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You Have to Have Plans, but to Be Effective They Must Achieve a Happy Medium as Far as Detail and Readability (#4 in the seris Effective Planning for Big Projects)
By Timothy Prosser

First a disclaimer: I don’t claim to be the world’s expert on project management, and I urge anyone who is involved in or interested in project management to seek good sources of information and study, as this is a profession requiring a lot of skill and knowledge to do well. That said, I believe my decades of experience (planning projects up to 4 years in length and over $1 billion in cost) gives me some basis to write this. You may notice that I tend to focus more on the timing aspects of large scale plans. I am not ignoring the financial side of the discipline, but not stressing it either, because I have usually had a parallel financial planning effort, run by accountants and financial experts, to lean on. You may also notice that I am trying to address the realities, the impact of human nature, on the work. That said, be aware that good planning requires a focus on all three major components of business processes and projects: time, cost, and quality. I have summarized with a list of suggestions at the end, and hope you find this entry helpful.

Certainly, “failing to plan is planning to fail”, as they say, but finding a happy medium – a plan that gives easy-to-understand and comprehensive direction to the organization, and is easy to communicate and maintain – is essential. This may not be easy to achieve, however. A plan should have enough content to paint a clear picture of what must be done and when, but no more events and dates in it than are needed to effectively direct its execution. It may be necessary to run the plan in two parts – a model of the project in time and possibly money, and a chart you use to communicate to the project team. The only limit to complexity in the model is how much you can manage, but the complexity of the chart you present should be minimized to only what is needed to keep people on time. You may find, however, that you, a busy project manager, will have so many meetings to attend and other work involved in the job that you are lucky to be able to develop and maintain a single plan document, and must use it both to model AND communicate the plan. This presents the problem of how to have enough detail in the plan to manage the project without presenting so much that nobody can read or use it. Skilled use of software may keep this from being too severe a problem. From here on I will assume this case – that you only have time to manage a single plan document.

Timothy Prosser – Ann Arbor, MI

Timothy spent the past ten years planning vehicle development programs and tracking parts at a major auto manufacturer in the Detroit area, employed by Integrated Management Systems, Inc. of Ann Arbor, MI (www.imsi-pm.com).

Past experience, in reverse order, includes 3 years writing and supervising technical documentation at a major automotive supplier, 7.5 years engineering computer printers for Unisys Corporation, 3 years of technical work in the image processing and automatic inspection industry, 5 years of network and peripheral service work for ADP, Inc., and 3 years selling wholesale electronic parts.

Education includes an MBA from The University of Michigan (1991), a BS in Geography from Eastern Michigan University (1974), and *countless* training classes by various employers. Timothy has also taught many seminars on project management and various tools involved in the work.

Timothy is a lifetime musician (www.mandolinmaniac.com, www.martianentropyband.com), a 30-year amateur radio operator, and writes a number of blogs including www.timprosserfuturing.wordpress.com.

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