Congratulations! You’ve just taken on an exciting new project. You’ve already dived into a Microsoft Project file and started entering tasks and milestones.
Stop! Step away from your laptop! It’s time to zoom out from the detail and start looking at the bigger picture. Your project planning will be all the better for it.
It’s all in the planning
Regardless of size or complexity, the key to delivering a winning project, lies in three things:
The tricky part is keeping these elements balanced. Many experienced project managers will agree that this is no mean feat! So, in this article, we’re going back to basics to focus on five key planning principles that will set you on course for project success.
A plan for a plan
Creating a manageable project schedule that actually delivers requires a large amount of information-gathering up front. If your project is already underway, don’t panic. It’s never too late to put your project through a health check. Use the following as a check-list to start making some changes for the better:
1: Get engaged … and stay engaged
Poor communication is one of the top reasons why projects fail. Identify your project stakeholders from the start. Stakeholders are simply those involved or with an interest, and can range from your customer to your workforce or senior management.
- Understand their roles and get to know them.
- How can they help you and you help them?
Regular “catch-ups” for the duration of your project will make all the difference.
2: Understand your requirements
Before you dive headlong into detailed planning, you need to be crystal clear about your requirements. Agree these with your customer at the outset and make sure you have them in writing. Already mid-project? Ensure the deliverables in your schedule trace back to your original requirements and continue to review them regularly. This will avoid scope creep (gradual, unapproved changes) and spiralling costs.
3: Log risks & dependencies
Many businesses carry out “Lessons Learnt” exercises at the end of projects, but not all of them go on to use their findings effectively. Make sure you find time to analyze historical data from past projects at the start of any new project. Use it to create a high-level RAID (risks, assumptions, issues, and dependencies) log. A RAID log is invaluable for informing your schedule. Above all, it ensures appropriate levels of effort and duration are applied to “high risk” tasks and that all dependencies are captured. Involve stakeholders to keep it updated going forward.
4: Choose your management methodology
If you don’t know your Waterfall from your Agile or your Critical Chain PM from your Six Sigma, don’t worry – you’re not alone! These are simply various approaches to successful project management, and like most methodologies, some are more ‘trendy’ than others! (There’s a great glossary of these and other project management terms here.)
Talk to your colleagues or to project managers in other companies to understand which project management methodology is best for your type of project. One size does not fit all.
Nailing your approach will also lead you to the best software for creating your schedule.
- If your project is small, a simple “to do” list in a spreadsheet may well be sufficient.
- If your project is worth millions on an industrial scale, a dedicated planning tool is a must.
5: Schedule in regular analysis
Creating the perfect, logically linked, project schedule is only the start. The real benefits come from regular schedule analysis.
Ensure you arrange regular updates with those involved in delivering the building blocks of your project, your Work Package Managers. Whether it’s weekly or monthly, find an update cycle that is manageable for your team.
These updates are likely to uncover tasks that are putting the project timeline at risk. Use these early warnings! Work through some ‘what-if’ scenarios in the schedule, to try to introduce efficiencies and increase slack.
How can the Chamber help?
Want to talk to another company with experience of running a similar project? The Chamber’s regular Business After Five events are a perfect opportunity to network with local business people and share project experiences.