7 Areas of Project Planning You Can’t Afford to Neglect
There are many reasons you might want to skip the planning phase of a project and jump right into getting things done. Maybe your client is in a hurry. Maybe the project seems so simple that planning feels unnecessary. Maybe you’re just excited about your work.
Whatever the reason you want to move forward without a plan, don’t. Every project needs a project plan. Without one, you’re setting yourself and your team up for failure.
Here we’ll take a look at seven things that demonstrate the importance of project planning.
1. Well-defined goals
One of the most obvious–and most important– steps of a project plan is defining your project goals. When you set your goals before work begins, you, your client, and your team are all on the same page and future misunderstandings can be avoided. Good goals are realistic, clear, and measurable.
- Realistic– Can we accomplish this goal with the allotted time and resources available to us?
- Clear– Do we know exactly what is being asked of us? Does everyone understand?
- Measurable– Are there quantifiable indicators with which we can judge each goal?
When you set good goals, your team members have a reliable standard to evaluate the progress of their contributions, and no time needs to be wasted on activities that don’t support the goals. If any disagreements about deliverables arise along the way, you can reiterate the agreed-upon goals to your client, which helps prevent scope creep. Project wrap-up is much simpler when you set good goals in the beginning; it’s easy to determine whether you’ve met those goals and identify areas for improvement. None of that is possible without taking time for project planning.
2. Resource planning
Your team and your company have finite resources to work with, and the success of your project depends on your operating within the limits of those resources. The problems created by a lack of resource planning are fairly obvious: if you run out of money, time, or personnel before the project is complete, your project is going to fail!
Good resource planning includes:
- Financial resource planning– Do we have the money to complete the project as currently envisioned?
- Human resource planning– Do I have enough people to meet all our goals in the amount of time given? Do my team members have the skills required? Is anyone on the team taking significant time off?
- Physical resource planning– Do we have the office space, computers, and other equipment required to complete this project?
- Vendor resource planning– Will our current vendor relationships sufficiently meet the needs of this project?
- Resource conflict planning– What else is going on in our organization that could interfere with our project? How can I mitigate those conflicts?
It’s critical to have the answers to all these resource questions before work begins. You may find you need to hire and/or train new people, secure new suppliers, or wait on another project to be completed. If you discover this information in the planning phase, you have plenty of time to discuss an adjusted time table and expectations with your client.
3. Task planning
Task management is so important that many people (mistakenly) think of project management solely in terms of managing tasks. While there’s certainly more to project planning than outlining your tasks, you must take task planning seriously.
Take a look at your goals and list all the tasks you believe are necessary to achieve those goals. Include sub-tasks if needed, and be prepared to come back and revise this list later. Once you have a comprehensive list of tasks, identify priorities and dependencies among them. This will come in handy when it’s time to start scheduling.
It helps to have a good task management tool, like a digital kanban board (or e-kanban), to flesh out, assign, and track tasks as your project progress. By planning your tasks at the outset of a project, you help your team operate more efficiently, and you’re more likely to have a successful project.
4. Risk identification
It would be nice if we could all go about our work without considering the bad things that might happen. That’s not totally possible, but if you make risk identification part of your project planning process, you’ll be prepared before a crisis presents itself, and then it’s not as much of a crisis.
Check with your team and other project stakeholders about risks to consider. Areas of risk include,
- project scope,
- resources (personnel, financial, and physical),
- project delays,
- failures of technology
You can’t prevent every bad thing from happening, but preparing for some of the most likely scenarios can mean the difference between success and failure.
One area of project planning that’s easy to overlook is communication in project management. What tools are you going to use? Email, text messaging, a chat service, or some combination of things? Make sure everyone on the team understands what’s expected and can use the technology you’ve selected.
The method of communication is important, but don’t neglect the content! Make sure to set clear expectations and guidelines on the kinds of information that need to be communicated. It doesn’t hurt to set standards for the tone and level of formality expected among team members, and with clients and stakeholders. As they say, “there’s no such thing as overcommunication.”
A project schedule contains more than your average weekly planner notes. Project scheduling involves creating a document, these days usually a digital document, that details the project timeline and the organizational resources required to complete each task. The purpose of the project schedule is to communicate critical information to the team, so it must be both comprehensive and easy to understand.
If you take time during project planning to create a good schedule, your project will go much more smoothly. Team members can look to the schedule as a resource and guide, which gives individuals autonomy while keeping everyone accountable to the same goals.
7. Quality control
Quality control is all about metrics, and it’s important to have the right metrics in place from the beginning of your project. Your quality control metrics go far beyond the basic details outlined in your project goals. Methods of quality control planning include cost-benefit analysis, benchmarking, design of experiments (DOE), and cost of quality (COQ).
As the project manager, you must work with team members, clients, and other stakeholders to identify what factors to measure and what constitutes success on all those factors. By creating quality control standards in the planning phase, you’ll start your project with a clear vision of what success looks like and be able to measure that success along the way.
There are many elements to a successful project, and they can be overwhelming for a project manager. When you take the time to draw up a plan, you’re setting up your teams for success right from the beginning.