Imagine that you and your friends are going to take a long road trip. You could simply set off on a wing and a prayer, but the chances are you will encounter some setbacks! In all likelihood, before you hit the road you will work out a plan to ensure your trip will be a success.
The first stages might be getting the car checked over, putting fuel in the tank and air in the tires. Next, you might choose a route and develop a schedule of points along the way that you want or need to arrive at. This could incorporate exciting locations to visit, places to refuel, good spots to eat and a place rest your road weary heads each night. You might make reservations or call ahead to confirm the details – all of these little acts of organisation will mean that you know where you’re heading, and you won’t have to worry about getting lost, sleeping in the car, or running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere! A bad road trip can be a disappointing experience.
When it comes to planning a project for your business or enterprise, allowing things to go wrong through bad or absent planning can be a costly mistake in lost money and time. Quite simply, failure to plan is planning to fail. With this in mind, it is easy to see how making the effort to develop an excellent project plan is a great investment that will reward you many times over!
What Is A Project Plan?
A project plan is ultimately an outline of how the objectives you have set for your project can be met and includes the various tasks to be undertaken and the milestones that need to be reached, as the work progresses. This is essentially the roadmap to successful project delivery! Here we explore the strategies required to develop a great project plan.
Why Project Planning Matters
When we set out to do something complex, we usually have a sense of our goals, but it isn’t until we look at the details of the delivery that we really begin to envision the process ahead of us. At the start of every project the key questions to ask are…
• What will be delivered?
• How will it be delivered?
• When will it be delivered?
Without a plan in place, these questions are impossible to answer. A project plan will clarify the process, activities and milestones, allowing realistic answers to be identified. This vital information is crucial for all key stakeholders, whether they are involved in the project or awaiting its results, and ultimately, it will be the only way to be sure that things are on track as the project progresses.
Structure Your Project Phases
As you create your project plan it can be tempting to throw in all the information you can think of for fear of anything being missed. A more measured approach can keep a plan from becoming chaotic! It’s important to first set out the project structure before you focus in on the details of tasks and milestones. The best way to achieve this is by setting out project phases. Once you have these laid out it will be far easier to group tasks together and will make adding specific tasks and subtasks to the appropriate phase much simpler.
Don’t Just Estimate
It’s enticing to make guesses at how long tasks will take and to set everything within a time-frame that you know will appear favourable to stakeholders. This however is a flawed tactic which is likely to lead to poor time planning and unachievable timescales, creating frustration for everyone involved.
It’s much better to discuss progress openly with your team and clients, setting out any initial deadlines while facilitating adaptation and productive collaboration.
Keep Everything Up For Discussion
Just as estimations can become a pitfall for yourself, avoid the mistake of simply asking for estimates from others, allowing your team or collaborators to judge tasks in isolation. Instead, discuss how each task’s dependencies impact upon each party involved, examining the project delivery as a whole. This approach can help to bring important details, ideas and elements to the table and reduces the risk of key points being overlooked. Free-flowing collaboration will help to streamline efficiency and helps to ensure that everyone understands which elements are included and required.
Take Time To Review
Every project requires amendments and changes of some sort, but this necessary consideration is frequently overlooked during project planning, as we all like to think we will get things right straight off the bat!
Set aside time for reviews with all key stakeholders at all stages of the project, not just during the design phase, as well as time for any amendments or changes to take place. This realistic approach will help you to avoid potential delays in delivery.
Setting project milestones will ensure that all stakeholders are clear on the key dates the project needs to hit in order to stay on track. Similarly, when a client can see that milestones are being met it provides great reassurance that the project is going according to plan.
Delays can often occur when time required for tasks that are outside of the core project team, such as adding content and writing blogs, are not properly considered, planned and factored in as fixed deliverables and milestones. Without treating these tasks with the same degree of importance as any other project task it’s easy for them to slip off the radar. With a little forethought, it’s easy to factor such elements in and remain on track.
Post “Go Live”
When a young bird first leaps from the nest, they must be ready to actually fly!
A great project plan should not be designed to take you right up to the moment of delivery and then suddenly stop dead – and therefore going live should never be considered the final project task.
To ensure the project lands successfully on its intended trajectory, it is vital that you factor in post go live testing, optimisation and support. Ultimately, the final phase of your project must allow for thorough checks to be made, before working towards project shut down.
With efficient project planning at the core of your approach, you will reap the rewards of a solid foundation and will always hit the road, (or fly the nest), with confidence!