According to survey results published by Wellingtone Project Management, a quarter of project managers have issues with consistent application of project management methodologies.
The survey also showed that a third of projects isn’t baselined, and a quarter doesn’t involve the preparation of a scoping document.
Could the reason for all the mess be that a quarter of all projects are always or mainly managed by people who are experts in the subject matter, and not experts in project management? It might be, but so could the fact that more than a third of organizations — around two-fifths of them — either don’t provide project management training or don’t know whether they do it.
It might be hard to navigate through the many project management methodologies a project manager, or a person in charge of the project can utilize for any given project. But that shouldn’t serve as an excuse to forgo doing the critical step of developing a solid project plan.
Before Planning — Project Initiation Phase and Project Charters
Every project starts with a project initiation phase. Depending on the organization and the methodologies used, project initiation can involve a variety of different steps, but the key thing to remember is that project initiation is about defining the reasons for undertaking a project, the objectives of the project, its scope, and constraints. From the standpoint of project planning, the main product of the initiation phase is the project charter.
The project charter is a formal document that attests to the existence of the project. It represents formal commitments of a project sponsor, a key stakeholder, in seeing the project to the end. Some project managers believe that it’s up to the sponsor to develop the project charter, even though in reality project managers’ involvement with the creation of the charter would be very beneficial to them.
Regardless of who’s writing it, a project charter is issued and owned by the project sponsor.
A project charter is important because it paints in broad strokes all of the key features and circumstances of the project. Some of the important information included in a project charter is:
- Project deliverables, the work products that should result from the project;
- Stakeholders and their requirements;
- Allocated resources and constraints in form of human resources, time and funds limits;
- A summary of potential risks and the steps that should be taken to minimize them.
It’s also important to note that a project charter should address the project scope. Project scope is defined by the limits posed on the project, and the better defined it is, the clearer it is for everyone involve what’s expected from the project. It can sometimes be written in a separate part of a charter, usually called a scope statement.
Developing the Project Plan
Once the project charter is signed and issued, you can proceed to develop the project plan. Having a well-developed project charter can be very helpful because it clearly identifies the boundaries in which you operate when creating the project plan. However, not all charters are developed well, and even if they are, they are the type of document that doesn’t delve into specifics.
As a project manager, your role will be to further specify what was outlined in the project charter. In order to that, you will have to meet and discuss the projects with the stakeholders, some of which you’ll know from the charter. You’ll have to determine who the rest of the stakeholders are, and that should be the first step towards creating your plan.
Step 1: Determine the Interested Parties
Project sponsors are the key stakeholders, but they’re certainly not the only ones who will be involved with the project. You should also keep in mind that different stakeholders play different roles not only during the planning stage but also during the whole project, so it might serve you well to determine early on who all of the stakeholders are and what’s their role in the project.
Besides the project sponsors and the project managers, stakeholders can include:
- Experts whose input is vital to determining the requirements of the work product from the project. Managing your project is your responsibility, but these experts might be interested in everything from developing the scope and the baseline to how you develop the timeline.
- The project team, the people who will do the actual work to create the product of the project. Even though the team doesn’t have approval power over the plan, their insights are invaluable.
- End users, the people who will use the end product of the project. You will not need their approval for the project, but their opinions will count.
Depending on the type of the project, you can also include other stakeholders such as risk analysts, auditors, and even marketing professionals. It’s important that you know how they are, what you can get from them, and which parts of the project depend on their approval.
Once you’ve determined who the stakeholders are, you should hold a meeting with them to discuss the project. During that meeting, you can discuss in finer detail the information included in project charter, as well as determine ground rules, roles and responsibilities, and the stakeholders need you have to meet.
Step 2: Revisit the Scope Statement
Once you determine what every stakeholder needs, you can go back to the most important document of the project — the scope statement. The scope statement is a type of document that changes a lot during the lifecycle of the project, so this could be the first of many changes.
You should look at the original statement, if there was one, and see whether you can further define it using the information you got from the stakeholders. If you don’t have a scope statement you should develop one. At this point, a scope statement should include:
- The objective of the project — the goal that will be achieved by performing the project;
- The deliverables which should be the result of the work on the project;
- Milestones that need to be met during the lifecycle of the project;
- The approach that should be undertaken to achieve the goals of the project.
Even though it changes a lot, every change to a scope statement usually has to be approved by the project sponsor. When that’s done, you can move on to the next step.
Step 3: Determining Baselines
There are three types of baselines you can use to track the success of the project: the scope baseline, the schedule baseline, and the cost baseline. While you’re developing each of the baselines, you’ll also be further developing your project plan:
- The scope baseline is concerned with deliverables, the products of work. Once you know what you have to produce, you’ll also what type of work needs to be done. You should break down all the deliverables into a work breakdown structure, effectively segmenting both work and its results into smaller chunks that are easier to track.
- The schedule baseline is concerned with specific tasks that go into creating the smallest unit of deliverables. You should develop a schedule of all the tasks, keeping in mind the relationships they have between them, and external factors that might affect the starting points of the tasks, as well as the time needed to perform them.
- The cost baseline is concerned with the cost of the project. Once you’ve developed the scope and the schedule baselines, you can determine how much each task will cost. You can then create a budget for certain periods of time, like a monthly or a quarterly budget.
Step 4: Keep Track of Resources and Risk
A staffing plan is a plan that’s similar to a plan that details tasks. It also shows time periods and the development of the project within them. However, instead of detailing the work performed on the project, it details the resources needed for that work, and how long they will be utilized on the project.
Risks are circumstances that might happen and affect the project. Some of them can come out of the blue and completely derail a project, while others can be foreseen and either prevented or have their effects mitigated in some way. You should analyze each foreseeable risk, determine its probability, and its impact on the project.
Once you have insights into possible risks, you should develop a risk management plan that details the steps you should take to prevent the risks from affecting your project completely, or make manage their effects so that they affect the project minimally.
After you’ve completed all of these steps, your project plan needs to go for approval. Given that you already identified the stakeholders and their roles, you should know which part of the project plan needs approval from which stakeholder. The sponsor will usually have to sign off on the whole thing, but experts might also be interested in providing some feedback.
It’s important to keep in mind that a lot of back-and-forth goes on when developing a project plan, so don’t be taken aback if you need to fine-tune your project plan based on the feedback.