If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail (Benjamin Franklin)
There is a lot of truth in this statement, especially when developing products. In this posting, we will demonstrate the 1) Value of planning and 2) How to document the plan.
1) Value of Planning
Let’s compare a project to taking a trip in a car to a place you have never been to. What would happen if you just jumped in the car and drove? So, how do you approach the trip? You identify the destination. Then you look at some maps to determine the best way to get there. You may look for construction zones to avoid them.
When time is important, you evaluate different routes to find the fastest way to reach your destination. You figure out the total distance and determine how well you are doing by checking the miles traveled along the way and calculating the distance to your destination.
Now let’s evaluate these road trip activities in project planning language.
- Define the scope (destination): Projects need to have a clear objective. You lay out the goal which ensures everyone on the project clearly knows what needs to be delivered. This helps manage misunderstandings about the project and minimize scope changes.
- Develop the project plan or approach (maps): Projects also need a clear vision for how you reach that objective. When planning any project, identifying the steps or tasks, along with who is responsible, provides everyone a common view on how the project will be completed.
- Reduce risk (avoiding construction zones): All projects have risk and unexpected things will crop up along the way. However, many of the potential problems can be anticipated and, as a project, can be avoided or the impact mitigated. The planning process helps you 1) to anticipate these issues and address them before they become a problem or 2) to have a plan ready in case you need to respond.
- Define task priorities (fastest route): Most projects have several paths of activities that are running concurrently to complete the project. One of those will determine how fast the project can be completed (critical path or critical chain depending on your methodology). By focusing on completing that set of critical activities, you complete the project as fast as possible.
Just like the road trip, planning a project helps ensures you deliver the right item (which could be a product, service, or any other result), at the right time, though defining how you will get there and managing the risks.
2) Documenting the Plan
Sometimes, people confuse planning with documenting the plan. The project plan or schedule is an output of the planning process. It is the map that gets you to your destination. The method to document the plan should be selected based on the size and complexity of the project and the level of detail needed. Methods to document the plan may include a spreadsheet, a written document, or a software tool specifically for project management. Whatever is used needs to allow you to manage the following.
- Reasonable representation of the plan: The documented plan will never be a perfect representation what needs to be done. However, it needs to contain enough detail to help the users understand how the project will be completed. Add the detail for the near term activities and risky areas, but use higher level tasks, too.
- Task priorities: Without knowing what is important, you could spend a lot of time on tasks that don’t complete the project as fast as possible. You may also find that the critical path changes during the project. Your tool needs to help you find and respond to those changes.
- Changes: All project plans experience change. A variety of sources contribute to the changes. Your plan needs to be easy to update so that you can keep it representative of the current path.
- Measure your progress: Projects cost time and resources (including people and money). The organization needs to know when you will be done.
Your plan is like the maps you use to arrive at your destination. Sometimes the information is just the major steps and at other times, you will have very detailed steps to get through problems or respond to roadblocks that get in your way. The plan allows you to visualize and communicate how you will complete the project.
Taking the time to plan and documenting the plan are essential to the overall success of the project. Just jumping into a project without planning often leads to projects which are late or require rework since it wasn’t planned correctly from the outset.