Planning A Project Why Bother?

Paul Naybour

Many companies and individuals embark on long, expensive projects believing they can keep control of the work, the budget and the people doing the work just because they understand what needs to be done and in what order. But find out why failure to plan a project thoroughly will lead to failure of the project and dissatisfaction all round.
In order to complete any project on budget and on time there are some quite simple steps to follow. But problems regularly arise because the person in charge of the project either doesn’t follow these steps or doesn’t know the basics of good project management.
It might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many projects start without a written definition of exactly what is required. Like the old cartoon drawing in which a child dreamed of a simple tyre swing hanging from a tree but ended up with a complicated play frame. The play frame was great but it wasn’t what the child wanted.
So it’s useful to remember that a project failure is not simply one that overruns on time or budget but also one that doesn’t deliver the basic needs of the customer, even if it is on time and on budget.
So here is an outline of some of the key steps to planning and managing a successful project:
Firstly make sure the requirements are written down – clearly and in detail – and everyone involved understands the requirements. Also the interested parties must understand what is NOT included. To ensure this is the case you need to root out any assumptions that are being made, which is not as easy as it sounds as assumptions, by their very nature, are not always well-communicated.
Communicating in detail and on a regular basis, is one of the key steps to project success. It is always tempting to communicate via email, which is very useful and effective for written detail, but verbal communication on the phone or face-to-face, if possible, is always necessary from time-to-time to maintain trust, detect potential problems and clarify details. It is often through these conversations that assumptions are mentioned and this gives the project manager the opportunity to clarify requirements and manage the customer’s expectations, if necessary.
Once the scope of the project has been clearly defined, written down and communicated to the interested parties, then each piece of work needs to be assigned to the appropriate person or team. Whenever possible avoid single tasks that involve individuals with different skills having to co-operate. Break the work down into smaller, more distinct parts. It is far too easy for people to avoid taking responsibility in such a situation and if anything goes wrong much easier to try to blame someone else.
Ensure each task has a single individual clearly responsible for its success, even if a whole team is working on the task. This can be presented as a positive requirement in that the individual will receive the praise and appreciation for work well done. There is, of course, also a clear liability for failure to succeed. Although it is important to discourage a blame culture as that will certainly doom the project from the start.
Clearly defining and assigning tasks to a single individual (or team of individuals with a common purpose and skill set) will ensure commitment to the project. Ensuring individuals are committed to their tasks is a major factor in the quality of the work and hence the success of a project.
Agreement on the work required and the time and people needed to complete it, with realistic deadlines and expectations, will ensure commitment is maintained and the project is delivered successfully.
It would be unrealistic to expect that once the project plan has been clearly defined and tasks assigned and individuals committed to the work that everything will then be plain sailing to a successful conclusion.
Rather, it is highly likely that requirements will change as the project progresses. This is almost inevitable because as various stages are completed and can be seen or used, it is often only then that the full requirement can be visualised. This is because many people cannot think in the abstract and it means that changes to requirements have to be planned into the original project plan right at the start. This is one of the basics of good project management and planning. There can either be a specific task and time allocated for requirements change, or it must be allowed for within the contingency for time and budget.
A dependency is simply a piece of work that relies on another piece of work in order to be completed successfully; and details of how specifically a task relies on another task. This is particularly important to understand when the deadline of one task impacts the start of a dependent task. Failure of a single task to meet a deadline can then have a knock-on effect causing other tasks to fail to deliver on time.
One reason why dependencies are not clearly identified at the start of the project is often a failure to root out all assumptions, as mentioned earlier. Dealing with assumptions will assist an understanding of the dependencies, and ensure everyone concerned can meet their commitments.
Things are bound to go wrong during the project. If you can identify the potential risks in advance then you may be able to avoid them, or at least have a contingency plan ready. Although a project team will, and should, discuss potential risks at the beginning of the project and how they might be overcome, it is impossible to predict every risk. But by simply being aware that there will be unexpected problems makes dealing with them easier.
So these are 7 areas of a well planned project that show why you should bother to plan a project. And if you are in doubt over your abilities to plan and manage a project successfully, then there are a range of formal and informal project management courses available, including online learning and podcasts. So there’s no excuse for your project to fail.

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