In 3 Reasons for Project Failure Martin Webster identified the common causes of project failure: poor project planning, a weak business case, and ineffective top-level management involvement. In this article we introduce a simple and effective way to start your project plan―showing you how to plan your project more effectively.
We also dispel the myth that the project plan is simply a schedule plan or Gantt chart showing project activities along a time line.
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Table of Contents
The Project Plan
The purpose of the project plan is to control a project. Consequently, it should not be seen as a document but rather the basis for managing project progress. Planning is an all-encompassing and iterative process that the project manager uses to manage work on a day-to-day basis. Accordingly, the project planning process starts with business objectives and ends with a detailed project plan for cost, schedule, and resources.
Clear definition of goals is the key to success. – Edison Montgomery
When you start planning for a new project you first need to map out the entire project in summary. Do this early with the executive project sponsor and other key stakeholders. Then prepare a detailed project plan for (at least) the next stage of the project. This is constructed in a similar way to the outline process described below except that it is worked out in more detail. And remember, this should be produced by the person or group doing the work not necessarily the project manager!
The plan will evolve over time, starting with the key business aims, scope, and key deliverables, and culminating with the summary project plan. The initial plan comprises
- Identification of the key deliverables (or products) and dependencies between these and other projects
- A break down of the project into manageable chunks based on the key deliverables/ products and project stages
- A summary plan or schedule of the entire project
- A detailed project plan or schedule of the next stage that also includes costs and resource requirements
Scope and Objective
Defining the scope and objectives of a project is hugely important. Not only are you defining the projectthe why, what, who and how―but also establishing your credibility and bringing senior people together to work as a committed team.
How you do this is largely a matter of personal choice. My preference is to define the project in an interactive workshop environment to establish
- The business goals the project meets
- How the project supports business strategy
- The work to be undertaken
- Aspects that are specifically excluded from the project
- Interdependencies with other projects
- Any boundaries
The next step, which is to break down the project into manageable pieces or work packages, can be achieved using product-based planning. This technique is best described in the PRINCE2 handbook and involves the preparation of both product breakdown structure and product flow diagram. The first should be used to break down the project into work packages (remember we are working at a summary level) based on the project deliverables and stages. Once again, I think this is best achieved in a workshop using a large wall covered in paper, Post-it notes and a digital camera. Where possible include broad estimates for each deliverable, milestone, or activity.
Once you are satisfied that you have identified all the products record what you have with a digital camera before you reorganise your Post-it notes into a product flow diagram. Relocate the Post-it notes to another wall, placing the finished product to the right, and working to the left show what needs to be done to complete the project and each stage. That is, analysis and design, purchasing and procurement, user acceptance testing an so on. Draw arrows between each product so that they all flow towards to final deliverable.
Network Diagrams and Project Schedules
You should now be in good shape to prepare a summary project plan. This will comprise of work packages for the major deliverables and a project schedule. However, before you rush ahead and prepare a Gantt chart consider this: the product flow diagram is essentially a network diagram. This shows the dependencies (logical relationships) between the different activities, products, and work packages needed to deliver your project. Transferring the flow diagram to a network diagram is straightforward and beneficial. It will help you understand complexity and, perhaps more importantly, help you to calculate project float and find the critical path.
In addition to the summary plan you will also need a detailed plan for the next stage. Detailed planning follows a similar process to that outlined above; just in more detail and typically for one aspect of the project. It is the project manager’s responsibility to make sure that work package owners and suppliers have planned in enough detail for monitoring and managing the project.
By following this process you will not only have a good idea of the project scope and target dates for their completion but also a better understanding of the commitment to the project and a better understanding of risk and attitudes to uncertainty.
Have Your Say
What are your experiences of project planning? How do you prepare a project plan? What advice would you give to a new project manager?
Have your say about what you’ve read and join the discussion on our related post: 3 Reasons for Project Failure.
Creative Commons image courtesy Eran Sandler.