Here are three project planning best practices
A goal without a plan is just a wish, goes the saying, and that is certainly true in a project environment!
Your project plan is a complete map for turning today’s wish into tomorrow’s achievement. It’s more than simply the schedule of work or the Gantt chart. It’s a document that talks about how you are going to approach the problem, how all aspects of the work will be managed, and how you will collaborate to achieve the end result.
We see a lot of variation in how teams approach project planning. There is no perfect answer – every organization will have their own tried-and-tested way of scoping and planning the work.
However, PMO teams face a challenge when different project managers approach planning differently. That leads to variation in how projects are initiated. It won’t be a surprise to you to learn that projects that have been effectively planned are more likely to meet their success criteria. There’s definitely a benefit in helping project teams plan better because it increases the chances of project success.
So how can we do that? Here are three project planning best practices you can put to work on your projects today.
1. Get the team involved
There might be multiple ways to address the problem, but first you need clarity on what the problem is.
Get the project team together and work on defining the problem that needs solving. Then you can agree on the best approach for creating a solution. The earlier the team is involved in crafting the work of the project, the greater the level of buy in. People appreciate having their voice heard when the solution is being considered, even if their suggestions don’t make it into the final plan.
Negotiate the contributions of each person on the team so everyone knows who is doing what. This conversation will help define roles and responsibilities as well as let you get into the detail about how the project will move forward. Clear role boundaries will ensure tasks don’t get missed or – worse – done twice, duplicating effort and increasing cost.
2. Consider all planning approaches
It’s important to choose a planning approach before the work starts, so everyone knows the framework for delivering the work. Are you going to use Agile methodologies? Or take a predictive approach? Or use a hybrid mix of both? And how do the team and the wider stakeholder community feel about that choice?
There is no right or wrong answer to selecting a project delivery methodology. Whether you use an in-house method developed for your company, an off-the-shelf methodology, or you adapt an international standard like A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge – PMBOK® Guide to suit the needs or your organization, all approaches are valid. As long as it works for you, and the team buys into using that approach, you are good to go.
Some of the team might not have experience in the approach you have chosen to use. If that’s the case, make sure your project plan caters for training and support for those team members. For example, if your project customer requires you to use earned value management techniques, you could benefit from planning some EVM training for team members who are not familiar with how that works. The more comfortable they feel with the way in which the work is being managed, the easier it will be for them to actively contribute and complete their tasks.
3. Involve the customer
The third of our planning best practices is to involve the customer. Whether that’s an internal customer or an external client, having their support is going to be crucial to getting the work done on time.
Customer engagement helps them see how their processes and decisions shape the project overall. The choices the customer makes will have a huge impact on budget, timeframe and the resources required. The more they understand about the work that is planned, the more they can support you in the right way to help achieve the end goals
Customers can also help you identify project risk. The more you know about the kinds of risk that might be coming your way, the fewer ‘surprises’ you get on the project. Many projects struggle because of items that should have been identified upfront. Forgotten elements add more cost, time and stress to being able to complete your project.
When you involve project customers in planning, you tend to get higher customer satisfaction levels. They are more aware of the work that goes into making sure their vision gets delivered. They make faster decisions to help you keep progressing. They are more engaged overall because they have an understanding of the big picture – the whole project management process that will end with them taking delivery of something that will add value to the way they work.
A robust, standard, approach to planning helps you build deep levels of trust between the project team, customers and management teams because there is consistency and reliability in the work you’re doing.
You build the foundations of a team that works well together by starting off right. The planning best practices takeaway from this article is that by working together, you’ll produce an approach to planning the work that everyone can support. You’ll have more chance of delivering a successful end result because you’ve listened to the diverse opinions in the team and created commitment for the end goal by keeping everyone informed. Now go deliver!