Re-using the Project Plan
You’ve heard the saying, “Why re-invent the wheel?” Yet so many of us want to start from scratch when creating project schedules for each new project. Why, I don’t know. It’s just our inclination – or maybe it was just mine – to make life harder than it needs to be. I think that possibly it’s because no project is perfect and we often want to start completely fresh in order to try to rid ourselves of whatever problems, issues, or bumps we encountered on past projects. I do reuse schedules now, but it took me a few years to feel comfortable with it – I didn’t come by it naturally.
In my mind – and from what I’ve been writing in the past in terms of best practices – good project management involves establishing a workable, understandable and easy to follow methodology. And, in my opinion, that involves establishing reusable processes and templates. That means reusable project planning documents, signoff/approval sheets, testing documents and many others – and…yes…project schedules. In fact, I even had a specific consulting gig where I helped a client identify common tasks in their projects and built reusable project schedule templates for them that would work for about 90% of their projects. All the PMs had to do going forward was plug some of the specialty tasks into the template and go.
So, let’s consider you’ve got a decent project schedule that covers much of what you do on each of your projects. Its not all there – but maybe it gets you 60% of the way there. That’s good – as long as it doesn’t take you many hours determining what works and what doesn’t in the schedule for your newest project. If it doesn’t, then using that old schedule as a basis is a good thing. It can often keep you from the ‘paralysis of analysis’ feeling one gets when trying to put out that perfect project schedule right away and you try so hard that you never actually feel comfortable with any iteration you come up with. Has that happened to you? It definitely has happened to me.
Here are the steps I usually go through to make sure I’m starting out on the right foot with a schedule template and that I get the right things covered as I make the necessary changes to fit the current project’s needs….
- Review the statement of work. Thoroughly review the project statement of work (SOW) so you get a feel for the project requirements and the overall goals of the project and the customer. This will help you a lot as you select the right project schedule shell from the past to use as a starting point.
- Review on-hand templates. Every past schedule you’ve ever created can be a template. Consider all of them as possible starting points for your current project. With thorough knowledge of the SOW and high-level requirements of the current project, select your best past project schedule to use as a template for this current project.
- Build out the schedule. Using your selected ‘template’, build out a draft of the current project schedule to the best of your ability. If your experience is like most of mine – and your organization is like most of the ones I’ve worked in or with – you’ll be doing this on your own before you really have a project team assigned. At this point, you may have a business analyst – or you may only have a project customer or project sponsor. Check and re-check your project tasks thoroughly to ensure that you have all the planning tasks included, all the requested deliverables included, all the review tasks, testing tasks, and deployment tasks included.
- Take it to the customer or team. This next step is always the hardest. Like asking someone to review a document you’ve written or other output you’ve created, you’d like to get great feedback and know that you’ve done everything perfectly. As mentioned above, you’ll likely never have a ‘perfect’ project schedule and if you wait till you think it’s absolutely ‘perfect’ to give it to the customer (or team members if you have some or all assigned at this point), then you may be waiting forever and that can’t happen. When you think you’ve reasonably captured all you can in the new project schedule, then move forward. There will be changes…there will ALWAYS be changes. It’s ok.
Project management is not easy work. We must look for short cuts whenever possible if we hope to bring projects home successfully. Otherwise, we will often be running over budget because there are always the ‘unexpecteds’ that come up on projects. Look for timesavers. And re-using project schedules that can get you 60%, 70% or maybe even more of the way to a final, usable starting project schedule can definitely save you time and planning money on the project.