Why Plan? Project Planning part 1 - by Martin Webster

Many people get hung up on project planning. Some say they don’t have the time to prepare one. Others think they are unnecessary. They assume the project plan is a complex document; one that accounts for every minute of every day.

In this series of posts, I aim to dispel these myths. I will show you that project planning is an essential activity that happens to result in some really useful documents – documents that will help you to achieve your goals.

Project planning helps us form the basis of understanding. In other words, planning is an aid to predict and prepare for difficulties, and to identify what needs to be done to succeed in our endeavours.

What’s more, project planning helps us to answer a variety of questions with confidence. For instance:

  • Can it be done?
  • Will it be finished on time?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Is it viable?
  • Will it work?
  • How can we be sure if it will deliver the right benefits?
  • What if we change something?
  • How much progress have we made?
  • What if someone is ill or unavailable?
If you’re still not convinced of the value of project planning let me remind you of the main reasons projects fail. If you think it has something to do with complexity or the use of technology you’d be wrong. In fact projects fail because
  1. Their scope isn’t managed effectively – poor project planning
  2. People lose sight of the original goal – a weak business case
  3. Top management aren’t supportive – little engagement with stakeholders
Effective planning provides a foundation for your project and tackles these pitfalls head on. Project planning is about defining scope – what will be done (and by who) and what will be left out. What’s more, project planning, if started early enough, will support an assessment of value – the business benefits – and help work up ideas into the business case. Likewise, the project plan is the basis for communication and gaining senior management support.

What’s In the Plan?
The project plan is a management document. It is prepared by the project manager during the earliest stages of the project and refined as the project proceeds. The plan should include the following information along with resources and costs.
  • Stages – periods of a project when work is done
  • Work packages – a grouping of activities with defined scope, time-scale and cost that only one person is responsible for delivering
  • Activities – components of work that must be delivered to complete the project
  • Milestones – major events with zero duration that normally depict the start of a stage
  • Deliverables (products) – output produced by the project and defined in the business case
  • Reviews – a checkpoint where a deliverable (or the entire project) is evaluated against the business goals
  • Interdependencies – when a deliverable can only be achieved when a deliverable from another work package (or project) is completed.
Typically cost, and resource plans are presented in tabular format. In contrast, project schedules are most conveniently presented as Gantt charts.

The project schedule provides a detailed view of the day-to-day management of the project and a summary view for presenting to the project sponsor and senior management.

In the next part, I will show you how the elements of the plan may be built up from a list of products to be produced by the project. Once this is done and dependencies between activities are readily identified, the resources needed to carry out the activities may be scheduled.

Martin Webster is Solution Design and Commissioning Manager at Leicestershire County Council. He has over ten years of project and program management experience. Martin regularly writes on leadership, business change, and project management topics. Read more at Martin Webster, Esq.

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