Project Management Foundations – The Project Management Plan
By Steve Hart
As you read through the integration section of the PMBOK, the key deliverable that connects the project management activities throughout the project life cycle is the project management plan. Once you get beyond the conversation that deals with, “What you are referring to is the project schedule, not the project plan”, many colleagues and clients seem to have a wide range of perspectives that relate to the value (or lack of value) associated with this deliverable. Some of these comments include:
“I complete the project management plan so I can check it off on the SDLC Checklist. No one really reads it.”
“If you have seen one project management plan, you have seen them all. They read like a cookbook.”
“In reality, the project management plan is out of date before the ink is dry on it.”
“It is really only required for big projects. It is overkill for a small to medium size project”.
I am often accused of drinking the PMI/PMBOK Kool-Aid, but my sincere belief on this topic is that the comments above relate to a gap in execution of effective best practices, not a case of theory vs. reality.
Below are some examples of key elements of the project management plan that ensure that this deliverable provides tangible value to the project team as it seeks to meet or exceed customer expectations:
- Project Definition – The project definition provides the “big picture” about the project. This section demonstrates to the stakeholders that the team clearly understands the problem they have been tasked with solving. It is important that the assumptions and constraints identified up-front are reviewed and managed throughout the project life cycle.
Scope Management – The scope management plan provides a high level description of the project, and the process utilized to define and manage this scope. Make sure the deliverables are described at the level that will remove ambiguity across different stakeholder perspectives.
Schedule Management – The schedule management plan highlights the major project milestones, and describes important components of the schedule. Which portions of the schedule are built based upon time (duration) vs. effort (work)? Where have planning components been included in the schedule? What criteria were utilized to test the level of granularity in the schedule?
Cost Management – Cost estimation and control are vital to a project’s success. This section describes the costs associated with the project, how they were estimated, and how they will be tracked and reported. This section also describes any gaps between the cost baseline and the project funding sources.
Change Management – The change management plan provides a definition of change in the context of the project, and when the change management processes will be utilized. Defining and managing change can be a contentious area, and the best practice is to ensure stakeholders clearly understand and agree how it will be defined and managed well before it occurs.
Roles & Responsibilities – Defining roles at the beginning of the project is crucial for a smooth project launch. One of the chief causes of project “churn” is related to people not being clear about their role on the project.
Leveraging best practices, the project manager ensures that a project management plan is efficiently created and is proactively utilized to successfully deliver on the project objectives:
- Make sure the content of the plan is focused on the information that is relevant to the project. Describe the processes and tools that represent the critical success factors for the project team. Standard processes and tools should be referenced, not included in the plan. This also ensures that the content of the plan is “sized” appropriately to the scope of the project.
- Present the plan to stakeholders in a manner that clearly articulates the key messages. Do not be afraid to use charts, tables, and graphics to illustrate key points. In addition, consider preparing summary documents that are utilized to brief key stakeholders on the project.
- Personally reference the plan on a regular basis, to ensure that the team is effectively executing the plan in a manner that will meet or exceed customer expectations.
- Take deliberate actions to ensure that the plan remains current throughout the project life cycle. It is worth the time investment to ensure that there is a “single version of the truth” about the project, in the form of the project management plan.
Steve Hart, PMP is the Practice Manager responsible for project leadership & delivery services for the Cardinal Solutions Group in the RTP area. He has 25 years of project management and technical leadership roles, and has developed an extensive practical knowledge that spans a wide variety of industries, and project delivery approaches. Steve recently transferred to the North Carolina Chapter of PMI from the Dayton Ohio PMI Chapter, where he was active as the editor of the chapter newsletter, and PMP certification instructor. You can read more from Steve Hart on his blog.