Planning a project is something that people have to do get good at doing if they ever want to effectively manage projects. The secret to accurately scheduling a project, as well as projecting true project costs, it effective project planning. Use this quick guide the next time you’re looking to start a project to make sure you are thinking through all the recommended steps.
1. Define the Scope
The first step is to question exactly what your team is being asked to complete. Once you have asked all the right questions, and you know exactly you are expected to deliver, it is time to write this down as the scope definition. This definition needs to articulate exactly what this project is expected to do, what it is not expected to do, why it is important to the business, and when it is expected to be complete. This step is important because if you have this part correct, everyone will be able to consult this document to verify if a step is or isn’t part of the project, why it might or might not be more important than other projects, and if the results of this project are worth the money being spent.
2. Identify Your Project Sponsor
Your project must have a sponsor or at least one or more stakeholders that agree this project is important and will help you work on the project until completion. Identify these people and get them to fund the project, influence the priority of the project, and help you keep the project moving forward when there are roadblocks.
A positive relationship with these people is important, so you will want to communicate with them on a regular basis. They need a weekly report about the positive things that have happened, but also any negative activities or delays. Their interest in the success of the project will help you get more done, as well as help remove any barriers.
3. Identify Available Resources
Now that you have identified the true scope of the overall project, and identified who is most interested in getting project done, you now need to identify who is actually going to help complete the steps required to complete the project on time on on budget. You need to specifically identify the types of skills needed, and work with the stakeholders to fill those requirements with internal or external resources.
4. Understand the Timeline
Now you have a project scope, listed the people on your side to help you accomplish the project, and identified the people required to do the actual work. Now you need to understand the timeline required to complete the project. If is an almost irresistible impulse to determine the due date before you have competed these steps, but you must resists this urge and identify the timeline only after you know what is possible with the resources you have at your disposal.
As a simple example, lets say you are asked to build a website showing your company products and their current pricing. You decide this is fairly easy and define the project as taking two weeks. But once you define the scope, you realize the pricing changes almost every day, new items are added every week, and items can be deleted at any time. Next you identify that you need a web developer and a database developer to build the site, but your in-house database developer is unavailable for two weeks, and it will take at least a week to get a consultant identified and hired. How your two week project is more complicated that you originally thought, and you do’t have the resources you need when you need them. Sounds like your project will take longer than you originally promised and it might even be more expensive than your sponsor agreed to pay.
5. List all the Steps
Next you need to start thinking about those activities and deliverables that are big and discrete enough to list one after another. Send some time then breaking down the big steps into smaller steps. Keep breaking dow the tasks until they are small enough for one or two people to complete in a week or two.
6. Create your Baseline Project Plan
Now that you have the draft tasks list, you want to discuss the draft with your team. Review it with them, allowing them to offer feedback, alter the timeline and expectations, and let them know your thought process used to plan this project. They will recognize areas that you may have missed, are technically impossible, or may conflict with some other initiative that is already in progress. Once you have everyones feedback, weigh each suggestion against your experience and discretion, then develop version 1.0 of the project plan and kick-off the project.
7. Refine the Plan Based on Reality
As progress is made on completing the tasks on the project plan, reflect and refine the plan based upon the reality of what is actually happening. Are things going well or has the team run into problems? Make adjustments to the plan and communicate the changes to the entire team, including the stakeholders and any sponsors.
8. Monitor Progress
Progress is something that is constantly monitored on a daily basis. You must know if issues are being addressed and resolved in a timely manner. Always communicate the truth to your team and the stakeholders. They must trust you and they will only do that if you always give them the truth. If the project is doing poorly, communicate that to the team and offer advice on how to resolve the issues, offer to adjust the schedule, investigate additional resources, or identify who can help remove the roadblocks.
9. Document Everything
Make sure you keep up with any changes by writing down everything. Create and update your documentation to reflect reality, and this is something that must be done at least once a week. One of the worse things that can happen if for someone on your team to be working from the wrong version of a specification document or project schedule.
10. Keep Everyone Up to Date
You must to include mechanisms in your project plan that will keep everyone updated. You do not want people wondering what is going on, or questioning your teams ability to get their work done on time. You should have a scheduled weekly communication that provides the overall status of the project, even if it is basically an “everything is perfect” message that is emailed out to the entire team. If people have to guess about what is happening on the project, they will usually guess wrong and them you have to work even harder to make sure everyone gets the corrected information.