The importance of planning in a project environment

The importance of planning in a project environment

Jonny ButlerWhy is it important to plan a project and why are project plans not taken seriously enough?

Planning is an integral part of our everyday lives and is perceived as a natural process, such as deciding what to do at the weekend. So why do some people still see it as a tick box exercise in a project and programme environment?

A project plan is like a passport: the “backbone” for any journey, tailored to your needs and essential to get to your destination; without it you are stumped.

Planning has notoriously been seen as a chore, constructed in a hurry and handed to the PMO (project management office) to sort out. This laissez-faire approach does not work and leads to delays, missed opportunities and that dreaded question from the senior management: “So, why wasn’t this done on time?”

While each plan is unique you can use these high level steps to construct one relevant to any project/programme/industry:

  1. First, outline the objectives: what do you want to achieve? This “backward approach” starts from the end point and scopes out the necessary actions.
  2. Highlight the key milestones: what tasks – or “products” – do you need to achieve your objectives?
  3. Prepare the estimates: agree the project timescale and identify the resource and effort to complete the work to the standard required. Costs are estimated at this point due to the unpredictable nature of a project/programme environment.
  4. Create a schedule: transform everything in the previous three stages into a graphic schedule, usually on MS Project. You can map the project journey with dates, times and frequency of tasks listed against the available resources.
  5. Risk analysis: consider all eventualities and evaluate the risks associated with each task. Capture and manage these risks in the risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies (RAID) log and reflect them on the live plan.
  6. Formulate the governance structure: this will help support the project and maintain the plan. Create relevant documentation that identifies the products, activities, constraints, dependencies and risks along with their mitigations. This phase helps ensure the plan is a true reflection of the project’s current status.

The plan as project “hub”

Your project plan needs constant attention to account for delays in task completion, shifts in requirements, additional tasks and new stakeholders. You need to capture and present all of this in the plan to ensure its validity.

But why is it so important to have a plan in place?

Skip forward a few months when the stakeholders are interested in progress and what tasks they need to complete. The plan is now the “hub” of the project and plays a pivotal role in decision-making, resource allocation and cost control. It can also be your friend when attempting to generate confidence among stakeholders.

Presenting the plan to the stakeholders is very important when approaching critical points in your project. But rather than presenting a MS Project plan that has more lines than War and Peace you need to tailor your approach based on the audience; this keeps your stakeholders informed of their duties, provides clarity, encourages suggestions and generates confidence.

And never underestimate the power of a “visual” plan. Even something basic with colour on a timeline can put everything into perspective and promotes any successes/failures within the project/programme. Bringing a plan to life can help influence a decision or action from your stakeholders.

For example, if you’re approaching a critical period in your project, where multiple work packages are in full flow, you should display the tasks on a visual plan along with outlining their significance to the stakeholder. Consequently, you may receive more resource, guidance and support to complete the tasks.

A plan should be seen as a recipe for ensuring success; the list of ingredients to ensure your stakeholders are happy or the shopping list to deliver the desired end result.

See our PRINCE2® section for more information about project management.

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