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How To Plan A Project In Three Stages (#13 in the series How to Plan and Organize a Project)
By Michael D. Taylor

Planning a new project does not have to be chaotic. By using a simple three-stage process, the project manager can develop the overall planning structure, then bring in team leaders and team members to complete the detailed planning. Following this, a final planning review can be conducted for the purpose of resolving any planning conflicts with the project schedule, the project budget, and the project scope.

Stage What Who Output
1 Top-Level Planning (Scope Planning) Project Manager
  • Scope Statement
  • WBS (Level 2)
  • OBS (Level 2)
  • RAM (PM Team Level)
  • Schedule (WBS Level 2)
2 Detailed Planning (Scope Definition) Team Leaders & Team Members
  • WBS (All levels)
  • OBS (All levels)
  • RAM (Team Level)
  • Project Schedule
  • Project Budget
  • Risk Management Plans
3 Final Planning Review Everyone
  • Final Agreement
  • Project Management Plan

Stage 1: Top-Level Planning

This stage is usually conducted by the project manager and consists of doing some initial project planning so that subsequent detailed planning can take place quickly and efficiently. By using the previous five planning tools the project manager can begin developing them down to level 2.

Stage 2: Detailed Planning

This stage builds on Stage 1 where the project team leaders and team members extend the level-2 tools down to the lowest levels. Because of this, Stage 2 usually takes most of the planning time. At the conclusion of Stage 2, the team leader and the project manager should review the estimator’s numbers to ensure that they are accurate and defendable. Estimators will often use “fear factor estimating” by estimating more resources than are needed just to prevent being short-changed. If this is permitted the project schedule and budget will be over estimated.

It is a good idea to also conduct a “red team” review of the preliminary project schedule. Red team’ers are usually subject matter experts who are not assigned to the project but have relevant experience and can identify any problems with the initial estimates.

Stage 3: Final Planning Review (FPR)

The purpose of the Final Planning Review is to resolve any schedule, scope or labor estimates that are in conflict. Missing estimates are to be identified and resolved also. The FPR involves all estimators meeting at the same time to identify and resolve these final conflicts, and to reach a final agreement on the scope, duration, cost, and interdependencies of the project tasks before moving on to the execution phase of the project.

The Project Management Plan

Once the FPR is completed all schedule, cost, and scope information becomes part of the project management plan. The project manager should then submit the project management plan to the key stakeholders for review and approval before moving into the project execution phase.

MICHAEL D. TAYLOR, M.S. in systems management, B.S. in electrical engineering, has more than 30 years of project, outsourcing, and engineering experience. He is principal of Systems Management Services, and has conducted project management training at the University of California, Santa Cruz Extension in their PPM Certificate program for over 13 years, and at companies such as Sun Microsystems, GTE, Siemens, TRW, Loral, Santa Clara Valley Water District, and Inprise. He also taught courses in the UCSC Extension Leadership and Management Program (LAMP), and was a guest speaker at the 2001 Santa Cruz Technology Symposium. His website is

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