Suggestions for better project planning
Planning is a chore for most people even those who are undertaking high profile management responsibilities. Not many people believe planning would help them get better results. There are many myths and best practices around the topic of project planning which leads to having effective and ineffective plans. In the following paragraphs I explore some of the best practices on project planning and highlight some typical mistakes around the topic.
1. Planning is a collective effort: one of the big mistakes made by young project practitioners is that they think they have to craft a plan individually, hand it to the project sponsor or owner for approval and then everything will work according to plan. What they miss here is buy-in. Without stakeholder buy-in a plan is worth nothing. Team members are particularly the most important subgroup within stakeholders who need to participate in project planning as they are the ones who eventually undertake the responsibility of executing the plan. Moreover, plans crafted based on individual judgment of project manager or a few participants in the project management team would fail to be comprehensive enough to be effectively executed. A collective planning effort with participation of all key project stakeholders would provide buy-in, rigor and credit to the plan.
2. Planning is not the same as scheduling: A serious mistake that even some project management textbooks make about project planning is that they narrow it down to scheduling and probably budgeting while planning is a coordinated effort to rigorously foresee all aspects of a project including but not necessarily limited to scope, time, cost, risk, communications, human resources, quality and procurement. The role of the project manager is to holistically coordinate and integrate planning activities of different participants across all these areas. The resulting Project Management Plan is comprehensively addressing all these aspects and provides primary and contingency solutions for project execution.
3. Project planning dilemma: a paradox that most project managers face is that on the one hand the amount of information available when project is initiated is limited which makes detailed accurate project planning unlikely until enough information is available and project requirements are clarified. On the other hand, project stakeholders especially project sponsor need detailed accurate plans as soon as possible because those plans are most relevant soon after the project is initiated. Most professional project managers are familiar with the concept of progressive elaboration: more requirements are clarified as the project progresses. Traditionally, the primary solution for the dilemma was to break down planning into different strategic, high and detailed planning levels. The project manager then would be able to start with high-level estimates of schedule, budget, scope and risk. Latter, when requirements are clarified, the project manager would be able to drill down and craft detailed plans. Practices such as rolling-wave and iterative planning would also be beneficial in resolving the mentioned dilemma.
4. Communication and updates: One of the mistakes amateur project managers make is they craft a very detailed plan, put it aside and start executing the project. Even the best managed projects would not be executed totally according to plans. This arises the need for continuous project plan updates. Agile project management methodologies incorporate iterative planning to ensure plans are effective in the short period of running an iteration. This in turn highlights the need to communicate plan updates frequently to all relevant project stakeholders so that you are sure that all players are on the same page. In short, when you go about planning a project, get input from all key stakeholders and provide them with related outputs regularly.
This list would go on and on as the body of knowledge on project planning is extensively huge. If you feel there are planning best practices that can be added to the list, comment on the topic. All ideas are welcomed.