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Project Planning – An Essential Part of Project Management
By Richard Morreale

Produce a good plan and go for it!

Before I get into the specific ideas concerning planning and how I recommend that you do it, there are a number of things that I would like to say about the subject at an overview level.

First of all, when I talk about a plan, I define it as a scheduled list of interrelated Stages, Products, Activities, Milestones, Tasks, etc. along with assigned resources, estimated effort and planned elapsed time.

I believe that having a proper Project Plan is probably the second most important thing that the Project Manager must have in place. I say the second most important thing because, logically, you can’t have two most important things. But if you could it would be the Requirements Specification and the Project Plan. I worked as Project Director for the CEO of a bank in London once who told me that the most important thing was the successful completion of the Y2K program while at the same time telling me that the other most important thing was ‘keeping the show on the road’. There you go – two most important things.

In terms of Project Planning, I’m a firm believer in what Zig Ziglar says, and he was probably not the first one to say it. “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.

Without an agreed, integrated Project Plan in place how does anyone on the project have any idea what they are supposed to be doing, when they are supposed to doing it, who is depending on them doing it, when the various Milestones are going to be met, when the project will be delivered, and I’m sure I could think of loads of other reasons for the plan if I took the time. But, I think you get the picture.

If you want to ensure project failure, discontent on the project and chaos, just refuse to put a good Project Plan in place. By the way, in my experience, the lack of a detailed, well-structured Project Plan on a project is the second of the top 10 reasons that projects fail. The first reason is the lack of a detailed, agreed Requirements Specification.

And one last thing before I get into the structure of the Project Plan. I have found that for a plan to be accepted and agreed to by the Project Team, the customers and all other stakeholders on the project, they must be part of the production of the Plan itself. One of the worse things that a Project Manager can do is create the Project Plan without the assistance of those involved affected by the plan and then expect them to be committed to it. It just won’t work.

So what does a structured plan look like. Well, a structured Project Plan is broken down into a number of levels. The Project itself is the top level and successful completion of it can be broken down into a number of sequential or slightly overlapping Stages. Each Stage can be broken down into at least one but, in almost all cases, a number of Products. Each of the Products are produced and delivered by completing a number of Activities. Some Project Plans even break the Activities down into Tasks to provide greater granularity of the work required to produce the Product. Milestones can be identified at whichever level you wish for tracking purposes. In terms of this example, I’ve established the Milestones at the Product level.

By the way, I don’t care what names you give to the various planning levels just as long as your planning is structured into logical levels. Some people might substitute the term Phases for Stages; Deliverables for Products; Tasks for Activities and Activities for Tasks. It doesn’t matter what you call the different levels as long as you pick one naming standard and stick with it. It’s not the name that’s important. The important thing is that you do it.

So, what’s the process that you go through to develop the Project Plan? Well, the Project Plan on any of the Projects I’ve managed, say over the last 20 years, was developed by following this 9-step Planning Process. The steps are as follows:

  1. Break the Project down into major Stages of work
  2. Identify the Products to be produced and delivered in each Stage
  3. Describe, in detail, the content standards of each of the Products
  4. Produce an Activity breakdown of the work required to produce each Product
  5. Organise the Activities into a ‘Dependency Network’
  6. Identify planning and estimating criteria for each Activity
  7. Assign resources to each Activity
  8. Schedule each of the Activities using either an automated planning tool or manually
  9. Smooth resources, as required, to create the most optimum schedule

This process will help you put a well-structured, comprehensive, realistic, achievable Project Plan in place.

Richard is a project manager, professional speaker, author and consultant specializing in Project Management, Leadership, Achievement and Customer Service.

You can book Richard for your next meeting or conference at richard@richardmorreale.com or 336 499 6677.

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