How to Plan a Project
As the Sensible Project Manager, I have always believed that the most critical part of a project occurs during the planning stages. If you take the time to plan the project correctly, you will find things go much smoother during the rest of the project. If you are new to project management or if you have been handed your first project to run, this practical guide will help you successfully start your project.
Identify Project Vision
The first step to success begins with understanding the vision or goal of the project you will be leading. There is a reason the project was initiated and you must understand the business need and what success looks like. The vision should be documented in the Project Charter and should describe the goal of the project and the value it will bring to the business. It should also enumerate the deliverables for the project as well as the timeframe and budget to be followed. If it isn’t documented, work with the project sponsor to get the vision identified and agreed to by everyone that matters.
Now that you have the vision identified, understood and agreed to by all, the scope should go down the same path. Scope is defined by PMI as “The work that needs to be accomplished to deliver a product, service, or result with the specified features and functions”. When you document the scope of the work to be done, you are identifying the boundaries of what will and will not be part of the project. Clearly documenting the scope and obtaining agreement on the scope is a critical step toward proceeding with the project. The scope document will be used often during the rest of the project and will be your leverage to keep the project on schedule and within budget.
Create Project Plan
With the vision and scope clearly understood, you should begin creating the project plan. The project plan will identify how you will manage the project and should include the following components.
- Create the Project Budget – The budget for the project was likely identified in the project charter. The project manager should identify when money will be spent based on when the work will be done. This budget will be tracked and managed on at least a monthly basis.
- Create Risk Management Plan – It is important to understand what the potential risks are to your project. Create a risk register (or risk matrix) which identifies the risks and how you will manage those risks. This risk management plan should be addressed frequently throughout the project and is key to staying ahead of surprises that can derail your project.
- Create Communications Plan – It is essential for the project manager to communicate clearly to all stakeholders throughout the project. The communication plan will identify “who”, “what”, “when”, “why”, “how”, and “by whom” information is disseminated to all players involved in the project. I always include a responsibility assignment matrix, or RACI diagram, in the communications plan.
- Create Resource Plan – The resource plan will document what resources you will need during the project and when you will need them. This should be based on the project schedule and will be a living document.
- Change Management Plan – In the change management plan you will layout how you will manage change during the project. Often your organization will have a change management plan and all you have to do is reference this plan. If not, it is critical to understand how change will be managed against the scope, budget, and timeline.
- Create Quality Assurance Plan – Once again, your organization might already have a QA process in place and the QA plan can be built from those defined processes. The success of the project will likely include a measurement of quality, so make sure that you understand your QA plan and the specific quality measurements.
Create Project Schedule
Although I have listed this last, the creation of the schedule can actually be done in parallel with the creation of the project plan, in reality it usually is. Additionally, I consider the project schedule to be part of the Project Plan however I feel it is important enough to call it out separately. To build the project schedule there are four essential steps.
- Create WBS – The first step to creating a schedule is to identify the tasks that are required to meet the defined scope. These tasks are organized in outline form in what is called a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).
- Get Estimates – With the tasks identified in the WBS, work with the team members that will be executing the tasks, or alternately a lead or expert that can provide accurate estimates for each of the tasks.
- Identify Dependencies – Next it is important to identify the dependencies between tasks. Some tasks can be done in parallel and others need to be started after another task is completed. Essentially you will put these tasks in the order in which they need to be accomplished.
- Build the Schedule – Once you understand the order in which the tasks will be executed and how much time each task will take, you can create the schedule.
Now you are ready!
When starting a project, follow these steps and you will have a plan that will lead you down the path of success.