A Guide to Perfect Planning

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A Guide to Perfect Planning


Categories: Project Planning, Strategy


A Guide to Perfect Planning

We are well aware that good planning leads to smooth execution and early delivery. Most of us, however, still fast track the planning phase and jump into execution. The result is often a downward spiral of issues, defects and rework.

So why do we do this?

I have observed that most project managers are not clear on what exactly needs to be planned. At the same time, we often lose patience because planning takes time with no quick tangible results.

Here is my road map for a successful planning process.

Step 1: Write down the business case.

If we don’t know what the problem is, we can’t solve it. As project managers, we must understand the problem that’s going to be solved through the project and what the expected benefit to the organization will be. Until we understand it, we may not achieve the solution despite meeting all stated requirements. Writing a business case is the foundation of the planning.

Step 2: Establish objectives.

A lot has been written already on setting objectives, so I will limit myself. Objectives should be driven by the business case. We should set objectives that, if achieved, ensure the complete problem is resolved.

Objectives should be:

  • Very specific so that they are easy to understand.
  • Quantifiable so that we can demonstrate the success at the end.
  • Time bound as our project has an end date. 

Step 3: Set expectations with stakeholders.

Identifying all stakeholders and understanding their requirements is important for project managers. However, this may not be enough. Stakeholders often have expectations that they may not explicitly lay out but use as part of their assessment process. My customer, for example, may set expectations based on his past experience with a previous vendor. He or she may not share it with me as these expectations are not firm and not backed by anything substantial.  The best way to reset these expectations is to set new expectations with the stakeholder. By setting these new expectations, I nullify expectations coming from my customer’s previous experience and set a fresh ground for performance assessment.

Step 4: Kick off your project.

The main purpose of the kickoff is to let everyone know about the project, what support the project needs from them, and when we will need that support. It’s also important to present our strategy, high-level plan and project needs to all stakeholders and ask them what inputs they need from us to provide required support.

Step 5: Prepare a project management plan.

What planning documents like schedule, risk register, communications plan etc. do for project executing team, project management plan does for project management team. It creates a roadmap for the project management team and provides clear guidance to prepare planning documents. For example, a risk management plan—a component of project management plan—describes a methodology for identifying risk, a system for monitoring those risk, a format for the risk register, and tools and techniques to prepare the risk register and risk response plan.

Step 6: Prepare a meticulous work breakdown structure (WBS).  

The WBS is the foundation of further project planning. And the better the WBS, the better the plan. All project team members must participate in developing a WBS with necessary and sufficient details.

Step 7: Prepare planning documents.

Now we have all the building blocks to prepare planning documents such as schedule, budget, resource plan, communication plan, procurement plan, quality plan, risk register etc. Planning documents will guide the project team throughout execution and, if meticulously prepared, guarantee project success.

Planning takes time, so consider a progressive approach. By planning the first phases and kicking it off, you may help your team produce early results and buy time for the meticulous planning required for subsequent phases.

What tips do you have for successful project planning? Please share your experience in the comments below. I look forward to reading about your experiences.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: December 13, 2017 08:36 PM | Permalink

Comments (22)

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This looks like a good planning.

Some good points, thanks.

Good reminders, Vivek. Good point to highlight the use of progressive elaboration.

Andrew, Agree. Progressive elaboration should be added.

I find the hard part is to make the WBS as encompassing as possible. I want the WBS to be flexible to scope changes, especially when using an agile approach.

Well said, thanks

This is quite a good reference article and refresher especially as it relates to high-level planning with the team. As any project leader would agree, and as some other commenters have pointed out, the WBS process is where the challenge of varying points of view often presents itself:

Some will expect the WBS elements to be closely tied to deliverables; others will see the total WBS as just one of the elements in the right project design for success.

The key term there is ‘project design’ and the frequent dichotomy is Agile versus Waterfall - Which approach is appropriate for which assignment?

I've found an informative article by Steff Green at Workflow Max dotcom which might be of interest:

‘Pros and Cons of Agile, Waterfall, PRiSM and more’

https://www.workflowmax.com/blog/choose-your-project-management-methodology-pros-and-cons-of-agile-waterfall-prism-and-more

Very good steps. Thanks for sharing.

I share your planning process’'.
For me two aspects are important in the planning process: “Understanding” and “Committment”.
For me it's fundamental at the very beginning to understand:
1. the problem we want to solve with the project, that is the gap between the current situation and the target situation
2. the business value we want to deliver with the project, that are the benefits for the customers.
For this reason sometimes I split the step 1 in two steps: understand first, create the business case later.
And for the understanding phase I can also have some deliverables as use cases coming from the painful points of the customer.
And I share these deliverables with the customer to verify I have well understood the problem.
In addition I prepare the project planning with the project team and I want they review it, they are confident and committed to it.
I think we need a project team that trusts in a planning to make it happen.

I agree with Stéphane, doing an exhaustive WBS has it's pros and cons, but it also puts a noose around your neck in some cases.

There are no shortcuts to project planning. Project planning does take time, but in the long term it’s well worth the effort. Project planning with precision can be an iterative process also, but it’s worth it to measure twice and cut once.
Here is an excellent PMI article which relates project planning to project success:

https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/importance-planning-phase-project-success-6021

Thanks for sharing

Thanks for sharing

Hi Vivek,
Excellent overview , you have managed to summarize a vast area into seven steps. I would just underline getting formal approval for the plan before kick off. Thanks for this great post

Interesting planning

Thank you friends for your comments. I have picked up many points.

Stéphane, I am with you, everything in the project is subject to changes irrespective of it is agile or not. It should be flexible however you may agree discipline is an essential element for flexibility. I observed flexibility kills when discipline is missing.

Eraldo, You have put steps beautifully. What you are doing is getting into the depth to create a robust business case for the project. That's an important step. If some prototyping is required for business case, we should do it.

Najam, Thanks for sharing the articles. It presents good statistics about importance of planning.

Nenad, Absolutely. Approval shows agreement and process of approval may make plan better and mitigate many risks.

I am bit skeptical about waterfall vs agile. I have been delivering projects for over 20 years and I have hardly delivered any project in waterfall model. They were all iterative. I feel waterfall word is used more by agile community than any other group. A long ago and almost in all sectors (software/manufacturing/constructions etc.), people use iterative methods to deliver usable products. Some how agile community is not unable to see it.

Lack of proper planning is one of the eight biggest problems talked about in Cadence's podcast series. Thanks for the article!

Very good refresher points that you have elaborated on. Each project demands a unique plan for its execution as no one project is the same as the other. Mistake most PMs do is to copy and paste a plan from one project and use it for the next project, with different stakeholder requirements and expectations. That is a disaster right at the start.

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