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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!