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.