The art of planning a project

In the second edition of their book, Brilliant Project Management, Barker & Cole offer some excellent tips on how to plan and manage projects, even what to do and say as a Project Manager. It’s an excellent book for newbies and experienced Project Managers alike – serving as a good introduction or refresher depending on your experience.

One of the chapters focuses on planning projects, which I’d like to share, mainly because it summarises, very effectively, all the key aspects that one would associate with planning projects.

The five critical elements of a good project plan as stated by Barker & Cole (2009 p16 to p25), with additions from myself:-

Project objectives and supporting key requirements
Both your clients/customers and your team need to understand the “Big Picture” and the underlying business objectives. A good understanding of what is trying to be achieved is absolutely essential as well as clarity of the project objectives. Distinguish between objectives and requirements.

Project scope
Its essential to pin down the scope and identify boundaries. Knowing exactly what is to be delivered not only helps in your planning, but also when managing change requests further down the line. Remember to identify what is out of scope as well. This usually ends up as a “Statement of Scope” or “Scope of Work” document.

Major deliverables
All tangible things should be defined and agreed up front. Check your deliverables versus the project objectives – each deliverable should relate directly or indirectly to the objectives.

Resource needs
Resist pressure to adopt unrealistic budgets or reduce identified resource needs. Be clear about the costs and be prudent – it is after all “someone elses” money and you are responsible for it! Remember to include any possible hidden “overheads” such as lighting, heating or travel expenses on projects that dictate this kind of approach.

The Project Schedule with key delivery dates
Be realistic when putting your schedule together. Don’t try to please everyone with early delivery dates if there is no hope of achieving them! Your schedule should reflect key delivery dates calculated on the time it takes to achieve the tasks that will result in a deliverable. A good schedule is dependent upon three elements:- deliverables, resources and dependencies. Keep your schedule logical and involve your team in the development of your schedule.”

This particular books is available at most bookstores (I got mine at WH Smith), the publishers and also online at Amazon. I’m sure many people will be able to add to this list, based on their personal experiences and I’d like to hear from you about it.

Barker S and Cole R (2009) Brilliant Project Managers, 2nd Ed. UK: Prentice Hall

Prince2 Project Management Processes Series – Directing a Project (DP)

In the next part of our series, we look at Directing a Project. Whilst day to day management of a project is given to the Project Manager, it is key that the Executive exercise overall control and be responsible for making key decisions i.e the Project Board – and this falls within the scope of “Directing a Project”. Directing a Project as a process, starts after “Starting Up a Project” (SU) and continues to run until project closure.

The key steps involved in this process are:-

  1. Confirm the project organisation
  2. Agree the project objectives
  3. Approve the plan to generate the “contract for the project”
  4. Approve the “contract”
  5. Approve each stage of the project
  6. Make decision on any major problems
  7. Keep senior management informed
  8. Confirm the correct closure of the project

Each of the steps are applied at different points within the project as shown in last weeks diagram. DP4 – Giving Ad Hoc Direction is clearly seen to be running throughout the project. Authorising Initiation (DP1) is followed by Authorising the Project (DP2). Authorising a Stage or Exception Plan (DP3) usually occurs several times in any one project and eventually leads to Confirming Project Closure (DP5).

The core of Directing a Project, is defining responsibilities for the Project Board and the process also gives legitimacy and direction to the project and its control throughout its life. The main Project Board responsibilities are summarised:-

  • Approving the Project Brief and authorising initiation.
  • Authorising the Project Initiation Document, commonly known as the “PID”, and taking ownership of the project.
  • Checking project status at the end of each stage and authorising continuation to the next stage.
  • Providing management direction and guidance to the Project Manager.
  • Liaising with programme management.
  • Confirming project closure

There are projects where a Project Board is not clearly identified and not empowered, leaving all the responsibility to the Project Manager. This usually happens on “smaller” projects and is a practice not to be encouraged as this leaves too much responsibility on the shoulders of one person. Without the direction and guidance of the Project Board there is an increased risk of project failure.

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