A guide to Master Schedules

Ad Esse Consulting master schedule example

Plan and monitor transformation within the context of events happening throughout your organisation. This is a simple, but powerful, tool for providing visibility of all upcoming tasks, highlighting any project dependencies, and track resources. Find out more about how to create transparency and clarity with Master Schedules.

What are master schedules?

Despite having a likeness in appearance to a Gantt chart, a Master Schedule is not just a project plan. It is a simple, but powerful, tool for planning and monitoring transformation within the context of events happening throughout an organisation. There is usually an abundance of project plans within most organisations, each focusing on a different project, at different levels and managed by a variety of people. A Master schedule brings all these individual project plans together and is used in a very different way.

Why use a master schedule?

This tool provides complete visibility of all upcoming tasks and activities, highlights any project dependencies that exist, and enables a clear picture of what resources are tied up at any one time. Because of the collaborative way they are developed, there is good ownership of all activity on the schedule. You get a complete overview of all the activity planned to deliver your strategy, and any omissions are easy to identify. Having a master schedule ensures that activities and milestones don’t get missed or forgotten about.

Using master schedules in your business transformation

Master Schedules are formed of two interlinked parts; firstly, the “business stuff” which includes all current project plans in your organisation, and secondly (but most importantly), your transformation plan. To ensure a golden thread of transformation activity runs through your whole organisation, a Strategy Schedule for senior management and detailed Area Schedule for frontline staff are often created in conjunction with a Master Schedule. This aligns transformation activity across the hierarchy of your organisation.

Transformation is never implemented in isolation, so bringing together all of these elements in one Master Schedule is essential for success. This maintains a focus of transformation, ensuring effective results and a substantial ROI.

In our experience, the act of creating the Master Schedule in itself is illuminating and value adding for senior managers. It is often a revelation for each individual to become aware of just how much is going on, and what colleagues are managing. It also, sometimes for the first time, allows them to all have the same perspective of the organisation as a whole. Most importantly, it allows the sensible and realistic scheduling of the actions required to transform.

How to use a master schedule & the red-line technique

A red line is used to visually illustrate the progress of items on a Master Schedule. It is a physically drawn line on the printed Master Schedule (or a digital line on an electronic schedule). A straight red line is drawn beside a task that has been completed for the previous week. If the task has not been completed to plan, a spike is drawn backwards to the task, if a task has been completed early then a spike is drawn forwards to the task. We call this ‘red lining’. This provides a highly visual track for the team to quickly and simply see where they have been successful and where they need to focus on remedial action.

Things to remember:

  • Make it realistic, robustly challenge the timeframes and volume of activity on your Master Schedule
  • Ensure localised plan maintain a link to the Master Schedule
  • Ensure your Master Schedule is visible to all across the organisation
  • Master Schedules must be activity driven – each line should be a specific task
  • They must be simple to read & understand – somebody should be able to look at the Master Schedule and understand it within 3 minutes
  • It should be signed off to show the ‘Owners’ (usually senior management) have agreed and are bought into the vision
  • It must be regularly reviewed & red-lined – every week for optimum effect for most organisations

Five steps to create your Master Schedule

A top-level Master Schedule is built by the Senior Management Team of your organisation. The simple steps below show you how to create a Master Schedule; detailed planning and a number of alterations are necessary to get it to a realistic plan.


Make a list of all the Transformation activity that needs completing. Common tasks will include value stream mapping workshops, frontline suggestions, setting up of Information Centres and roll out of 5S. Each of these should be written on post-its.


Create a list of activity showing all the upcoming events, projects and deadlines (‘business as usual’). This should be for the whole organisation. Again, these should be written on post-its.


Create a ‘calendar’ stretching over 6-24 months. Add in all activity from steps 1 and 2. Use a wall or white board and place your post-it notes for transformation and ‘business as usual’ activities. Then capture into a spreadsheet.


Sign off the Transformation roll out plan. Validate with all the relevant managers individually and then with them as a team to gain agreement. Print onto A1 and transfer the final version to the Information Centre for weekly review, using the red-line technique.


Roll out the Master Schedule. Next, start to create localised Master Schedules.


NOTE: We would always recommend completing steps 1, 2 and 3 on a roll of paper using post-it notes, before transcribing the plan onto an electronic template in steps 4 and 5. This allows more realistic planning and negotiation.

Examples of organisations using Master Schedules

In a project with Newham Council which empowered Contact Centre staff, we helped to create a Master Schedule to facilitate better resource and project planning. This provided the team with greater visibility of activities that could increase the demand on their service.

We also worked with mhs homes where a Master Schedule was developed to ensure that resource was in place to deliver the projects and that proposed Lean activity was incorporated appropriately into the mhs homes calendar. The Master Schedule was created in a workshop with the Executive team and monitored weekly to track progress and identify where intervention and/or support would be required.

Master Schedules for a successful business transformation

Avoid frustration and burnout when you’re delivering your transformation programme. Master schedules are a useful tool for creating visibility of all activity within your organisation. It’s a vital step in planning a successful transformation that aligns with current workloads. “We have too many other projects” is no longer an excuse for putting off your transformation programme because the development of a Master Schedule shows visually how all the organisation’s change projects link and impact one another. Here are more resources if you’re thinking about business transformation, where Master Schedules can help:

If you need any help with your Master Schedule, or would like any more information, get in touch. Please email hello@ad-esse.com or use our Contact page.

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