Are we Finished Planning?

22 May, 2014

For many people planning is what project management is all about. But there does come a point in every project where you need to get on with it and actually start working your plan. This point is where you need to baseline your scope, your schedule and your budget. This is when you have decided on what quality standards to adhere to, what team members are required, what risks to look out for, what tasks we are going to farm out to third parties and how we are going to communicate with and manage our stakeholders.

Many project managers find this a really scary step – Have I forgotten something? Have I made a mistake somewhere? In fact, this problem is so serious it has a name: Analysis Paralysis. The important thing for any project manager, at the end of the planning phase, is to recall the slave that travelled in Caesar’s chariots whispering “memento mori” every so often. Remember that you too are mortal and fallible and it is very unlikely that your plans are going to be 100% perfect. All they have to be is good enough. If you have doubts, well just make sure that a good change control mechanism is in place and get going.

However, before throwing caution to the wind, take the time to check that you have everything in place. The obvious first step is to compare your scope statement with the original project charter or statement of work. Are you planning to do the same thing? It often happens that the more detail that gets added, the more likely some small, but significant, requirement gets left out.

Another important thing is to make sure that your overall schedule and budget fit in within the limits set by the original charter. If your project planning work has discovered unexpected tasks or more expensive resource requirements, then have these been approved? Remember your project's triple constraint: If you have to be ready for this year’s main trade show, you cannot extend the deadline.

Although it sometimes feels like it, being a project manager does not mean being alone. Make sure that your project plans have been reviewed and signed off. Fresh eyes can often see things that you have totally overlooked. PMP® training courses advise us to get our team involved in the planning activities. Get them involved in reviewing too. They will have to do the work, so they have a vested interest in making sure the project plans are feasible.

The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) is broken up into ten knowledge areas and each of these needs to be covered in your project plan. Have you a project scope statement? How do you feel about the scope statement? Have you identified all requirements? Does the work breakdown structure make sense in the context of the resources available? Have you developed a requirements traceability matrix to ensure that these all will be covered?

Have you a project schedule? If you are using rolling wave planning or some form of iterative and incremental strategy, have you explained how scheduling will happen during the project? If you are happy with the initial schedule, have you specified how you are going to manage the schedule during the project? How are you going to track progress and what will it take to trigger a re-plan?

What about your project budget? Many project managers do not have to worry about a budget. If the resources being used are permanent staff and there is little in the way of direct project spending, these resources are often included in an overall budget. However, it is important to make that statement and get confirmation that these costs are being met somewhere. But if you do have to prepare a budget, ensure you also consider the management of this budget. You will need to keep track of spending and be able to account for over- and under-spending along the way.

Have you a quality management plan? Again, this is something you might think does not concern you. However, you are tasked with producing a unique product, service or result, so there needs to be some sort of verification and validation carried out to ensure the deliverables of the project are fit for purpose. Another aspect of the project that needs to be considered is lessons learned from previous projects. Are we going to apply some of these in the next project to see if they do improve the way we do things? Then these will form the basis of a process improvement plan.

You will have a team to do the work. Big or small, you will need to identify the skills needed and what extra training will be needed. How are you going to acquire the team, develop it and manage it? It is also a good idea to specify everyone’s roles and responsibilities. This is another good area to get the team involved in. While it might prove impossible to give everyone the work they would prefer, understanding everyone’s interests can allow changes to be made that makes the project more interesting for those working on it.

Have you identified any risks on this project? How are you going to manage them? Have you carried out analysis and prioritisation? See our article on finding risks for ideas on where to look for these in the project. It is very important to state clearly how you are going to address risks when they occur and make clear what contingency you are putting aside for them.

Are there any third-parties involved in carrying out the project work? If so, you need to specify the contract types that will be used and the selection criteria for the approved vendors. You should also be clear about how these contracts will be managed during the project.

Finally, consider your stakeholder register. Have you identified all the project's stakeholders and are you sure you can communicate with them? Have you devised a plan to keep them informed of developments and put in place mechanisms where they can provide input and guidance to the project?

Having all these components in the plan is all well and good, but make sure there is a formal review and you get sign off from the relevant project stakeholders. Also, schedule a kick-off meeting. This will allow you present the project plan to the team members and relevant stakeholders. It is a great way of getting clarity about the goals of the project and showing where everyone fits in.

Finally, be aware of what resources are needed before the project can start and ensure that they are present. Then fasten your seatbelt and away you go!

Velopi has put these points into a checklist and will send this onto any project manager who is interested. Simply contact us by e-mail and we will send one to you.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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