January 24, 2023
General
8 minutes
Libby Marks

Guide: How to Prevent Scheduling Conflicts on Projects

Scheduling conflicts cause confusion, delays, and additional costs to projects. Here’s how to predict, prevent, and resolve them.

Scheduling conflicts are a fact of life in project-based businesses. From the accidental double-booking of in-demand resources, to schedule creep and staff sickness, there are lots of reasons scheduling conflicts occur.

The problem with scheduling conflicts is that they’re highly disruptive. At best, they cause day-to-day delays while you try to resolve them. At worst, they lead to project hold-ups, higher costs, and even undermine deliverables. 

Here's our rundown of the most common scheduling conflicts and how to avoid schedule conflicts in your business.

What is a scheduling conflict?

A scheduling conflict is when one person is assigned to do two things at the same time. That could be anything from a single task right up to a whole project.  

Obviously, staff members only have a certain number of hours in the day. So unless you expect them to work a LOT of overtime - or clone themselves - they won’t be able to do both. It falls to you, as the project manager, to resolve the conflict. 

An example of a scheduling conflict is someone being double-booked for a staff meeting and a client meeting at the same time. Or scheduled to work on Project A and B simultaneously.

What problems do schedule conflicts cause?

Scheduling conflicts cause all kinds of problems. If someone is just scheduled to work on two tasks in the same time slot or has overlapping events, the conflict causes fairly minor inconvenience.

You’ll need to stop what you’re doing and spend time helping your team member prioritize what to do. You might also need to reassign someone else to the lower priority task to keep things moving. 

But when someone is assigned to two projects at once, that can cause major inconvenience. You’ll need to reschedule your project resources - changing your best-laid staffing plan. 

You’ll either need to substitute in another resource or - if no-one is available - delay your project until someone suitable becomes available. This can impact on project schedule, deliverables, and client satisfaction. 

Not great when it's fairly easy to predict and avoid scheduling conflicts with the right tools. 

7 types of scheduling conflicts on projects

In professional services, consultancies, and agencies scheduling conflicts are common. This is because you have lots of people, projects, and tasks to bring into alignment. 

It's inevitable that project schedules will sometimes get messy - especially if you don’t have strong internal systems for resource scheduling. Here are seven types of common scheduling conflicts in project-based businesses. 

Double-booking

Double-booking happens accidentally when the same resource is scheduled to two tasks or projects simultaneously. It’s an easy mistake to make when you don’t have sufficient visibility into who’s booked to do what and when. This sort of scheduling conflict can be easily resolved by creating a centralized schedule that shows everyone’s availability. 

Unavailable team members

Resources go on annual leave, undertake training, and get sick. If you’re not aware of unavailable employees, you might assign tasks to them when you’re creating your project schedule. You may book unavailable timeslots for a time-sensitive task, causing chaos when the assignment isn't completed. Like double-booking, this is solved by increasing real-time transparency around availability. 

Ad hoc projects

Ad hoc projects are projects that aren’t planned and don’t appear in your work plan. They might arise due to a new market opportunity, the whims of a capricious boss, or something out of anyone’s control like an urgent bug fix. Whatever the cause, if you’re already at full capacity, this is perhaps the ultimate scheduling conflict. 

Schedule slips

There are lots of reasons your project schedule can slip. Perhaps a task takes longer than expected. A client changes the project scope. Or maybe your project forecasts were inaccurate. When that happens, you might need your resources for longer or at a different time. If they’re also assigned to other projects, scheduling conflict occurs.

Resource capacity issues

Your team members only have a certain number of hours in the working week. Some may work part-time, others flexibly. You need to be aware of how these all add up, so you know how much capacity they have for work and when. If not, you may accidentally overbook your resources. This can lead to tasks taking longer than expected, schedules slipping, and scheduling conflicts. Creating a work schedule can help here. 

Organizational capacity issues

At an organizational level, poor capacity planning means not recruiting enough people to do the work you have to deliver. This increases the risk of schedule conflicts as you have more work to juggle between existing limited resources - or risk delaying and deferring client work. 

VIP clients

Every firm has VIP customers they can’t say no to. ‘They-say-jump-you-ask-how-high?’ clients. When these clients schedule a meeting, you attend (even if the conflicting event is your Grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration 👵). In these schedule conflicts, it’s a question of how you meet the client’s needs without letting other tasks slip.

How to prevent and handle scheduling conflicts

Okay, that’s how schedule conflicts can happen. Next, you need to know how to prevent them from happening. And, when that’s not possible, how to handle scheduling conflicts when they do occur. 

Get to grips with resource scheduling

Resource scheduling is the process of identifying and allocating required resources to projects. Put simply, it’s about assigning the right people to the right tasks at the right time, so you can deliver projects on schedule, on budget, and to client satisfaction. It’s pretty fundamental to the success of project-based businesses. 

To allocate resources effectively, you need access to real-time information about all of your resources’

  • Skills and seniority
  • Availability or allocations 
  • Current capacity 

Armed with this information, there’s little excuse for scheduling conflicts (beyond the unexpected like ad hoc projects or staff sickness). This is because - before anyone is booked - you can see whether they’re free to take on more work. And if they are fully booked, you can find suitable alternatives with the same skills. 

However, many businesses undermine the efficacy of this process by using outdated or unfit-for-purpose processes, like managing resource availability in spreadsheets. 

The problem with spreadsheets is that the information is often out-of-date and it takes time to extract the information you need. Savvy businesses use resource planning software to solve scheduling conflicts for good. 

Understand capacity and utilization

Overbooking your resources can lead to all kinds of issues. Not just the risk they’ll miss deadlines and it will lead to schedule conflicts. But also the risk that an excessively heavy workload will cause your employee to burn out. 

Burnout is devastating for individuals’ health. But it's also bad for your business - negatively impacting productivity, mental acuity, and project outcomes, and resulting in higher absenteeism and staff turnover. 

So it’s really important to get to grips with capacity and utilization. 

When you think about capacity, it is common to think that an employee’s capacity is 100% of their working hours. But that’s not the case. According to Gartner's VP Analyst, Robert Handler, scheduling resources to 80% capacity is optimal. 

To prevent scheduling conflicts, you need to keep an eye on resource utilization to make sure they’re not being overutilized - ie scheduled or working above 80% capacity. And within this time, you should expect around 80% of their time to be on billable utilization, with the other 20% for meetings, emails, training, etc.

Create a centralized resource calendar

Remember we mentioned visibility and transparency above? This is what we’re talking about. A centralized resource calendar helps you see the availability of your resources, plan ahead for upcoming projects and prevent schedule conflicts.

The purpose of a resource calendar is to centralize your resource pool in one place and provide a bird’s eye view of everyone’s bookings. It helps project managers

  • understand their team’s schedules
  • see if anyone is over- or under-allocated
  • spot any calendar conflicts coming up

It also helps with reassigning tasks to other team members because you can see who has the space and skills to take it on. 

The ultimate benefit of a resource calendar is that it lets you optimize how you use your resources for maximum ROI. It provides the oversight to deploy all of your resources optimally, so they’re earning - not burning - money. 

The centralized resource calendar is a key feature of the best scheduling software. Typically, you’ll be able to see a heatmap that shows scheduling conflicts at a glance, and easily drag-and-drop tasks to suitable staff with more capacity.

Bonus tips for handling scheduling conflicts

  • Include buffer time in project plans - Things rarely run perfectly to plan. Add extra time to your project schedule to absorb any slippage. This will reduce the risk of conflicts as you have more wiggle room in your timetable. 
  • Abolish ad hoc projects - Ok, you can’t eliminate ad hoc projects altogether! But you can implement a formal process for assessing, prioritizing, and onboarding new projects. This will make it less likely that capricious or low-value projects usurp what you have planned. 
  • Review projects for future plans - Scheduling conflicts can happen if you underestimate how long a task or project will take. Conducting a retrospective of each project. Did it stick to projected timeframes? If not, why not? This information can make future project forecasts more accurate, so schedule slips and conflicts are less likely. 
  • Encourage team communication - It's not just the project manager's responsibility to avoid schedule conflicts. Promote communication between team members about workload, capacity, and scheduling issues, so you can address them in good time.

Software to solve schedule conflicts for good

There’s no doubt about it - schedule conflicts seriously reduce productivity and affect project profitability. 

Fortunately, there’s a wealth of resource scheduling software solutions available to solve the problem - and at a fraction of the cost that conflicts cause.

Runn is one such solution - we like to think it’s the best - trusted by hundreds of companies to manage their resources more effectively and profitably.

Features include  

  • Easy resource scheduling - and re-scheduling if conflicts occur!
  • Accurate project forecasting, planning, and management
  • Intuitive capacity planning and management - including utilization reports
  • At-a-glance reporting dashboards, timesheets, and lots more

But Runn doesn’t just solve costly conflicts. It makes your entire project-based business more productive and agile - surfacing capacity for additional work, raising ROI on resource costs, and protecting project profit margins. 

Try us for free for 14 days. No credit card needed. No commitment. Just take us for a spin and see if you like us. We think you will :-)

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