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The 9 Steps to Produce a Structured Project Plan
By Richard Morreale

I recently wrote about Project Planning as one of the most essential steps to take in the management of your project. I wrote that next to Requirements Documentation Project Planning is the second most important thing for a Project Manager to do. I talked about what I saw as the contents of a good Plan. I also identified what happens when you don’t have a plan and mentioned that in all my audits of successful and unsuccessful projects, I found that lack of proper planning was the 2nd most reason that projects failed. I also wrote that for a plan to be accepted by all those on the project, they would have to have helped put it together. Today, I’m going to write about structured planning.

So what does a structured plan look like. Well, a structured Project Plan is broken down into a number of levels. Those levels are: Level 1 – Project, Level 2 – Stages, Level 3 – Products, Level 4 – Milestones, Level 5 – Activities, Level 6 – Tasks.

In terms of the plan, 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 amount of time you take to prepare this plan using the steps below depend, obviously, in the size and complexity of the project. The steps are as follows:

Step Action
1 Break the Project down into major Stages of work. A major stage of work delivers a major product at the end of the Stage.
2 Identify the Products to be produced and delivered in each Stage. The work in each stage will produce at least one and maybe more than one product.
3 Describe, in detail, the agreed content standards for each of the Products. The actual contents down to the Section, Subsection, Paragraph and lower, if needed, should be documented.
4 Produce an Activity breakdown of the work required to produce each Product. Based on the contents standard, what are the activities that need to be accomplished to produce each of the products.
5 Organize the Activities into a ‘Dependency Network’. This network will show completion relationships among all of the Activities.
6 Identify planning and estimating criteria for each Activity. This is the criteria used to estimate timescales to complete an activity.
7 Assign resources to each Activity. Assign the people on your team that are available or the type of person you require. Use this to recruit or assign, as required.
8 Schedule each of the Activities using either an automated planning tool or manually. You can use a project Management tool such as Microsoft Project, Artemis or other PM tool you might have. Sometimes it’s easier, if you don’t have many activities, to schedule it manually.
9 Smooth resources, as required, to create the most optimum schedule. Move activities around as much as possible, within completion constraints, to smooth out the resource requirements.

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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