Planning for Successful Project Management

Stan and his associates in the engineering department were in a real crunch. Their director had just organized them as a special team to implement one of their company's most important and lucrative projects ever. The time frames were tight, but the rewards could be awesome if the project was done right. As team leader, Stan must now focus the group's energies and get this project organized.

Experienced project managers know the exhilaration of completing a project on time and on budget, especially a project that is really meaningful to their organization. But they also know that their success was largely determined by the effort that was put into the planning stage.

The steps of project planning are sensible and logical. But in many cases, project managers believe that they can skip some of these important steps in an effort to conserve time and money. Failing to plan effectively creates the seeds of project failure. Let's explore these key steps in project planning.

1. Create the blueprint.
This step represents the results of an environmental scan, as the strategic planners call it. The process requires the asking of lots of hard questions about the project and the organization's ability to achieve it and the available resources. Some of the questions that must be asked at this stage include:

  • Will our customers support the outcomes of the project?
  • How will this project affect our competitiveness and our competition?
  • What changes will be required in the organization as a result of this project?
  • How will we measure the successful completion of this project?
  • What level of resource commitment will be required?
  • What cross-functional efforts will be required and are the parties prepared to work together?
  • What will be the authority structure involved in implementing the project plan?

    2. Create the Work Breakdown.
    Once the overall direction is determined and the organization commits to the project fundamentals, it is time to begin the detailed planning. This process involves identifying the key steps in the process, determining the relationships between these steps and the timing involved. The major questions to be answered in this stage of the planning include:

  • What are the discrete tasks involved in this project?
  • Which of these tasks are most important and which must be done before or after others?
  • How long will the various tasks take to complete?
  • What resources can be assigned to this project and at what stages?
  • What will the project cost?
  • What is the overall time taken by the project?
  • Can we meet the deadline recommended in the project charter?

    3. Chart the Project Plan.
    Take the information developed in the work breakdown and chart it graphically in a PERT chart and determine the critical path. Then display the recommended implementation schedule in a Gantt Chart. Make good use of project management software in creating these detailed planning documents.

    4. Fine Tune the Project.
    Based on your task breakdown and project plans, go back and fine tune them based on the vision of the overall project. Ensure that you are meeting the guidelines established when the project was assigned. If not, then negotiate new expectations. Particularly, the project manager should look at the trade-offs. What things will not be done if this project is done well? Will other priorities suffer, and if so, is the result what the organization wants?
    5. Establish the Monitoring Program.
    This part of the process involves determining how the project will be tracked and how resource usage will be monitored. Often, the monitoring programs for projects only look at time and money. But culture and human process should also be monitored and the people rewarded along the way. The parties responsible for monitoring must also have responsibility for adjusting the project plan based on unforeseen delays or opportunities for efficiencies along the way.

    Taking the time and investing the energy in excellent planning will have significant impact on the quality of the final result of the project. "Beginning with the end in mind," as Steven Covey suggests in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, will bear fruit in the project management process.