What are the Key Ingredients of a Project Plan?
The right plan is half the project battle won. In order to be a successful project manager, you will not only need to account for all ingredients from the get go but also prioritize wisely, choose multiple approaches and set the right expectations. The parameters of the right plan, in addition to helping you reach your objectives also lets you deliver quality and cherish the project’s journey.
A project plan accounts for multiple factors from the very beginning. Right from ensuring the right alignment of people, projects and information to understanding the limitations of your team and their capabilities, the plan is a lot more significant than a to-do list is. What we need to understand as managers is the fact that the plan, besides telling you ‘what to do’ also tells you ‘how to’ do it . So here’s a closer look at the must-haves of a project plan.
A project has to fit multiple parameters from the overall long-term objectives of a program or portfolio it is part of, to the goals that it was designed to fulfill on its own. This strategic alignment, besides bucketing the revenue and the benefits must also take into account the innovation, the technology and the brand value that the project is building towards. Strategic alignment, overall, factors in the outcomes and determines whether or not it is worthwhile to progress with a certain project, adding onto feasibility studies and giving stakeholders the right tick marks to look for. Please note that the budget, financials and revenue details can take a separate unit or sit within the alignment and scope sections.
The next step would be to take account of the scope in terms of inclusions, goals and objectives as well as the length and breadth of the project. It is usually preferred that project managers spend enough time understanding the scope in its entirety and minimize scope ambiguity so that when execution begins, all stakeholders are well informed and the expectations set are straight forward. Reworking is nobody’s dream. Thus, the scope is one of the most critical documents of the project’s documentation and can as much as be a guardian of goals when stakeholders’ expectations are not met.
Risk assessment is a multi-tiered aspect. It should begin first by identifying the risk appetite of the program or portfolio that a project is part of and pause to assess whether or not a particular project comes within the chosen category. Thereon, risks that can affect the success of the project, the outcomes of project failure and more importantly, the steps that can be taken as contingency measures must be outlined. These steps help you draw a safety net and help keep decision-makers informed at all times. It is worthwhile to note that managers benefit at this stage by having a thorough assessment and ample documentation as opposed to a superficial one.
Optimized allocation of human resources onto projects ensures that projects are staffed well enough to stay on track and at the same time resources are fully utilized at all times. In other words, cost-effective, skill-based allocations not only save time but also ensure that costs are not exceeded beyond the designated budgets. Effective resource management also challenges staff in right proportion and associates it with a science, that balances overall utilization and mitigates unproductive cycles of hiring and firing.
Whether nitty-gritty scheduling belongs to the plan or to the execution is an ongoing argument that experts seem to have. Regardless, it does not hurt to have broad themes and blocks of time dedicated towards populating the calendars of the concerned team. This way, you can be assured of their availability as well as provide internal stakeholders with ample time to get prepared in accordance with the nature of the tasks. Schedule also forms the basis of the deadlines you can present to the decision-makers.
Even with your best efforts, a project may not be able to take off the way you want it to, due to multiple factors including external ones. So having a stock of the limitations you may face or those that are inherently present in the project environment is crucial to managing expectations. In addition, limitations can help minimize risks and give context to potential failure. Listing down the limitations of a project, as teams at times fear, is not a list of the negative attributes alone. It is, instead, a realistic account of the different factors that influence and complete the project. Over the course of the project, a list of limitations will be yet another safety net that complements your risk registry.
Those of you who are specially starting out as project managers and looking for the perfect recipe to create a foolproof plan, remember that a plan after all needs intuitive customization as per your project environment. These changes need to be sensitive to the needs that your management and your resources have. Prioritise timely communication and clarity over volume of the plan made. In due time, you will see that your plans have attained the maturity you always wanted in them.