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Project Planning

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How 5 PM Experts Create a Fail-Safe Project Management Plan
Project Management 10 min read

How 5 PM Experts Create a Fail-Safe Project Management Plan

Poor planning can doom your project before work even begins. Changing expectations, shrinking budgets, and frustrating miscommunications can derail even the simplest project—and make life stressful for everyone involved.  A thorough project plan can prevent scope creep, overblown budgets, and missed goals. But actually sitting down and planning a project can be an overwhelming task. How do you accurately predict how long tasks will take? How do you translate stakeholder expectations into concrete deliverables? What if something goes wrong? We’ve collected advice from 5 seasoned project management experts who understand exactly what's needed to create a successful project management plan.  Essential Components of a Project Management Plan  What should be included in your project management plan? For award-winning project management blogger Elizabeth Harrin, a thorough project plan includes these elements: Project Definition Statement: This is the ‘what’ and 'why' of your project: a short statement summarizing the purpose, goals, and final deliverable(s).  Execution Strategy: Explain the 'how' of your project. What methodology will you use? Will delivery happen in a single launch, or released in stages?  Scope: What is (and isn't) included in your project? Include your work breakdown structure and key deliverables.  Schedule: Depending on how well defined your project is, this can be either a high-level overview of when specific items will be completed, or it can include your detailed Gantt chart complete with milestones and delivery dates.  Organization Chart: An overview of the hierarchy of your project team, roles, and responsibilities. If your project involves multiple teams or departments, this should cover how those teams will work together, who the stakeholders are, and who’s leading each deliverable.   RACI Chart: This chart helps you determine specifically who will do what for your project. It's a matrix of all a project’s activities, paired with all the roles involved, including who's Responsible (assigned to complete the work), Accountable (has yes/no/veto power), Consulted (needs to approve or contribute), and Informed (needs to know about the action or decision). At each intersection of activity and role, a specific person is assigned for each role. Find out everything you need to know about RACI charts here.  Image Credit: racichart.org Risk Management Plan & Risk Log: Even if you budget every penny while learning how to calculate earned value and map out each milestone, no project, no matter how small, is free from risk. Create a plan for identifying and mitigating risk from the very beginning. Find a step-by-step guide to assessing and managing risk here.  Budget Details: Include projected overtime hours, training courses, consulting fees, equipment and supplies, software purchases, travel expenses, etc. Some of these figures can be tricky to nail down ahead of time but try to be as precise as possible, remind everyone that your budget is an estimate, and know how to calculate earned value to tell if you’re behind schedule or over budget on your project. Communications Plan & Reporting Schedule: Include details on who you’ll be communicating with, what you’ll share, how often, and in what form.  Procurement Plan: If you need to buy something as part of the project (software, materials, etc.) this is where you explain how you’ll research and choose a vendor and manage the contract. It's important to learn and implement good project procurement management strategies for this. Information Management Plan: Detail how you’ll store and share project information, control documentation, and keep your project data safe.  Quality Management Plan: Explain how you’ll manage quality on the project, what your quality standards are, and how you plan to maintain these standards, as well as your proposed schedule for quality audits or checkpoints.  This can seem like a lot of information to cover, but remember that this is just a project management plan example. A good project plan doesn’t necessarily include everything on this list.  As Harrin notes, “A longer document does not make you look more clever or organised. It just raises the likelihood that no one will read it except you.” A simple project plan that's easy to follow is best.  Start with a SOW According to Brad Egeland, experienced IT project manager, author, and consultant, the foundation of a successful project plan is a Statement of Work. Why? Because it gets everyone on the same page at the start. Later on, when new requirements pop up and scope creep sets in, you can go back to the SOW document to see what exactly the project was supposed to do at its inception. It is also important to be aware of scope creep and gold plating. Your SOW should include a general statement of purpose/business value, description of project deliverables, definition of milestones, estimation of effort, timeline, and cost, and a high-level description of team roles and responsibilities.  Set a Timer Max Wideman, famed project manager and co-author of the original PMBOK, advocates a streamlined method for project planning. His SCOPE-PAK Approach will help you knock out a project plan in 60 minutes or less (Wideman encourages you to actually set a timer). Assemble key stakeholders and team members to determine what you want to accomplish and how you’ll go about it.      Step 1: Stakeholders. Write down who should be contacted for help, information, or approvals, and define the project sponsor. If the list gets long, sort it into major and minor players.  Step 2: Components. This is your WBS. List all significant work items and suggestions (save evaluating them for later— just record them for now). Limit to 30 items, and if your team is starting to sound like they’re searching for items to add, stop this step and move on.  Step 3: Objectives & Outputs. Write down the project’s objective, then define what the output or results should be. Check your work by asking, “If we did all of the work items listed in Step 2, would we accomplish our objectives?" Step 4: Possible Alternatives. What alternatives would also satisfy the project’s objective? Is there a more effective way to accomplish your goals?  Step 5: Economics & Issues. What’s the project’s funding strategy? How is it prioritized among other projects? What resources will you need? What issues will you encounter?  Step 6: Plan of Attack. Look at your list of work items and decide which should be done first. Label that A. Then continue with B, C, D, etc. Then ask what can be done concurrently with A, or B, and so on. This is how you’ll establish the task schedule.  Step 7: Assumptions & Risks. What problems could occur with each task? How can you mitigate risks, or create workarounds?  Step 8: Key Success Indicators. Identify the 3-4 most important stakeholders, and ask, “What is most likely to make them happy?” These are the indicators for project success. Decide how each can be measured when the project is finished.  You can (and should) do further work to clarify the project work plan, but in just an hour you’ve established a solid plan of attack: identified stakeholders, clarified objectives, and defined outputs. Don't Overplan For Ricardo Vargas, an internationally renown project management specialist, a sense of urgency is the most important ingredient of a successful project. Project managers need to be able to respond to customer and stakeholder requests quickly, and that means executing, not sitting around a conference table hashing out timelines and budgets.  Your project isn't doing anyone any good on paper, so streamline the planning process as much as possible. Only include what's essential in your project plan, and then just get going!  Vargas uses a consolidated version of the planning guide outlined in the PMBoK, and you can learn more about the specifics of each aspect of his planning process on his blog.  Keep It Simple Project plans can get unwieldy fast, especially once stakeholders and project sponsors start weighing in. To ensure you're not over-complicating things, project management blogger Kiron Bondale suggests starting with the 5 Ws to provide context and perspective for the details of your project plan.  Why: What are the fundamental business benefits of undertaking this project?  What: What is included in the project scope?  Who: What are the critical roles required to deliver the What?  When: When must the What be delivered, in order to achieve the Why?  Where: Where is the best place for the work to be performed? Where will the What be used by customers and end users?  Only after you’ve stopped to answer these questions should you move on to the "How" of the project.  Project Management Planning Best Practices As you can see, even among project management experts there are a few different approaches to creating a project plan. There's no one right way, but one best practice experienced PMs agree on: take the time to define and agree on the main objectives with the project's stakeholders before you start executing.  Another best practice to follow: hold a project kickoff meeting. Take the opportunity to align your team around project goals, clarify roles and responsibilities, establish standards for success, and choose your project management methodology and tools. Get our tips for hosting the perfect project kickoff that will set the right tone for your team.  Finally: document as much as possible. Recording your project’s progress will help you analyze your performance and make more informed decisions.  More Project Planning Resources Project Management Basics: 6 Steps to a Foolproof Project Plan Essential Elements of the Perfect Project Plan (Infographic) 10 Steps to a Kickass Project Kickoff: A Checklist for Project Managers Project Management Basics: Beginner’s Guide to Gantt Charts Project Management Plan Template

4 Tips for an Effective Project Management Plan
Project Management 5 min read

4 Tips for an Effective Project Management Plan

What is a project management plan? It's a road map that directs a team from the start date to completion. When leaders carefully plot the course ahead, using the right strategies, input, and tools, they position their teams to work efficiently and get things done.

3 Ways To Create Your Project Manager Calendar
Project Management 5 min read

3 Ways To Create Your Project Manager Calendar

Here are three different ways to build a digital project manager calendar to support your project planning efforts. It’s up to you to decide which one is right for your team.

Quarter Close & COVID-19: How to Ensure You Still Hit Your Goals
Productivity 5 min read

Quarter Close & COVID-19: How to Ensure You Still Hit Your Goals

The increase in remote work due to COVID-19 has made it difficult for business to hit their quarter close goals. Learn more on how to combat this challenge.

How To Master Project Execution
Project Management 10 min read

How To Master Project Execution

Project execution is an essential skill for beginning project managers. Explore project execution strategy and how to make a successful project execution plan.

What Is a Pilot Study?
Project Management 5 min read

What Is a Pilot Study?

What is a pilot study? Here’s everything you need to know about pilot projects, including how to conduct a pilot study for your organization.

How to Ensure Your Projects Don't Go Over Budget
Project Management 5 min read

How to Ensure Your Projects Don't Go Over Budget

Keeping track and on top of project budgets is important for professional service companies. Find out some top project budgeting tips as well as how to get a project back on track with Wrike.

7 Mission Critical Things to Consider When Building Your Project Plan
Project Management 10 min read

7 Mission Critical Things to Consider When Building Your Project Plan

You’ve just been put in charge of a big project. Before it starts to spiral into chaos, you need to introduce some structure and order — fast. What you need is a project plan.

A Guide to Project Controls
Project Management 5 min read

A Guide to Project Controls

What are project controls and why are they a smart strategy for project managers? In this guide, you’ll discover the key benefits of the project control process.

How to Create a Streamlined Project Work Plan
Productivity 5 min read

How to Create a Streamlined Project Work Plan

Creating a solid project work plan is essential for success. Wondering about the key elements of developing a work plan? Find out Wrike’s top tips for creating a streamlined project plan for success and read through a proven work plan template.

5 Reasons Why Project Work Plans Fail and How to Avoid Them
Project Management 10 min read

5 Reasons Why Project Work Plans Fail and How to Avoid Them

Leading projects at work can be daunting, set your next one up for success by learning the 5 reasons why project work plans fail & how to avoid them.

Take Control of Your Project Plan Calendar
Project Management 3 min read

Take Control of Your Project Plan Calendar

There are many different ways to set up a project planning calendar template, and it's important for every leader to find an approach that works for their team's needs. Here are a few key considerations to bear in mind as you establish the schedule for managing a project.