As Project Managers, we kick off new projects with all the right intentions, taking stock of the requirements, defining the resources on both the customer and the delivery teams, and map out the overall plan. As we step through the project planning process at the outset of the engagement, we are often going through the motions without really stopping to think about what might be required at each step along the way.
Indeed, some logical steps may never make it into a master project schedule, but they really should. And some of these steps that I’m about to identify are general in nature and may not be applicable to every type of project, every organization and industry, and every size project – but they actually could be (should be?). Let’s look at these likely basic project planning steps in a little more detail….
Define the problem to be solved
At the outset of the project we must, of course, define the actual problem to be solved. It is likely that the customer will have attempted to do this before coming to us with the project – or they did this with Sales or an account manager. It is still our job as project managers to help them define this further – possibly even get to the REAL problem – after the project is dropped in our hands to work.
Develop a mission statement
Develop a mission state, followed by statements of major objectives. This is important as it tends to set the project off on the right path and bring cohesion to the project team as they come to a mutual understanding of the path and goals of the project. Be sure the project really satisfies the customer’s needs, rather than being what the team thinks the customer should get.
Develop a project strategy that will meet all project objectives
The team must strategize as to how they will work the project with the customer and how they will satisfy the end goals of the project successfully and to the customer’s satisfaction.
Write a scope statement to define project boundaries
The scope – what will and will not be done on the project should be part of the project plan. Write a project scope statement that draws some obvious boundaries around what work is to be included on the engagement.
Develop a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
Creating the work breakdown structure detailing all the tasks and sub-tasks that will go into production of the final, implemented solution is a critical piece of the project planning process. Even though it is something that will change somewhat over time, it is the basis for everything going forward – the project schedule, resource planning, task assignments, etc. Using the WBS, estimate activity durations, resource requirements, and costs (as appropriate for your environment).
Prepare the project master schedule and budget
Develop – or modify if you already have one from Sales or the account manager – the master project schedule. Include the tasks identified in the work breakdown structure and assign resources or at least resource positions if the actual resource names have not been identified yet. You’ll need to be identifying what collaborative project planning tool you’ll be using and make sure that is acceptable and accessible – if appropriate – to the project customer and team as well. The project task information that you input at this point will help you to budget the project in more detail.
Decide on the project organization structure
Document the proposed project organization structure as part of the project planning process. Identify whether it will be a matrix or hierarchical reporting structure.
Set up the shared project collaboration location
Whether you’re using SharePoint, a shared drive somewhere on the company’s intranet, Facebook, a collaborative project management software tool or some other device, set it up at this point and start populating it with many of the documents and info that is going into this planning process.
Get the plan signed off by all project stakeholders
Finally, put the formal project plan through a formal review process on your project team, possibly senior management if it’s a visible enough project, and definitely the customer. Get a formal approval signoff from the customer and store the document with all other project materials.
The bottom line is this – have a methodology and plan in place for how you are going to successfully manage all aspects of this project. Document it with reasonable steps and tasks in the project plan, share that regularly with the team, the customer, all key stakeholders and your senior management and be accountable to it. And hold the team all stakeholders to it as well. And remember that communication is always Job One for the project manager. Effective and efficient communication – meetings, phone calls, status meetings, listening… all aspects of communication – are tantamount to project success. And without a plan to manage against – a good one – you’re just relying on luck for success and that won’t be repeatable. That won’t ever be considered best practices.