In the past ten posts we’ve covered a few of the basics of the project planning process – creating timing and project plans. In this post we’re going to give an overview of a few of the key learnings from each of the posts which outline the basics of the project planning process:
Before you keep reading this post, let me tell you that we wrote a definitive guide on how to create perfect project plans. Bookmark this page and check out our guide to find the best practices, infographics, examples, and a free project plan template for Microsoft Project.
Define your workflow
When creating a timing plan, the temptation can sometimes be to start adding in all the tasks that you need completed. But before you add in specific tasks and milestones, make sure you get the overall project structure right. This means first defining the workflow and what the different phases of work will be. If you get this bit right, it makes adding in specific tasks afterwards much more straightforward. At this stage you’re not thinking about the actual tasks but how the tasks can be grouped together and the subsets of work within each phase.
Establish your planning horizon
A planning horizon is the is the amount of time that it’s feasible and viable to forecast into the into the future when preparing a project plan. In general, the length of the planning horizon is dictated by the degree of uncertainty in the external environment: the higher the uncertainty, shorter the planning horizon. It might not be at all feasible to plan out the whole project in detail, so plan in detail only for what you know, in the phase that you’re in, and make generous allowances for the rest of the project.
Break it down
With the workflow established, the planning horizon defined, the high level planning needs to start to become more detailed – it needs to be broken down into as many small sub-tasks as possible. When you’re trying to accurately estimate how long a stage of the project is going to take, it’s important to split the tasks into as many constituent parts as possible. This means taking a task and defining all the sub-tasks that make the sum of that task, and for those tasks, doing the same, so that each sub-sub-task can be assigned a specific timescale.
Ask, don’t guess
When you’re under pressure to produce a timing plan or project plan the easiest thing to do is just to guess how long each of these constituent parts might take to complete. That’s an option, but not a particularly clever one. Guessing will not only just give you a poor timing plan, it’ll give you no foundation for discussions with the client, and there’ll be no one else to share the blame if you guesstimate incorrectly.
Question when questioning
Beyond just asking someone to estimate how long something is going to take, you need to help them understand the context around their estimation. It’s no good just asking someone how long something will take in isolation. As they provide you a timeline estimate, you need to begin to interrogate how they came to the number. You’ll often find that as you begin to tease out the details of their estimation, they’ll begin to think of elements that they forgot to include and you’ll begin to get an understanding of dependencies around individual tasks.
Allow for amends
One thing often missed in creating project plans and timing plans it’s allowing time for review and amend cycles. Amends or changes to a project are inevitable. Clients like to change things, and put their mark on a project. So no matter how closely you think you’re aligned with your client on a project, you need to allow for amends.
Plan for it not going to plan
Treading the line between optimism and pragmatism can be a difficult one when creating timing plans and project plans. Creating a project plan which gives flexibility to mitigate against unforeseen change is critical to project success. Simply planning for the best case scenario, or Plan A, isn’t good enough – you need to bake into Plan A, Plan, B and Plan C too.
Planning out the final phases of a live project can appear to be some of the most straightforward – finish it off and just get it live! However, the final stages of a project can be the most complex as dependencies are fully realised and the importance of having a proper plan in place to make sure everything can be deployed live and the project closed properly is important.
Post project review & optimization
One of the most overlooked parts of a project is what happens when it’s gone live. In the euphoria and excitement of delivering a project, scheduling the effective close of a project is sometimes overlooked. All too often a project plan will end with a single milestone, the project live date. While a project might be live, it’s not over. In fact, the end of the first phase of a project should really just be signaling the start of the next phase
In order to help you keep track of whether or not your project is running on schedule, make sure your project is littered with milestones, so that when the project starts, everyone is clear about what progress looks like, and so that it becomes clear very quickly if the project is running behind schedule. Using milestones ensure that when the project starts, the project team and the client are clear about the key dates the project needs to hit to stay on track.
What do you think we’re missing? We’d love to hear if you’ve got any thoughts on developing project and timing plans in digital project management – why not join the conversation below?
10 top tips for creating timing and project plans
This 10 top tips blog series has been written as a guide for estimating and approaching creating cost estimates in the midst of it all. In this series of posts we’re looking at the following: