7 questions to ask yourself when making a project plan
You have just been assigned to a large collective project. You are leading several teams, managing difficult tasks and resources and trying to meet the deadline – the process is like building a house of cards.
The work has hardly started, and people are already coming to you with questions, hesitations and ideas.
What should I do? How do I get there? How does work on this project correspond to our general goals? Wouldn’t it be better to do it this way instead of that?
You start feeling how work on the project turns into a complete chaos and you need to create a specific structure as soon as possible. In other words, you need a plan.
Seven questions to ask yourself when making a project plan
It seems impossible to sit down and make a complete plan that grasps everything to the smallest detail at this point as your head is spinning from the number of participants and work load that you will have to do.
When making a project plan, the easiest start is to point out the basic elements that must be in your plan. Then, you will be able to place them in the right order and fill in the blanks.
So, what basic elements do you need? Here are seven questions you must ask yourself to make a plan.
Question No 1. Project goals
Before diving into your future plan’s details, answer the two main questions – “What?” and “Why”? What is your project and why are you doing it?
When you do that, more clarity will come, but your main goal is much deeper – you need to make sure every participant of the project has a good understanding of what they need to do before the project starts.
According to many managers, the absence of clearly stated goals results in the failure of 37% of projects. A more detailed and thoughtful approach and quantitative measures are necessary. They will help you follow the course of project execution and notice possible setbacks immediately.
Keep in mind that a project might have several smaller goals constituting one big goal. These goals can even be different for different participating sides.
For example, while marketing department is interested in attracting new potential customers, PR-specialists care most about publications in press and developers are hoping to receive positive feedback from clients.
Write down all your goals (big and small) right now so that you don’t leave anything out creating other parts of your project plan.
ADVICE. You will need to work hard to formulate a really effective goal. Use SMART tactic to take into account all the necessary factors when setting a goal.
Question No 2. Roles and areas of responsibility
A project usually requires a lot of people, especially if it’s a big one. On one side, it allows to generate a lot of ideas and innovations but on the other, responsibility diffuses among everyone.
A vivid separation of responsibility areas helps avoid the confusion and misunderstanding. It is also very important to give the participants transparent knowledge of who does what. For you, this knowledge will be helpful in setting deadlines and managing resources and team load.
Always point out clearly who does which part of the project and who is the responsible assignee so that people know who to speak to in case of issues.
If your project is too large, it might be hard to describe everything in the smallest detail. Don’t worry – at least start with defining what specific teams and departments do so that people know who is responsible for a particular part of the project.
Question No 3. Resources
To plan and realize the project, various resources, materials, equipment, tools and of course people are needed.
In one of the surveys done by The Project Management Institute (PMI), ineffective resource planning was named second most frequent reason for project failure.
Preliminary assessment of the needed resources will allow to optimize and manage them more effectively as well as avoid trying to find them last minute.
To simplify, let’s break down all our resources into two big categories ignoring their priority:
Equipment: any materials, program tools, space and technology needed for the project.
People: professionals that you will assign to the project, be it your employees, agencies, suppliers, contractors or someone else.
It’s a bit tricky with people because there is always a lack of professionals. You need to make sure you are not overloading any employee or team by giving them too much work.
The list of roles and responsibilities we created earlier will help you determine who you will need to engage in the project so that their team lead or manager does not overload them with other work when you need them.
Think of other “helpers” you might attract for a successful realization of the project.
ADVICE: BM allows to see all your resources online so that you manage them most effectively.
Read our next article to learn about 4 other essential questions to ask yourself when making a project plan.
In the previous article, we discussed three essential questions you should ask
yourself when making a project plan. Here are four more topics to consider.
Question No 4. Costing
Planning a project is hard, especially when speaking about money.
You must already know that statistically, the majority of projects are done with going overbudget. According to a research done by McKinsey that studied large IT-projects, budget deficit happens in 45% of the cases.
This is usually explained by the difficulty of predicting the exact cost of the project before it starts. Apart from that, there are often unexpected challenges that also increase the volume of expenditures.
Despite all that, you will have to estimate the possible resource costs when making a project plan.
Include all your costs in the project plan and then add a specific amount for unforeseen costs so that you leave room for yourself. Nobody knows beforehand how much you will have to add but increasing the budget on 10- 15% is usually enough.
Question No 5. Relationships
Sometimes work on a project is like playing dominos. It’s impossible to do a particular task before the previous one is finished and so on.
It makes sense to determine such relationships while planning the project to make an effective timetable.
Critical Path Method will help determine these connections effortlessly creating a project model that includes:
A list of all tasks necessary for making the project;
Relationships between those tasks;
Time period necessary for every operation.
If you do this before creating a timetable, it will be easier to place the tasks in the right order. Moreover, you will be able to state the deadlines more realistically.
Question No 6. Timetable
Now is the time to set the dates. You would just do it off the top of your head? We understand – this stage of planning might be very tedious.
Fortunately, there is a very simple way of creating a timetable: moving from the end to the beginning. Determine the date when the project must be finished and then move back from that point.
Doing that, you have to keep in mind relationships so that all the tasks are in the right order.
Just like with budget, it’s a good idea to add a little bit more time just in case. We all tend to overestimate our abilities regarding execution of longstanding tasks so some extra time might be of help.
Question No 7. Interaction
When managing a project, it is essential to have a plan of information exchange. Research shows that 57% of projects fail due to ineffective interaction between team members. Disregarding this factor might cost you a lot of money.
Your project plan must include the basic rules of information exchange including frequency and used methods of interaction.
In a perfect world, your set of tools for project planning would include a work management platform allowing to exchange information in a centralized way. That being said, it is still necessary to take into account the following details:
Should the interaction happen only on that platform? Are there situations when email or chats will also be used?
Are you going to hold regular meetings? Who must attend them?
Do you want to receive new information from specific team members regularly?
You may think it’s too much but when we are speaking of project management and planning, it is better to determine all the details beforehand than leave room for interpretation.
Start with the basics and become guru in project planning
If you are only starting to learn how to make project plans, this task might seem very difficult. It will become much easier if you add the basic elements to the scheme and then fill in the blanks.
To make it even easier for you, try looking for a project management software, such as BM.
You will get rid of chaos and fuss before you know it.