a quick overview of a program. It contains all key milestones for a program. It also includes important summary-level efforts which are required to complete a program scope. This schedule type will not identify any dependencies, resource needs, or detailed tasks.

A Gantt chart or resource-loaded schedule (Figure 2) are very similar types of schedules. They both have a detailed list of tasks that are linked together. The linkage describes the dependency between given tasks. These schedule types easily generate a critical path to reach scope completion.


To read entire paper, click here

Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 15th UT Dallas PM Symposium in May 2023.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: O’Brien, C. and Grindland, T. (2023). Make Your Schedule Work for You: Six Tips to Maximize Schedule Performance; presented at the 15th University of Texas at Dallas Project Management Symposium in Richardson, TX, USA in May 2023; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue XI, November. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/pmwj135-Nov2023-OBrien-Grindland-make-your-schedule-work-for-you.pdf

About the Authors

Christa O’Brien

Texas, USA


Christa O’Brien is currently a program manager at Northrop Grumman and held previous roles in both technical and program management with General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. With over 20 years of experience, she is an experienced manager and leader focusing on teamwork, innovation, and communication. Christa received her Electrical Engineering Degree from the University of Minnesota, holds a Master’s Degree Certificate in Systems Engineering from Stevens Institute, and maintains an active PMP certification. Christa can be contacted at christa.obrien@ngc.com

Trevor Grindland

Texas, USA


Trevor Grindland is currently a program manager at Northrop Grumman and held previous roles in both technical and program management at General Dynamics. Trevor has extensive experience in schedule, earned value, and risk management of complex, multi-discipline programs. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from North Dakota State University and a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University. Trevor can be contacted at trevor.grindland@ngc.com