What Is the Difference Between Planning & Scheduling?

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Planning is theoretical, while scheduling is actionable.
Planning is theoretical, while scheduling is actionable. (Image: agenda image by Ploum1 from Fotolia.com)

Planning and scheduling go hand in hand. A plan is the theory or the details of how something like a project will get done. A plan is used to create a road map for the achievement of an objective. A schedule, when linked to a plan, is assigning times and dates to specific steps of the plan.

Planning

A plan requires an outcome and is the road map for getting from the current moment to the future goal. Plans can be short term or long term. They always involve details and specific steps that guide the plan from start to finish. Plans should always make room for unforeseen events; for example if one part of the plan is contingent on an external factor, the plan should account for such an event.

Scheduling

Scheduling is the process of determining times and dates to achieve specific objectives. Schedules, like plans, can be long term or short term. Often, short-term schedules are very important and linked to long-term schedules. When working with an organizational or institutional schedule, it is important that the different players working on a project coordinate their schedules and have access to one another's schedules to ensure a smooth work flow.

Linking Plans to Schedules

Taking a pre-made plan and turning that into an actionable schedule can be a very complex task depending on the scope of the project. The plans must be very detailed and thorough. The estimates must be accurate when determining time lines. Err on the side of caution. Failure to give a proper estimate could result in the whole schedule being delayed.

Variances and Contingencies

Any scheduled plan must contain provisions for unforeseen variances. Things come up, and the plan must have a provision to deal with such occurrences. For example, if a company is manufacturing a new product and counting on an external supplier for parts and that supplier delays shipment, then what? The plan must have a solution to deal with this event. One solution might be to work on another phase of the project that was being saved for later.

Technology

Large-scale project management can be difficult to organize, especially when managing different parties, employees and resources. There are some excellent software programs such as Microsoft Project that aid in this process. This software can help in both the planning and scheduling while allowing the project to be flexible with changes made on the fly, while coordinating with those involved with the project.

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