Any Project Manager will believe that they are only as good as the plans that they make. They seem to live by the motto “he who fails to plan – plans to fail”. This is, of course, a piece of advice that any manager would do well to heed, not just Project Managers. However, if asked to show a plan of how a Project Manager envisions the work progressing they will invariably produce a schedule, probably using a Gantt Chart, as they simply don’t understand the difference between a plan and the schedule they’re working to.
The difference between a schedule and a plan.
Useful and essential as a schedule is, it will ‘only’ set out the jobs to be done and the timelines in which to achieve them. This is, of course, an invaluable check-list to help keep things on track, but it by no means covers all of the tasks/events that the Project Manager needs to be aware of or control. These other things all come together to form the plan and will need to include things as basic as the aims and objectives of the project through to definitions of roles and responsibilities of the personnel, quality assurance procedures and the required resources etc. To make sure you create an effective plan, ahead of the schedule, consider the following aspects of developing a comprehensive plan.
The 5 elements of planning.
First of all make sure you clearly understand the project’s objectives by writing them down clearly and concisely in a way that everyone involved in the project will both understand and relate to. Secondly, to avoid the project being extended into developments beyond it’s scope, or that would delay the delivery of your schedule; be very clear in defining what the project won’t be doing. This ‘scope definition’ will help to ensure your sponsors don’t try to encourage project creep making the project a never ending task. Thirdly, have the deliverables defined. If your project is to install a new network make sure the deliverables will cover the objectives. It would be no use having all the hardware, software and network cabling sorted out, only to start the job and realize you need to improve the power supply! Number four follows on from this – make the resources you order realistic in quantity and quality. You’ll be under constant pressure to minimize costs, so planning the resources correctly from the outset will reduce the chances that you’ll have to buy inferior products if you later on realize that something is missing. Finally, make sure the schedule is achievable. Obvious, you might well think and yet so many Project Managers end up with projects that over-run! To ensure your project is achievable make sure the schedule covers the whole project, clearly identifies the key deliverable target dates of individual components/stages and make the tracking of the project and reporting on it as easy as possible.