Planning: Setting a course of action to achieve a desired Goal. Your 'Plan' is that course of action
"Plan your work and work your plan" is an adage we have all heard. How about "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail"? So if planning is that important to successful project management, what are the key elements of effective planning?n
An effective plan paves the way to a successful outcome. With an effective plan you will have a reference against which to measure progress. Professional Project Managers realize that without a good Plan there is nothing to control. But first before making a plan, we need to decide what to plan. "How do I decide what to plan ?" you ask.
Look at your Project Objective (from your Initiating documents) and only spend time planning what is important. The knowledge areas below provide a list to choose from.
Well, for one project, Schedule could be the most critical. We would say this is a "Time Driven" project. For another project the Quality might be most critical, making this project "Quality Driven". Time and Quality are 2 of the project management knowledge areas.
Determine which (few) knowledge areas govern for your project, and put most of your planning time into those. Along with Time and Quality, the knowledge areas are: Project Initiation, Scope, Cost, Human Relations, Communications, Risk, Procurement, and Stakeholder Engagement. Of these 10 knowledge areas, only a few will be of the highest priority for any given project. Click the link to see more about knowledge areas
Secondly, evaluate the 'climate'. Consider the political climate, decision makers' preferences, constraints. Look at the section about 'Who? - Stakeholders'. Have frequent planning review meetings to ensure you have continued buy-in and that all Key Stakeholders understand what your project is doing. Also look at constraints that will affect your plan. In addition, work from a checklist of things not-to-forget. A list of possible constraints is found here, along with a sample checklist of things not-to-forget.
Also think about the available information that will help you plan. Don't "re-invent the wheel". Instead look at past projects for lessons learned. Consider existing drawings, sketches, maps, calendars, files, specifications, field notes, safety minutes, observations, any other past document that can provide useful information for your plan. Again, consult your Stakeholders who might have useful information and opinions for your plan.
Thirdly, decide the level of detail to plan. Of course you will go into deeper detail planning the highest priority knowledge areas. For example, if Time is the highest priority knowledge area you might need to plan down to the minute, while you plan Cost to the nearest $1000.00. On the other hand if Cost is the highest priority knowledge area you will want to plan down to the nearest dollar, while you plan Time in weeks, for example.
Fourth, consider alternative solutions. Remember that alternative solutions can include:
rent vs buy vs make
overtime vs straight time
Here are some tips to help you:
Does the alternate relate to the Root Causes?
Has the alternate been used successfully for this type of project?
Is the alternate likely to be temporary or permanent?
Can we make a prototype test without the full scale solution?
Could the alternate become a new standard?
Does the alternate create another problem?
Fifth, select the best alternate solution and write it down. The best alternate will meet most of the following criteria:
Most likely to provide the Project Objective
Has the appropriate degree of permanence
Does not create another (big) problem
Sixth: Want to set goals for success? Want a Plan that achieves goals? Make your goals and Plans SMARTWAM. Click for a discussion on "Measurables"
Seventh, during your Planning, iterate often to ensure the Plan continues to meet the Project Objective; and that the Project Objective continues to be the right solution, answer, or response. In Project Management, Iteration is doing a review of the plan so far, making sure it is still on track, making sure the assumptions are still valid, making sure all Key Stakeholders are informed and are still in agreement; then making the necessary changes to the plan. Therefore, to complete the Iteration you may decide to go backward and re-do some planning work. For this reason Iteration should be done often and after small steps so that any going backward is minimized.
Eighth, communicate the plan, and assumptions. In the future, the assumptions will be important to remind everyone of what was not yet known.
Finally, you will want to identify things that can go wrong with your project, and make plans appropriately. These things that can go wrong are called Project Risks. Prioritize your planning efforts around risks that have a higher probability of happening. Coupled with probability of a risk is the unfortunate outcome that might occur, should this risk happen. We would say this is the potential impact of the risk. Your highest priority risks are those with highest probability of happening and the greatest impact. You will want to put a good deal of your planning effort toward high priority risks. Hopefully you can prevent the risk, reduce the probability and/or mitigate the impact, or transfer the risk to another party (such as buying insurance).
In addition, obtain some planning tools. These do not need to be software but can include templates, flow charts, mock-ups, simulations, and many other project management tools and techniques. If unfamiliar, get some training on using these tools. It will be worth it!
Here then are key elements of effective planning:
1) Decide what is important. Which knowledge areas are
most important for your project?
2) Evaluate the climate.
3) Go deeper into detail only for the highest
priority knowledge areas.
4) Consider alternative solutions.
5) Select the best alternate. Write it down.
7) Iterate often.
8) Communicate the plan and assumptions.
9) Identify and prioritize project risks. Eliminate or
mitigate or transfer the highest priority risks.
10) Obtain and use Planning tools. Get training on these
and watch your planning improve!
Professional Project Managers manage by Planning Goals and Objectives not by crisis. Try this quiz, for fun!
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For a quick look at some key benefits of project planning, CLICK HERE.
Here are some additional thoughts on Planning.