It sounds so obvious that we should have structures for doing our project planning. Projects are part and parcel of the fabric of work life and they constantly arise. It is surprising thought that so many teams are busily working away with no structure whatsoever. The project team jumps straight into arranging the details of the project, without giving any thought to how the project should be approached in a holistic manner. Think about your own experience? Can you rattle off a structure for how projects should be planned, because you have always done it that way in the past? Probably not!
There are eight steps we need to consider when we begin working on a project. Let’s assume that the team has been created, hopefully a great match up between resident skill sets and the tasks required to successfully complete the project. Even if you don’t have all the bases covered through your team, a good structure will help to overcome the gaps.
Step 1: Define what is the "should be". This is the project scope and must be in harmony with the project creator’s vision. What will success look like to the project client? If we don’t have a clear idea of what we are supposed to achieve then trouble is close by. Often though, the project goals are vague and very "big picture". We need to push hard at this point to attain greater clarity about the end result we need to produce.
Step 2: Analyse where we are with the "as is". This is our current reality, our circumstances at the start of the project. What is the situation in our work demands, beside this new initiative? What resources and time frames have we been given?
Step 3: We need to set our goals for the project. With no clear goals, firmly attached limpet like, we will see drift and time wastage. The larger goal is a construct of as series of smaller goals, all coalescing into the final output. SMART is a well-known useful acronym for thinking about how to create the goals in the first place – a 5 point checklist for us to make use of. Are the goals Specific in terms of processes and resources? Are the Measurable, allowing us objective data to gauge progress? Are the goals Attainable, something the team can be motivated to pursue? Are the goals Relevant to the vision of the project sponsors or are heading off course? Finally, are they Time-Specific with clear deadlines and milestones with which the check progress?
Step 4: Have we chosen the right "action steps"? In order to achieve the goals we have set, there must be priorities established and flowing from that, the action steps developed. We need to clearly set the requirements of the job, noting who will do which tasks, how the tasks should be completed. We also have to plan for how the individual work pieces will coagulate and emerge as a coherent progression that arrives at the desired outcomes. We must also think about how we will need to communicate the results on the way through and again at the end.
Step 5: What are the costs? People, money and time are the usual resources we are normally short of when trying to do projects. We need to estimate how much of each we will need and do this at the start.
Step 6: Timetables are key to checking progress. Clear deadlines, well communicated and understood will be broken out into stages throughout the project. We set them at the beginning. As we move forward, when we need to check against the completion of work, compared to the original time estimate to understand our progress.
Step 7: Implementation of the plan necessitates that everyone in the tem understands their role, the specific goals, the timelines and the WHY we are doing this.
Step 8: Upon completion we need to celebrate, then go back and check the reality against what we presumed would occur. This is a vital learning step often neglected, which then ensures we keep re-inventing the projects wheel. This is where we seize best practice, refine our internal processes and set ourselves up for future success.
This is not a complex process, but it will save a lot of panic, late-nights, wasted efforts and stress, if we go though it at the start.