Project Management

How Much Time Should Be Spent Planning?

Stephen currently works in commissioning projects in the oil and gas industry.

How long should we spend on planning as a proportion of the project lifecycle? That's a very good question, and one that I often get asked. So, is there an answer?

We could take the example of English explorer Ranulph Fiennes. One of his most famous expeditions was going around the world, passing through both North and South Poles. The expedition took three years to complete and seven years to plan.

So back to the original question: How much time should we spend planning? There is an answer, but it's not the easy that one people hope for: as long as it takes to finish the plan. Which raises the next question: How do we know when we've furnished the plan? That starts with defining what a plan is.

There are three significant factors that have a powerful influence on how planning it is done to be aware of:

  1. Politics: Projects work more efficiently when they are “front-end loaded” in the jargon. This means more work on initiation and planning pays off with reduced total lifetime cost. Why, then, don't we all do it? One answer is politics. There is a lot of pressure for things to be seen happening in the early stages of a project, even though that action may be at best an illusion (and at worst, counter-productive).
  2. Psychology: Individuals vary in their propensity to plan. In simple terms, some are planners and some are doers. This can be …

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