Setting the Course for Proper Project Planning
Putting the project plan or schedule together is no exact science. And it’s likely never ‘right’ or truly ‘done’ until the project is over. Even small projects can have an overwhelming amount of detail. No matter how large or small the project is, the key is to use a systematic approach for breaking the work of the project down – with the help of the project team – into interrelated tasks and creating the proper detail that gives the project manager a schedule to manage the project from on a daily basis.
To get to that point, I find it is appropriate to go through a series of five steps in planning out the project schedule and getting to that first, very detailed view of the project in terms of scheduled tasks that show the work that needs to be accomplished through final deployment of the end solution. These steps are:
#1 – Define the necessary project tasks.
Starting first with high-level tasks and then drilling down into the detailed tasks it will take to produce or complete each high level task, the project manager and team must compile the detailed work that ultimately makes up the ‘project.’ Any information available will aid in this effort – likely starting with a good project shell/template from a similar previous successful project and then utilizing the statement of work or scope statement for the current effort to build the proper tasks and detail for the given project.
#2 – Identify task relationships.
Next, review the detailed tasks and ensure that they are in the proper sequence to successful complete the work required for the high level deliverable or task that they are a part of. Identify task relationships and interdependencies so everyone agrees and understands the order of the work that needs to be accomplished.
#3 – Estimate the effort.
The work or effort that will be required to complete each task must be estimated and built into the task information. For some tasks this may just be a ‘best guess’ and will need to be revised as more information becomes available.
#4 – Create the initial schedule.
After estimating the duration of each work task and figuring in the sequence of tasks, the project manager and team calculates the total duration of the project. This is just an initial schedule at this point – it will be the basis for managing the remainder of the project and will need to be revised throughout the engagement. I usually revise the schedule at least weekly after reviewing task progress and status updates with my project team prior to a weekly project status call with the customer.
#5 – Assign and optimize the resources.
Finally, with the help of the project team, assign resources to each task in the project schedule. Undoubtedly, this will take several iterations because project resources will appear to be overloaded at points throughout the project schedule. Adjust the effort and assignments to the best of your knowledge to account for resource constraints and to make sure that resource usage is optimized as much as possible. You’re likely looking to keep your assigned resources 100% utilized as much as possible when they are specifically working on your project. Again, this will be an ongoing process throughout the engagement as requirements are tweaked, tasks change and even resource availability changes. The schedule is never ‘done.’
Using these five steps the project manager and team can get through the intricacies of moving the project schedule from sales ‘draft’ or ‘shell’ to the type of planned detail that must be present in order to successfully run the project. With these steps, the project manager will be able to generate all the information required to understand how a project will be executed and provide that level of insight to the project customer. Depending on how much control the project manager has over the project management process this overall process can take on different looks. But one thing is certain….this is an ongoing management process. It will undoubtedly take several iterations of these steps to find the right balance of cost, schedule and quality.