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Project Management Rebooted™ | Project Management 101 - You Need a Plan

project management project planning projectmanagementrebooted Nov 07, 2019

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Someone hands you a project to set up and get going - something where the end result is a service, product or other tangible outcome for the benefit of clients, customers or other stakeholders.

Of course, one of the first things you’re going to do is sit down with a few involved others to sketch out how you’re going to get there. Start developing your project plan.


Maybe not. 🙄

While most of us hope structured project planning is a given, for many, surprisingly, it’s not something people who are managing projects always do.

And it’s one of the primary causes of unsuccessful project outcomes, especially in environments where there aren’t a whole lot of project management standards, if any at all.

No matter how small or how big your project, if you’re a nonprofit, a small business, a medium business, or a large business, if you are officially called a “project manager” or don’t have “project” in your title at all: You need a plan. 

A tangible, written, accessible project plan that doesn’t only live inside of your head.

I’m often amazed at how many project people I encounter in the working world (in both large and small orgs), flying by the seat of their pants, never taking the time to create a formal project plan; often jumping right into the deep end of making things happen based on a cursory understanding of what needs to be done, plunging head-long into what they think needs to happen.

And then finding themselves a few months later sitting at their desks wondering why things went sideways and nothing is moving forward.

If this is you, or someone you know, then let’s make today the last day you spend flying by the seat of your pants, keeping all the information inside your mind when leading projects. ⚓

To help bring you along on this idea of putting the time and effort into creating a formal project plan, I’d like to share a few important reasons why having a formal, written project plan will make a positive impact on project outcomes, and why this might matter to you, especially if you’re an informal, aspiring or accidental project manager:

Reason #1: Transparency

Remember in high school Math when the teacher would take points off your grade when you didn’t show your work – how you got to the solution?

There was a reason for that.

Showing your work, how you arrived at the answer, not only helps you walk through, step-by-step, from one milestone to the next to get to the destination, it assists others to see and understand where you’re going and how you’re arriving there.

Documenting the solutioning process (read: project plan) shows the reasoning process and approach behind what you’re doing. It helps your stakeholders grab hold of the vision, bringing comfort that there is an actual plan behind the madness.

Being transparent also means the project plan doesn’t stay buried six levels below the project parent folder in your collaboration tool either.

Being transparent involves sharing your project plan with your other stakeholders – sharing access, getting feedback from the appropriate stakeholders – encouraging your stakeholders to read it and become familiar with it.

Reason #2: Accountability

It’s no secret that accountability is one the most common pain points in project team execution.

We’ve all been there in those moments where someone isn’t delivering the work they are responsible for delivering, creating a whole slew of downstream issues impacting others and the work.

How are you going to keep yourself and others accountable to getting the work done if there’s nothing written down detailing the work to be done, who is responsible, and when it’s supposed to be done? You’ve got to start here first if you want to build Accountability into what you’re doing.

When Vulcan mind-melds become reality, then we can consider doing away with a project plan. 👽

Until that happens, one of the best things you can do to keep the people who are responsible for the project work engaged and moving, is to spell it out in the project plan by including a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM) which designates who is responsible, accountable, consulted and informed for various milestones and activities in the project.

Another way to bring accountability is specifying who is responsible for each deliverable and task in the project schedule.  📝

There are those who only need to be asked once for what you need and it’s good as done; it’s done when they said it was going to be done.

But as most of us can attest to, that is the exception, not the norm.

Accountability is also stronger when you’re sharing out the project schedule and task assignments as part of the formal project plan. I don’t know about you, but when I know my name is attached to a deliverable, and it’s public, you can bet I’m that much more motivated to deliver on it.

Reason #3: Excellence

Let’s be honest. Having a project plan is a key deliverable for a project manager.  

If you’re calling yourself the project manager for a project or managing a project and no one wants to call you the project manager – you are still a project manager. So, you’ll need to do some actual project management planning so you have something to refer back to, something to measure against to see if you’re on the right path.

Regardless of the size of your project, when you’ve clearly identify the work to be done, have start and end dates on the project work, and specify who is responsible for each deliverable, others will know what is expected.

Essential steps on the road to project management excellence.

Some of us end up managing projects as part of our role even when we didn’t sign up for it. I completely get it -  project planning might not be something you relish.

The good news is you can start small and put a little structure around what you’re doing. Maybe it’s identifying all the work that needs to be done to get the outcome your org wants and putting some completion dates on that work or keeping track of the project spending. 

Having a little structure is better than having nothing at all!  🌤

When managing projects, whether or not you have project manager in your title, part of excellence is getting the planning outside of your head and into a written plan: planning project tasks, schedules and risks, ensuring relevant stakeholders understand and agree with what you’re doing.

Reason #4: Being Proactive

Sometimes our Project Plans don’t even see the light of day. 🌘The thinking goes, “why bother?”

Here’s the thing: Going through the project planning process, thinking through the dependencies, assumptions, stakeholders, project approach, risks (and all the rest) is a fantastic way to be proactive in preventing project blow ups and blocking issues.

When you give time to the planning process, you and your team are giving space to consider what types of issues and risks might pop up and how you can leverage your resources to reduce the likelihood those things will happen; you’ve already thought about it before it comes up and bites you in the backside.

It’s rarely fun to deal with the element of surprise inherent in project planning. But by taking the time to proactively work through the thought process behind the elements of project planning, you’ll be setting yourself up for more positive outcomes, reducing some of the stress that is sure to be a part of this process.

Reason #5:  Respect for others

You may have not thought about it this way: We are actually showing disrespect our colleagues, team, and stakeholders’ by not having a thoughtful project plan in place.

Without a plan to guide your project and obtain the promised results, you are sending a message to all of those involved and affected by your project that you do not value their time or input.

What happens is that inattention to planning most certainly turns into missed deliverable deadlines, unclear expectations and roles and lots of miscommunication, bringing chaos instead of organization, or managed chaos at the very least.

You won’t get the project results you want without taking the time to think through the building blocks: What is this project really about? What am I assuming will be in place to help me achieve successful outcomes? What are the objectives we are trying to get at with this project and how are we going to measure this so we can say the outcome is reaching those objectives?

Sadly, I’ve had a few projects where I’m not 100% certain anyone looked at my project plan despite my best attempts. However, by going through the elements of the project planning process, thinking through the what, why, when, where and how then capturing it in a project plan template, I was able to be more  successful in managing the project than if I hadn’t.

So often I see those trying to manage their projects with only a few notes here and there and some vague timeline, melting down about whatever emergent thing that just popped up needs to get done -  going from meeting to meeting, thrashing around like the Demogorgon with Eleven in its grip, heading in no certain direction and every direction at the same time.

If this is you, stop the madness: Sit down and take some time to plan out your project, preferably with others. Your clients, customers and stakeholders will thank you. You will be in a better place for it. 🌞

Need a Project Plan Template? Check out my simple, customizable, step-by-step Project Plan template with an embedded RAM/RACI here in my PM Toolbox. Free. 

#projectmanagement # pmrebooted #projectplanning


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