While it may feel easier to start planning a project with a kick off date, many of us need to work backwards from an end date or goal. Otherwise, how can you ensure everything gets done before that big presentation, event or rollout?
If you’re like me, you work backwards all the time. Luckily, it’s as easy to work backwards in Smartsheet as it is to work forward. This week, we’ll take you through the four simple steps you need to take to build a project sheet backwards from an event date.
Since all of the pumpkin flavored goodness is hitting the stores and autumn’s on my mind, let’s use planning a Halloween party as an example to illustrate these steps.
1) Start with a new project sheet.
In this type of scenario, the end date of your project (rather than the start date) is what you know – for me, that’s the date of my Halloween party. So, to get started organizing my tasks and putting dates behind them – in order to determine a start date for all of my planning – I’ll use project management features in Smartsheet to get organized and plot out timing on a Gantt chart.
Enter the project sheet. Project sheets have these project management tools – a Gantt chart, enabled dependencies, and standard dependency columns – all automatically enabled and ready to go.
You can open a new project sheet from the Plus tab as an option under ‘Create New’, or from the ‘Create New’ in the left-hand toolbar.
2) Enter your end date.
For my Halloween party, my end date is October 31. I’m going to add this to row 16 so that I have room above my end date to add all of the tasks I need to take care of before my party.
To make October 31st a milestone, I’ll give it a duration of 0.
3) Outline the steps you need to accomplish before your end date.
In the first 15 rows, I'll fill in all of the task names for my party that need to be completed before the 31st, and the approximate number of days it will take to complete each one in the Duration column.
I won't enter any start or finish dates; these will be calculated automatically by the dependency settings in Smartsheet.
I've also used Hierarchy to divide tasks into sections, using background color and bold text formatting to make the parent rows stand out.
4) Schedule dates for all of your sub-tasks using predecessors.
Next comes the most important part of the scheduling process - setting the sub-task dates backwards based on my event date.
To do this, I’ll use Start-to-Finish predecessors in the sub-task rows. This particular type of predecessor will set the finish date of the last task due before the event (in our example, row 15 – Get into Costume) as the day before the event. To create this type of dependency between rows, click on the predecessor cell for a sub-task and click the pencil icon that appears.
Here, I’ve set the row number to 16 (the row that contains my Halloween party date) and the type of predecessor to Start-to-Finish. When I click OK, the start and end dates for this sub-task are calculated automatically by Smartsheet.
Lag Days Take a look at the Finish dates that have been assigned to the Event Date Setup tasks – these are all tasks I want to complete the day of my Halloween party, not the day before. To make this type of adjustment, I’ll use Lag Days to push out the start date of the sub-tasks by one day (to update from the 30th to the 31st). Click the pencil icon to pull up the Edit Predecessor menu again, and enter 1 into the lag day field for each sub-task. This way they will all be scheduled to take place on the same day as the Halloween party.
Now I can set up Start-to-Finish dependencies for the other sub-tasks in my sheet.
Some of the sub-task start dates are driven off the party date itself, but others are driven based on the completion of other sub-tasks. For example, I need to take measurements before I can purchase any decorations, so in row 2 I'll create a Start-to-Finish dependency on row 5.
I use lag days intermittently to represent a period of inactivity between a task and its predecessor. For example, I use -14 in the Send Invitations row, because I want to make sure my guests have 2 weeks of advance notice between the time the invitations are sent and the event date.
Here's my completed schedule, and I can see that in order to be prepared for my party on Halloween, I need to get started on October 1st:
Working backwards works wonders. Try out this approach the next time you have a deadline and want to plan ahead!
Til next week, dig in and explore!
- Support Team