A project plan gives us the opportunity to think about the bigger picture associated with a project and work backwards from understanding the ultimate-goal of a brief as opposed to developing temporary recommendations and partial solutions to your client’s problems. In this article we will be analyzing the importance of a project plan, regardless of the scope of the project or the length of the story it tells. We will also provide a project plan checklist for you to help perfect the art of project planning.
So, what exactly is project planning?
In order to have a sound project planning approach that you can use for future projects you will first need to get on the same page about what project planning is. At its core, a project plan outlines your approach and the process your team will employ to manage a project. The key here is to realize that whilst this map is not set in stone and you may take some interesting side trips along the way, you will always know your ending credits. That right there is the most valuable component of project planning. It gives you the opportunity to think about what lies beyond just the brief in front of you by making you draft your story’s world and create your characters and their backstories before you start writing the actual story. Project planning thus refers to everything you do to set up your project for success, including activities or tasks in each phase of the project cycle. Developing a project plan doesn’t have to be a complicated process. It is usually presented as a Gantt chart and could be made in Microsoft Project or on one of the other Microsoft Project alternative planning tools.
The project plan is your story arc that will guide you through the path to your desired end and consists of four primary phases: Initiation, Planning, Baking, and Evaluating. Initiation consists of researching and brainstorming, planning is acquiring all the required elements, baking is where you will be mixing the elements and creating your project and evaluation is when you will finally test out the project and review it. When you’re listing out the subtasks under each main phase, be sure to map out the hypothesized hours for each task, start and end dates as well as foreseeable milestones for the project (eg: going live). Microsoft Project also has a feature which allows for you to see a 50,000ft view summarizing the project, phases, milestones and progress. This feature will once again help visualize the big picture before you start working on a project, and the dependencies once you’ve started working through the project.
Project planning is pretty easy when you break it down into these four phases, but it definitely has its share of skeptics. The arguments against project planning often follow as such:
1) Due to the very nature of the tech industry, project plans are often changing and becoming out of date, thus making it challenging for anyone to stick to.
2) Project planning can hinder a team’s ability to self-optimize, meaning by outlining the phases of the project and its subtasks, you as the project manager will end up constraining your team.
3) Projects plans are not grounded in reality. The fantastic nature of project planning makes it arduous for the team to deliver.
The alternatives suggested by the skeptics is to make the team more self-organized. A team is given a brief and asked to figure out the nitty gritty’s of the project. This entrusted the team to do their own “planning”. Whilst this method sounds empowering, it lacks the vision to motivate the workers to truly understand the goals of the project.
If you are also skeptical of the skeptic’s “plan” to eliminate the need for a project plan you’ve come to the right place. We have listed down 7 reasons why a project plan is probably the single most important piece of project documentation despite having to constantly keep up with the evolving nature of the tech industry.
1) It clarifies the process and the activities of the project
2) It gives you the opportunity to see the big picture of the project and see how individual tasks are related to one another
3) You can use this information to create an accurate estimate and define the perimeters of a project’s outputs and scope
4) It will help you allocate team members to each subtask
5) It will help you establish milestones within the project life cycle
6) These milestones can be used to track the progress of the project
7) All parties involved will be able to use the project plan to agree on the deliverables and the timelines
As the 7 reasons mentioned above outlines why, both clients and project managers shouldn’t forget the importance and the art of project planning. If you’re working with clients, they will ask for a project plan before they release their budgets. In your project plan you will need to establish when the project is going to be delivered, how much it will cost, what will be delivered and how it will be delivered. A project plan is more than just a blueprint, it is essentially a synopsis of the project, available for all the parties involved to refer to throughout the project’s life cycle. Without a project plan it will be difficult to answer the questions above with a certain level of certainty. It’s not just clients who need a project plan. As a project manager you will need to know more than just a detail the client wants to know. Following the outline of the project will help you, the project planner, ensure the project is on track in terms of the budget, delivery dates and the scope.
Project planning isn’t a difficult task, but it could definitely be a time-consuming task when done properly. A project plan isn’t set in stone thus will need continuous reformations and amendments. Even if you’re working on an agile project, a project plan will provide a clear direction for you and your team to follow. This living document will ensure all your team members are on the same page with the project goals and timelines. Since the document should evolve as the project progresses, it will document the changes, challenges and victories of the project.
Now, if we have successfully convinced you about the importance of a project plan, you’re probably wondering what your next steps are. Before you start creating your next project plan, you will first need to understand the project’s brief. A project brief is the starting point of project as it defines the client’s requirements for a project. A brief should outline the projects goal (why), the deliverables and the outputs (What) the timelines for the deliverables (when) the process or the methodology (how) and the target audiences (who). Without understanding the basic components of a brief, it will be very difficult to deliver a project that meets all your client’s requirements. Dissecting the brief will help you create a plan that works towards achieving the project goals, allocating your resources properly and ensuring you meet all the deadlines.
Once you understand the project brief, you can start constructing your project plan. Regardless of the scope of the story you’re trying to tell, the principles and the steps remain the same. We have simplified the art of project planning to 10 simple steps to help you develop the perfect plan for your next project.
9. Live & Reviewed
Though there is a lot of excitement around going live, it doesn’t mark the end of a project. When a project is live it should actually be signally the start of the next phase, which is testing and analyzing the performance of the project. Many project managers will mark going live as the final milestone of the project but be sure you plan for post-live testing when you’re planning your next project. Post-live testing is comprised of making amendments to optimize the project and taking notes of all the lessons learned.
10. Milestones & Baselines
Use milestones throughout the project plan to ensure the client and your team are on the same page regarding timelines and key dates of the project. Milestones are a good way to gage if the project is running smooth on schedule.
Whether you were fan of project plans to begin with or a skeptic questioning the need for a project plan in the modern day and stumbled upon this article, we hope you’re now convinced by the benefits of having a well thought-through project plan. As a project manager, a project plan will help you, your team and your clients get on the same page and keep the project on track. A project plan is arguably the most important document created on your project and should be detailed out before your team starts working on the project. At its core, a project plan should communicate your approach and the process your team will use to manage the project according to goals of the brief. In order to create a thorough project plan, you will need to first understand the brief (why, what, when, how and who). Once you’ve developed the brief you can start tackling the project plan. Make sure you follow the project management plan checklist since it covers the basics you need to master in order to develop your own project plan.