Fundamentals of Project Planning for Accidental Project Managers

project integration management technical Jan 30, 2022
 Fundamentals of Project Planning for Accidental Project Managers

Over the years since the first PMBOK® Guide appeared, the project management body of knowledge has grown exponentially.  More than a thousand pages are currently in two PMBOK editions needed to understand project management.  In addition, these editions are supplemented by online information, textbooks, and more.  This amount of information can be daunting to an aspiring, new, or accidental project manager.

If you stop to think about it, however, the average new project manager will not be expected to build a skyscraper, code a complete operating system, or build a transnational pipeline.  Instead, they are going to work on smaller, shorter projects.

My books, Accidental Project Manager and Accidental Agile Project Manager, provide a complete project management method, known as the PROJECT method, to guide new project managers.  In today's article, I will break down the project planning process into the bare essentials to provide a basis for the fundamentals of project planning.  This article will help set the stage for understanding the planning process and learning more about it.

The fundamental project planning steps are:

Define Expectations, Goals, and Scope.  It's important to set up the team and yourself as project manager for success.  This means that you need to ensure you gather and stakeholder expectations and goals for the work.  Find out what they value the most about the project.  It's also important to understand the requirements and scope of what needs to be done.  Use basic business analysis techniques to elicit requirements and fully understand what is and is not within the project's scope.  Learn more about setting up for success and eliciting requirements: 5 Superior Stakeholder Questions for Project Leaders to Ask and 3 Basic Requirements Types PMs Should Know.

Analyze Stakeholders and Build Communications Plan.  It's been said that 90% of the work of project managers is communication.  This is not just talking, but reading, writing, and most important, listening.  Once you know the project scope, be sure to identify all the project stakeholders and their communication needs.  Use this information to start building a communications plan to map out all communications, including the type of communications, what messages they should carry or outcomes they should achieve, when they will take place, and who will develop them.

Identify Deliverables.  A recipe can be a metaphor for a work breakdown structure or WBS. The team brainstorms together to develop the recipe.  The name of the project is what is being made; the ingredients are the various components, subcomponents, and smaller pieces of work that will be delivered. The final plan will be a schedule, the instructional part of the recipe, indicating who does what and when they will do it.  An important point is not to worry about how the work is sequenced at this time.  It’s more important to get the ingredients list solid first before going on to how the work will be done.  Watch Write the Recipe for more details.

Define Roles and Responsibilities.  Once the work is well understood, it's time to identify the resources required, including the roles and responsibilities of any human resources.  In general, resources can be identified in three major categories - people, equipment, and materials.  Accidental project managers typically work more with people, so focus on learning more about your team and their capabilities. This will enable you to make better assignments and successfully delegate project work.

Create a Schedule.  Using information about the scope, deliverables, and roles and responsibilities, the next step is to create a schedule.  As a first step, order the project work.  Some of this may be dictated by logic, but various dependencies and constraints on resources and other factors may have a big influence.  Then be sure you estimate the time needed for each task and who will be responsible for the tasks.  Be sure to check out The Time Frame for Total Project Completion and 5 Tips to Avoid Common Scheduling Issues for further information. If you are using a schedule tool such as MS Project or Primavera, 10 Tips to Fine Tune Your MS Project Schedules will also help.

Develop a Budget.  You've probably heard the expression "time is money."  This is especially true for projects.  Once you've completed your schedule, you should know how long and when various people, equipment, and materials will be needed.  Now taking into account all their costs, you should create a budget.  Be sure you include all costs, including any fees or taxes.  This might be for the entire project or perhaps broken down by month or quarter, but you have all the necessary information for whichever your organization requires. For more tips on budgets, check out 5 Tips to Create a Good Project Budget and 6 Best Practices for Project Cost Management

Set a Baseline.  Once project planning is complete, the final step is to create a baseline of your plans.  A baseline is a saved copy or snapshot of your schedule, budget, and other planning documents.  If you use files and documents, you can create a baseline folder to save them.  Tools such as MS Project and Primavera can save these snapshots for you at the push of a button.

You will not modify these plans further.  However, you will use them to compare your actual progress to the planned progress during project execution.

Any questions about planning?  Be sure to leave us a comment below.

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