My wife and friends ridiculed me a few years ago for using a Microsoft Project plan when we moved. But I got the last laugh. Every detail was covered and the move went smoothly. I’m also very organized. The hooks in my garage are labelled so that each garden tool is put in the appropriate place. Okay, maybe a bit too organized.
I’ve always been organized. And I’ve always been a planner. I’ve been called anal retentive and geeky. Those terms don’t bother me. I like being organized. I like knowing where everything is when I need it.
Being an organized planner comes in handy when managing projects. Of course, there are a lot of other skills involved in order to be a successful project manager, but one of the biggest factors is the ability to plan.
According to Wikipedia, planning is the process of thinking about and organizing the activities required to achieve a desired goal. If you are managing a project. Your project objective is your desired goal. Being able to state that objective clearly enough for all stakeholders to understand is one of the first aims of the project.
Once you have that objective defined, you need to figure out how to get there. It’s like saying you want to go to Napa, California for vacation. Great. Let’s go. Do you know how you will get there? Do you know how long it will take? Do you even know where Napa, California is?
The three components of success for any endeavor are (1) the creativity to come up with a unique and usable idea, (2) the ability to execute the idea into action, and (3) the ability to sell the idea to potential investors and consumers. The second part, execution, requires detailed and competent planning in order to complete anything well.
Project management is the execution of that idea. The project manager has to implement a focused plan to get the job done. There are several project management planning considerations for the project manager to address.
When you first start a project, it’s easy to be gung-ho and chomping-at-the-bit excited just to get started. Let’s just start working. It’s like the vacation. We’re going to wine country! There will be beautiful, winding hills and lots of wine to sample. Let’s just get into the car and start heading west. What could go wrong?
You could run out of gas at Omaha. You could end up in Seattle. You could get lost, meandering around the countryside, never reaching your destination, until your vacation time runs out and you have to go back to work.
The biggest part of planning is preparation. For a long trip, you would probably determine how many miles separate your home from Napa, CA. A good planner would determine how much time and gas it takes to drive. You might look at the weather forecast and determine appropriate clothes to pack for the trip.
If it’s a long trip, you might look into other options. What are the flights available and how much do they cost? Is taking the train or a bus an option?
A project manager should prepare for a project in the same way? How much work is involved? How many people and what skills are needed? What are the options for executing this project?
Like a long trip, a project has many aspects to consider when preparing. The more things you consider, the more prepared you will be.
A Project Plan
Once you determine everything you need and the appropriate approach for your project, you need to put together a plan. Let’s say you have decided to get to Napa by driving so you can enjoy the countryside. The trip will take several days. So you map out the route you will go and make hotel reservations at appropriate distances.
A project needs to have a plan that details how the project will reach its objective. A detailed project plan will map out the tasks to complete and will identify who is responsible to complete the tasks. Periodic milestones should be identified to verify for all stakeholders whether the project is on track.
If you take a long road trip, and you want to make the trip as much fun as the destination, you might allow extra time to see some points of interest along the way. Each day on your trip, you will plan how much time you have to reach your day’s milestone destination. You know how much time you have for other stops.
In order to stay on schedule, you know the approximate amount of time you have allowed for each stop. This allows you to see the sites you want to see, and helps you reach your milestones on time.
When managing a project, it is important to plan tasks that need to be done by day and by week. An agile project will plan sprints of 2-4 week durations. Each team member has their daily plan, which is usually posted on a wall. On more traditional projects, every team member has their work planned in a detailed project plan. The project manager will verify each person’s progress on a daily or weekly basis.
Managing the time on a project allows the project manager to plan tasks and verify whether the team members are on track for their tasks in order to stay on track with the plan.
On a long road trip, you have a planned destination and some planned sites along the way that you would like to stop and see. You have a week of vacation. You plan to get home on Sunday in time to go back to work on Monday.
While you’re on your way, you learn about another site you would like to visit. It’s an hour off the highway you are traveling, and it should take a day to really enjoy. If you and your family are going to fit that into your schedule, something is going to have to give. You can cut another day’s excursion out of your trip, or reduce your stay at Napa by a day. Alternatively, you could extend your trip by a day. That would get you home on Monday, causing you to spend more money and another vacation day.
Having all of your day trips and your duration at your final destination planned out allows you to make decisions. When an unplanned activity comes along, you can compare its priority to that of the planned activities. You can more easily decide whether you’d rather do the new activity and reprioritize others.
The same thinking goes for project. When you have work items planned and the business asks for new functionality, it makes decision making easier. The project is a container of X work units. The business has just asked for X+1. You can present all of the original X activities and allow them to reprioritize for the new activity. If they don’t want to deprioritize any of the activities, they have the option of extending the project if the time and budget exists. But they can’t make those decisions unless they have an original plan to compare to.
Risk and Issue Management
If you plan on taking a long trip, you probably start thinking ahead about what could happen? I could get a flat tire along the way. I’d better have all the tires checked, including the spare. I could run into some rain. I should replace the windshield wipers. There could be new highway routes, so I’ll update my GPS to make sure it has up to date information. If you plan to swim on your vacation, there could be rainy days. You may want to plan alternative activities for those days.
By taking some time to consider what could go wrong, you can take actions to mitigate it as a problem or to have alternatives.
When you manage a project, you will want to go through the same type of planning. At the beginning of the project, you should meet with a group of stakeholders to try to think about anything that could go wrong. Then you can establish a plan to avoid the risk from occurring or to have an alternative plan just in case it occurs.
Having alternative plans can help mitigate major risks on a project before they become major issues.
Project management is about more than just asking people if they are done with their assigned task. A major factor in the success of a project is the level to which it is planned and how well the plan is followed.
Preparing in advance and planning all aspects of the project ensures that things will be done on time and in the right sequence. A strong plan allows the project manager to make and facilitate better decisions with better information.
“He who fails to plan is planning to fail.” – Winston Churchill
What project management planning considerations do you address on a project?
If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.
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