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To “Project Plan” or To Not “Project Plan”, That Is the Question!
By Chrisitan Bisson

Project management plans are more often than not, either scattered documents/emails, completely not existent, or too huge. The result: it’s not being used properly, or not even useful.

Let’s have a look why, and what we can do about it:

Scattered documents/mails

A project plan is actually a combination of several subsidiary plans, carefully stored/combined so it’s easily found/accessible. If all those documents do not have a common location, then they will tend to be scattered on a network, or locally on someone’s computer. Even worse, the information will be scattered through mails that the team will waste time finding again and again.

What’s important is that everything is combined, whether it’s inside one document carefully tailored to the needs of the project, or several documents well stored in one folder, each well named and identified by version. It may do the job to scavenge through mails, and if you manage one or two small projects at a time, then fine, but usually, it’s not efficient at all. You will raise the percentage of confusion, errors, and waste of time if you leave things scattered.

Simple: all at the same place!

Completely not existent

A common practice is to simply “go with the flow” thinking it would be a waste of time to gather it somewhere safe when it’s been forwarded in a mail. What happens then? Some changes occur, some questions rise up, you look at the mails, send more mails, look at even more mails, etc, etc, etc…. You get the point!

Avoid all this. Start a plan, but always keep simplicity in mind; if you feel it’s getting complex, than it’s probably time to take a moment and try to simplify before it gets out of control. If you are unsure whether it should be part of plan or note, have it in, but it aside so it doesn’t get in the way but you know it’s there, and as you gain experience, you will get the hang of identifying useful VS not useful information.

No plan: No good!

Too huge

I left the best for last! In my opinion, this is probably one of the main reason people avoid project plans or are scared of them. Why do I think this one is the worst of the cases? Because an actual plan was done (yay!), all the good intentions was there, and a lot of work was put into it, only to have it rendered useless! Imagine how the PM feels when all the work/effort is going to waste.

Here, what is happening is the plan becomes a big ol’bucket of information. Whether it’s pertinent, used, old, new… Everything is there! The more, the merrier, right? NO! Why does that happen? When people open a blank Word sheet, their fingers just start typing SO MUCH words that a simple website objective becomes a large paragraph that nobody wants to read. So if you scale this to a whole project’s plan, then you have yourself a dictionary, ready to be read by…No one!

This being said, to avoid all this, are here some tips:

  • Use a quantity limiting tool: Instead of having big blank pages for you to fill, use Excel for example. The fact that you are limited to cells that make it hard to put in a lot of formatting will automatically make you create lists or shorten the information. Yes you could still fill it up as much as you want, but hopefully it’ll help you work on that.
  • Archive old information: Versions and old information is good to keep for reference purposes, but if they are not stored properly, by that I mean out-of-the-way, then it will clutter the pertinent information and people will less and less find the information they need.

  • Clearly separate the information: Tabs in excel, several well named documents, etc. Anything that prevents everything to be dumped at the same place. That way, if someone is looking for a particular information, he should be able to navigate quickly to what he is looking for instead of painfully searching through all the information.

As mentioned above, keep it simple!

In conclusion

Many reasons may give the illusion that project management plans are not necessary, and there is also a decent amount of chance that the project can go well without it if it’s small and if the PM doesn’t have too many projects on his desk, but the plan will make your life easier and the project’s life easier. So why not?

Got any more tips? Experience to share?

Christian Bisson is a project manager from Montreal, QC, Canada. His PM experience is concentrated in the Internet world, and he helped deliver over a 100 projects over his PM years. You can read more from Christian on his blog.

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