Project Planning

Project planning is essential for success in your project. If you do it well you will cultivate a good reputation, if you do it badly, you may lose your job.

Planning is often ignored in favor of actually doing the task.

However, planning can maximize your chances of finishing your project on time with less stress, it can also improve decision making when problems eventually arise in the project.

In this article we give you a number of practical tips to project planning.

By using this guide to planning you will be able to apply your knowledge to future projects.

Understand Your Stakeholders

A project does not occur in a vacuum, but rather there are many different people/groups that are directly and indirectly affected by a project.

One of the first steps to take is to identify the project's stakeholders.

Stakeholders may include, but not be limited to, the sponsors of the project, people who receive the deliverables, the people who may use these outputs and the project team.

Understanding stakeholders' needs is important for your project success.
One way that I find useful is to interview the different stakeholders, identifying their needs and the benefits/costs that the project involves to this stakeholder group.

After conducting interviews with the relevant stakeholders and have a list of their needs, the next step is to prioritize these needs.

Sometimes, the stakeholder needs aren't relevant to the project benefits, and these can be put at a low priority in the next step.

The prioritized list of needs will inform on the project goals.

Develop Clear Project Goals

Having clear and specific goals is very important to project success. However, these goals can't just be any goals they need to be targeted at those needs which are highest in your list of prioritized needs.

A clear and specific goal that is measurable is one of the surest ways to maximize your chances of success. I find that setting SMART goals, acronym for goal setting success, is very useful.

Developing SMART goals allows you to measure and track your goal progress, and to review and identify areas which could be improved.

Once clear project goals have been set, a project plan needs to be put in place. Developing a project plan identifies the tasks that need to be completed, the order of those tasks, and the resources that are required.

Identify The Project Deliverables

You have a clear set of goals and tasks that are needed to be done to acheive those goals. Now is the time to identify what deliverables are required to achieve these goals.

What are the deliverables? How are they delivered? What is the estimated time for these deliverables?

Asking yourself these questions will help to identify your deliverables and the timeframes.

The next step is to schedule your time for these deliverables.

Scheduling Your Project

Now that you have a list of deliverables and estimated dates for these deliverables, the next step is to identify what tasks are required for each deliverable.

For each task ask yourself the following questions.

What resources do I need to complete the task? How much time is required, and who is going to do the task?

Having a clear idea on the amount of time and who is going to do the task allows you to determine a more accurate date for the project deliverable.

There are a number of software packages that you can use (eg. Microsoft Project). These can create your project schedule and determine the resources for each project deliverable.

When you have determined your delivery dates with more accuracy, you may find that stakeholders (more specifically the project sponsor) may require a shorter time frame for project completion.

When this occurs, contact the sponsor and work out other solutions - this may be to adjusting the deadline, employing more resources or reducing the size of the project. Your project schedule can help you out here.

This summarizes the project planning, however an important part of the planning process are a number of supporting plans.

These may include having a human resource plan, which identifies the people on the project, the hours required for each person on each task deliverable.

Other Plans for the Planning Process

Another type of plan is a communications plan. How will you communicate your progress to the stakeholders? How will you measure your own progress? By having clear goals that are measurable will greatly enhance this communication plan. You will be able to communicate your milestones completed at your weekly meetings.

Another type of plan is a risk management plan. What are the risks associated with the project. Identify your risks by writing them down and then look for ways to reduce them.

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