Good project planning is the bedrock of successful project delivery
A good project plan is an essential guidebook for your project team. It clearly defines the scope of your project, the processes and procedures involved in delivery, and the desired outcomes. For each activity in the schedule it should seek to define the answers to questions like ‘What is being done?’, ‘When is it happening?’, ‘Who is going to do it?’, ‘Where on the project will it occur?’, and ‘How much will it cost?’
If you don’t have a clearly defined project plan in place, then the risks of poor performance significantly increase. The Project Management Institute has reported that organizations waste ‘an average of $97 million for every $1 billion invested, due to poor project performance.’ This sum could be greatly reduced by better planning and taking a more structured approach to delivery.
Why do some projects not have a plan?
Ideally, all projects would be subject to a formalized and agreed plan. The reality can be different, however, and it’s helpful to be aware of some of the reasons why some projects operate without comprehensive planning to help avoid those situations:
- A mismatch between project expectations and achievable outcomes: Where stakeholders are particularly set on an outcome, it can be challenging for project managers to push back, even if they feel that the outcome is unachievable. This becomes a real issue where the main sponsors are the ones pushing in a particular direction. The pressure to progress can lead to project initiation without a well-thought-out plan in place.
- A lack of time to plan: Some projects operate on such a tight timescale that operations start before a project plan is signed off. This can lead to the plan being led by activity rather than the other way round, and can introduce constraints on what goes into the plan.
- Poor understanding of the importance of planning: In organizations where project management isn’t necessarily the norm, some stakeholders may not appreciate the value of the time and effort needed to create a project plan. The link between good planning and successful execution is not always one that is seen and valued.
The key elements of a project plan
The project plan is, in essence, a communications tool. It’s the reference point for delivery, and as such, needs to communicate how the project team will achieve the desired end goal, which is important in the new 2021 business world where managing remote teams is a critical skill.
Work through the following elements when drafting a project plan. Each one plays a critical part in ensuring that the project team moves towards successful delivery:
- Definition of project objective: a clear, simple goal easily understood by all stakeholders
- Project description: focus on answering the questions such as ‘What,’ ‘When,’ ‘How much,’ ‘Who,’ ‘Where’, etc.
- Schedule and work breakdown structure: be clear about the deliverables needed to complete the project. Map out the various strands of work, with allocated responsibilities and dependencies
- Risk management plan: carry out a comprehensive risk assessment, with an associated management plan for treating or carrying those risks. Crucially, gain agreement to the plan from sponsors and stakeholders, to make sure that risk appetite is consistent across the board
- Quality assurance plan: much like with risk, make sure that there is agreement as to the agreed quality metrics
- Communication plan: be specific about reporting lines, reporting frequency, responsibilities for creating and delivering the reports, and report format
Considering all of these elements, and pulling them together into one cohesive document, can mean the difference between a smoothly running project and one which deviates to budget overspends and delivery overruns.
A good project plan is all about balance
Project success is based on keeping all the critical elements in balance. The major inputs of time, people, and money all need to be controlled and managed so that project goals are delivered on schedule and within budget.
If one of these elements is changed, for example if one of the goals becomes more challenging, then adjustments need to be made to ensure that delivery is still possible. In this example, the budget may need to increase to achieve the new goal, or the number of people dedicated to the project may need to rise.
The critical point is that a well-structured project plan gives project managers the visibility and flexibility to make those adjustments. Keeping all elements in balance means those risks can remain controlled throughout the project.
Project planning provides the foundation for success
The project plan is the master plan for delivery. Taking the time to create a comprehensive, realistic plan is a critical step in project management, as is communicating and gaining buy-in to that plan from sponsors and stakeholders.
If you need help pulling a plan together, then our expert Project Management Services team is on hand to assist. We can offer advice, guidance, or staff across all aspects of the project lifecycle and have experience pulling together project documentation for all types of capital improvement programs across multiple industries.