Project planning can be difficult but it can’t be neglected. Here we look at a simple way to plan projects to provide a really good base for success.
A project that succeeds is far more likely to have been a project that has been planned properly. When a project comes into being, the very first thing that needs to be done is project planning. Sometimes, it can be a part of the process that is rushed because the entire team is so eager to start the work. Usually when a person is fresh out of project management training they will follow the processes they have learnt, but later down the line, bad habits can form and people forget the immense value of planning a project thoroughly.
Planning a project provides so many benefits including:
● Clear task outlines for team members
● Improved communication between everyone involved in the project
● Improved stakeholder satisfaction
● More accurate project estimates
● Better risk management throughout
These are just some of the benefits to planning a project. If you have ever been involved in a project that is not planned properly or at all, you will be fully aware of how chaotic it can be compared to one that has been planned. As a new PM, or a PM who has perhaps struggled with project planning in the past, it is a really good idea to get into the habit of planning each and every project thoroughly because it really does help improve all aspects of it, and of course its chance of success.
If you’ve ‘fallen’ into project management (as many of us do!), or you simply have that natural PM desire to improve your methods and processes, this easy and simple guide to planning will give you a good base to work from.
Stakeholder Identification & Communication
Your project could be deemed a success by anyone in the company for various reasons, but if the person or people impacted by the project (stakeholders) do not have their needs met, the project has not been successful.
For this reason, it makes sense that you would pinpoint who the stakeholders are before you do anything else during the first stage of planning. It might seem really simple to do this, but it isn’t always clear-cut, especially figuring out who is going to be affected indirectly.
A stakeholder could be you, it could be your team, it could be the person or people using or benefiting from what the project is creating or investigating, it could be the customer or the sponsor. It is important to figure out who your stakeholders are so you can then move on to understanding what they need from you.
Interviewing them is a really good idea so you can get right to the heart of the true benefits of the project. During these interviews be sure to correctly record needs that provide real benefits, and needs that don’t. You can then ensure that the needs that don’t provide real benefits are separated from the priority needs, but still recorded and set as low priority.
Once you have identified your stakeholders and communicated with them effectively, it is important to create a list of goals. These goals must be measurable and the SMART methodology can be helpful with this task. Take care to record the goals you establish in the plan, perhaps aligning them with the needs you established from your stakeholders. It may be the case that a different methodology or process would suit the project more, if this is the case don’t be afraid to apply your project management knowledge and use a more suitable process or methodology.
Getting More Into Detail
With your goals from the beginning stage of planning, you will need to create deliverables. This is where you need to be specific about each goal, and how and when you will reach it. All the listed deliverables – when you have them – should have a date attached to state when they will be delivered.
Moving forward you will need to start scheduling the project. This can be a tricky stage, so remember to allow plenty of time to complete it properly. Start by creating the different things that need to happen for each deliverable to be reached and what the dependencies are. Consider how much time is needed for each task to be completed (1 hour, a day, a week), then figure out who will be responsible for that task. Once you have assigned time and a person (or people) to each task you will then be able to figure out how much effort each task takes, and create a delivery date for each task. You can adapt the dates as you go along and they become more accurate or change with the project evolution.
When this part of planning is reached, it is a really good idea to choose some software to help create a project schedule. There are so many programs and apps to choose from, there will be no problem finding one to suit your needs and way of working. Having an app enables you to list all the many different aspects of the project, in time order and to share details as and when you need to.
Once you have accurately estimated your deadlines, a common issue that arises at this point is when the deadline you have doesn’t match with the deadline given by your project sponsor. If this is the case it is important to contact the sponsor and either negotiate a new deadline or add time and resources to the project.
At this stage you should already have a good idea as to who is involved with the project. If you don’t, take time at this stage to get to grips with this information as you will need it to progress. You will need to identify each person and company/ organisation who will be involved in the project at a primary level. It is also important to detail what each person or company’s involvement in the project is going to be. Detail these responsibilities so it is perfectly clear what is expected of each person. Also specify when each person would start their task and how long they would take doing each task.
You will need to create an outline of communication needs. Figure out who needs to be aware of different project elements, then detail how and when they will be given that information. Usually this will involve a report provided either weekly or monthly.
A risk management plan is really important and can often be overlooked, despite its crucial role in successful projects. The more potential risks you identify early on, the more prepared you can be to avoid those risks. Risks can be:
● Not allowing enough time to complete the project
● Allocating too little money to complete the project
● Potential budget slashing
● Responsibilities are not clearly outlined
● Stakeholders are not allocated responsibilities
● The needs of stakeholder are not established or clear
● ‘Moving the goalposts’
● Communication is poor
● Contributors are non-committal
These risks can be noted using a risk log. You simply note each risk once you have identified it. Then write down how you will deal with it if it happens, and what you will do to stop it from happening. Keep checking the risk log regularly as new risks will arise as the project evolves. Sometimes people can create an initial risk management plan and then leave it. The problem with that is, risks don’t just go away and new ones will keep cropping up. Use your initiative and constantly tend to your risk log – it will be worth it.
Still Not Sure?
If you are still unsure about how to plan a project properly, it might be a great idea to invest in some project management training courses. These courses can be done in the classroom or online depending on your location and ability to study, and the training might be all you need to get your career in project management progressing. You might want to approach your employer to see if any training programmes are on offer within your organisation. It could also be worth seeing if there is an internal mentorship programme which will help you that you could sign up for. There might also be the possibility of gaining a mentor, you just need to ask. Don’t be afraid of trying to progress – that is integral to being an amazing PM.
Just remember, planning a project is an essential process to learn and something can always be improved every single time. So next time you feel bad for needing to tweak your process, or feeling like you wish you had planned this or that differently, you’re already running laps around the guy who hasn’t even bothered to write a plan.