Taming your Project Plan

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Project Plan

Your project plan should ideally be a model of what you need to do in the project. It should allow you to manage timing and division of duties across the team. Plans that present a representation close to the actual situation usually provide the greatest benefit. But getting the model of the project correct is not an easy task. Here are a few tips and approaches that might help you get more from your plan.

Building the Plan

Ensure that you involve the project team in building the plan. Any project manager who builds the plan in isolation will run into issues of it being challenged by the team delivering it.

When building the plan all your key tasks should link to deliverables. You should remove any  tasks in your plan that cannot be traced back to objectives and the outcomes of the project.   Some project managers record administration and governance tasks on the project schedule. It can be argued that administration type tasks link indirectly to your goals but they do create noise on the plan. A top down planning approach allows you to break the project into manageable tasks. Using something like a Product Based planning approach will help to ensure that all key elements are defined in the plan.

Defining the dependencies between tasks across the whole plan allows you to establish a basis for critical path analysis and other control aids that can help you in your plan.

Once the project plan is compiled communicate it to the team and stakeholders so that you can establish ownership and tune out errors.

Work Breakdown Structure

Get a breakdown of your project into a WBS (work breakdown structure) Solid use of a WBS will allow: –

  • Definition of the scope against each element of the overall objective
  • Better control of the project, better estimates, and earlier warning of possible issues
  • Helps project managers to ensure completeness
  • Enables the plan to be flexible and more easily changed and updated
  • Assists reporting and sharing of information at the right level.

Tracking the Plan/Schedule

There are occasions when project team spend a lot of time building a plan and then fail to use it. This is often because it is never tracked and updated. If you will not track the plan it is almost pointless spending the time to create it.

Having said that, how you track he project can vary greatly.   You might choose to track the completeness of each task as a whole or capture detail of actual time taken against each task. The greater level of detail you use the higher the overhead of your project. The project manager must balance control against the effort and impact on the project that that level of control requires. In most situations it is clear that tracking a project minute by minute will be far too much of an overhead to justify. Decide an acceptable level of control for your project. Then ensure that the method used to achieve control is within the project team capability, without compromising work on the real deliverables.

Performance Monitoring

Once you have an operation model of your project built into your plan and your tracking has been established you may use a number of different tools to monitor performance. Performance can be monitored simple by recording a baseline and using variance reporting to highlight high and lower achievement. Or you can select something like an EVM (earned value method) which can give common index values on the project as a whole, or parts of the project. EVM has the advantage of allowing you to compare between projects of different types and sizes.

Establishing some form of performance monitoring allows the project manager to judge how different aspects of the project are progressing. This approach allows attention to be focused where it can have best effect. When used effectively it will allow early warning and reduction of risks before they become issues.

Reporting Model

The primary purpose of the project plan is to allow timely and controlled delivery of the project. However, the project plan in most modern planning tools allows for formatting, sorting and filtering of information that can allow easy reporting. Such reporting can be made directly from your chosen planning tool. Where common report templates have been established the plan could provide data into other status reporting models.

With a few simple steps your project planning tool can be significant help in achieving success in your project.

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