Gant Chart Software

Tips on Project Planning

Project planning can seem painful, but it’s generally not nearly as painful as dealing with the consequences of not planning at all!

You’ll find lots of advice on how to plan and run a project out on the internet. Some of it comes with nice mnemonics: the 5 P’s (Poor Planning Produces Pitiful Project), the 5A’s (Align Key Players, Act Quickly, Adjust Often, Assign Roles, Authority).

We weren’t smart enough to come up with a mnemonic, so, very simply, here are five tips distilled from our 30+ years of developing project plans. We hope you will find somewhat thought provoking and useful:

1. Start project planning by being crystal clear about what you are trying to achieve

The number one cause of project failure is having unclear objectives, or to put it another way, lacking clarity about the final end product of the project. Books can and have been written about this, so we try to keep it simple.

The mnemonic SMART objectives helps — aiming for objectives that are Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound (there are other definitions of SMART – see Wikipedia) — but we typically start by thinking about three questions:

  • What is the high-level objective? e.g. develop a growth strategy for a new product

  • What are the deliverables (the physical or other end products you’ll need to produce)? e.g. a market assessment, a 50 page articulation of new growth strategy, a robust process with senior management etc?

  • How will we define success? e.g. the value / growth rate of the strategy, level of management endorsement / enthusiasm, delivered without blowing up the project team … etc.

What you need will vary by project, but whatever it is, you’ll likely find that clarity and specificity help.

2. Not all plans are equal

Now there are obviously good plans and bad plans, but that is not what we mean. What we mean is that every plan does not need to have the same components and the same level of detail. Rather, you should plan at the level that makes sense for the project. For example:

  • If you are building a battleship where there are 1,000,001 things that need to come together with complex dependencies, resourcing requirements et al, then the plan will have to be multi-faceted and very detailed
  • If on the other hand you are developing some marketing materials, it’s going to be a little simpler. You’ll likely just need a clear idea of what needs to get produced by when (objectives, deliverables, measures of success, timeline), budget, who’s involved, and the immediate next steps

In general, we’d recommend erring on the side of keeping it simple as you can always add more detail as you get further into the project.

3. Not every plan needs to be an end-to-end road map

With some plans you can and should have a very explicit set of steps to get you from A to B (the battleship example above might be an example). However, if you are embarking on something new and uncertain, whilst you have a good vision of the endpoint, you may not have any idea of what the whole journey will look like.

In these situations, if you do try to plan it out in detail you may get frustrated and never get started. So the best advice here is just to be clear on what you want to achieve and on the next couple of steps to move things forward, and then get started. Once you are underway, you’ll learn more about what is involved and can build up and adapt the plan as you go.

4. At least have a plan – please

We hope that this one speaks for itself. Some people don’t think a plan is worthwhile because project planning is boring and time consuming, and because things always change — at which point they would have to spend time updating the plan, if they have one. So they’d rather just get started and, of course, ironically, without a plan, they never fall behind.

This might work for a really simple and short project involving very few people, but 99 times out of 100 you’ll be better off with some sort of plan — at least something high level which captures the objectives, deliverables, resources and a high-level timeline.

5. Get stakeholder buy-in

Most likely there will be other people involved in your project, and you should be sure to get them involved in project planning and in endorsing your plan to some extent.

If you’ve not involved the stakeholders, you’ll probably be missing something in terms of project goals, deliverables or measures of success. If you’ve not involved the team in planning, then you are less likely have the understanding, buy-in and commitment you’ll need to deliver.

But if you get the buy-in from the right people from the start, and continue to communicate with them along the way, you’ve got a much greater chance of succeeding!

Smart project planning will help you save time, create clarity for you and others, and get results. We hope these five tips get you started! 


Want to find out how Swiftlight can help you with your project planning? Click on the link to visit our home page and learn more about Swiftlight project planning software.