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Planning your Project – 6 Helpful Hints

The planning stage of a project is often too rushed or ill-considered. A good plan sets the team up for success. A poor plan sets them up for failure. Here are some important considerations to take into account when planning your project.
  1. OVER-OPTIMISM – Human nature affects planning in many ways. Despite the awareness that new projects are delivered on schedule people tend to plan optimistically. It is important to be critical when developing resource and duration estimates and to be realistic. It is usually better to over deliver than miss your project end date. As a project schedule slips the common approach is to throw more resources at the project – usually at a higher cost – to recover the schedule. This is not an argument for ‘sand bagging’ and overestimating but it is an argument for realism and allowing risk contingency.
  2. OWNING THE PLAN – The old argument of whether a project manager needs to understand the technical aspects of the work in order to manage the project or whether the discipline of good project management in itself is the important competence for a project manager. This argument also applies to project planning as a discipline. In a large project it is common for specialist project planners to be used who may, or may not, understand technical detail. These arguments will continue but the solution is for project managers and the project team to ‘own’ the plan rather than delegate the process. Every element of the schedule needs to be critically analysed, ensuring that those in the organisation with experience of similar projects or smaller work packages, develop a realistic plan. Click here for our suggested contents of the Project Management Plan.
  3. THE PITFALLS OF PLANNING SOFTWARE – Today there is extensive desktop planning software available. These have become essential to plan and manage the data of large and complex projects. However, these tools cannot think and they cannot apply experience. The temptation to let the software tools do the work is significant. However, project managers need to challenge the plan in all aspects – the durations, the logic and the resourcing.
  4. TIME, COST OR QUALITY? – Every project has different emphasis on time, cost or quality. For a project manager or project team to critically analyse the plan they must understand the project drivers and ensure the plan is ‘weighted accordingly’.For example, if the timescale is the key priority then realistic time estimates are essential.If the budget is fixed then minimising cost, sometimes at the expense of schedule, is essential. It is common when project teams challenge these project drivers for them to be told that cost, time and quality are all essential. However, some elements are always more important than others. To apply the same emphasis to all three in a project is to plan to fail. Uncertainty, risk and change is inevitable and the project manager has an ethical duty to understand the project drivers before committing to the project plan.
  5. AVOIDING ‘REVERSE PLANNING’ – It is not uncommon for a project manager to be given a delivery date, the budget and the quality perimeters before the project plan has been developed. This is applying reverse logic to the project plan and will set the project team up for failure. However, although sometimes reverse planning is inevitable, it is still the duty of the project manager to be honest with their organisation. This problem can be mitigated by publishing the risk management plan and be producing different planning scenarios for review. These techniques ensure that the project sponsor or organisation’s management are made aware of the risks and different scenarios that can be applied and the decision then ultimately rests with them.
  6. LEVEL OF PLANNING – The level of detail that your project needs to be planned at will depend greatly on the size of the project, the amount of information that is available to the project and the amount of visibility and reporting that are required. In a large project it is important to provide a level of detail at which the project can be managed. Presenting the project sponsor or organisation with a complex plan involving many thousands of activities will remove clarity from the plan overall. We recommend a series of planning levels so managers at different levels can review information at the appropriate level of detail.