Work Before the Work Plan

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Categories: Project Planning


While reviewing a project work plan this week, I thought back to the first generation of work-planning tools. I marveled at their ability to mechanize manually arduous activities, such as progress calculations and schedule charts. After using these tools on a few projects, I felt supremely confident about creating a work plan and managing a project of any size.

But as I became more proficient at using them, I found myself struggling to make the work plan match what was actually going on with the project. After much frustration, I spoke to a senior project manager. She suggested that before even touching the tools, I needed to rethink my approach to work planning. Here are some of her tips that I continue to employ today:

  1. Design the work plan around the core outcome of the project. In my haste to become adept with a work-planning tool, I neglected to consider the project's core outcome -- and how it would be delivered. Before starting to build a work plan, you need to determine whether the project's primary outcome depends on the completion of tasks, orchestration of resources or creation of certain deliverables. For example, if the project objective is to implement a newly defined process across multiple teams, consider organizing the work plan around teams and their needs. 
  2. A project's complexity can affect your progress-tracking method. A classic mistake project managers make is employing a progress-tracking method that's not in sync with the complexity of the project. In my experience, projects with low complexity, for example, are better served with a straightforward percent-complete scheme. But I have noticed that a project with added complexity (i.e., interfaces, dependencies, resource mix) requires a more robust tracking method, such as earned value, to ensure a precise measurement of progress. Aligning the progress-tracking method to the complexity of the project also helps you avoid unnecessary effort in reporting project progress.
  3. Capture and use resource commitments. The senior project manager who advised me could not say enough about the benefits of this. She observed that by not accurately capturing to what degree resources were dedicated to my project, I was creating an overly optimistic project schedule. And my project was running late as a result. 

I recommend capturing a fixed commitment -- that is, the amount of hours by resource per week. This accounts for even those resources that, by the nature of their labor contracts, can only devote a certain number of hours to the project. It also highlights the capacity these resources have to work on other projects. If the capacity is a set amount, you can quickly determine a more accurate project schedule.

What are your tips for getting off to a good start with work planning?
Posted by Kevin Korterud on: September 10, 2013 10:06 AM | Permalink

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