Project Planning Like a Pro

A goal without a plan is just a wish.   - Larry Elder

Oh, the project plan! No matter the size, level of detail, or sophistication of the project plan, it is definitely an essential tool to getting things done as a project manager.

Project plans come in many shapes and sizes. You can create a simple one in Excel, an advanced one in Project, or something in the middle. What is important is that you adjust the rigor of developing and managing the project plan based on the complexity of your project as well as the needs of your project team members.

One practice that I have found to be very helpful when planning for bigger projects – ones that have more stakeholders, cost more money, cross functions or geographies, etc. – is to facilitate a project planning session. The session may take all day or just a few hours, The goal is to identify major project milestones, discuss potential roadblocks and interdependencies, and align team members toward a common goal.

Here are seven steps to facilitating a successful project planning session.

BEFORE THE SESSION

  • Prepare for the session – Draft and share the project charter with the team. Identify workstream leads and work with them to define 5-7 major milestones for each of their deliverables. Invite the sponsor to the session and ask her to send an encouraging message to the team. Prepare a draft project plan and manage logistics for the session.
  • Involve the broader teamInvite the right people to the room – both people who will drive the work as well as people whose functions the work will affect.  Make sure they know why they are invited to the session. Set expectations that they will need to contribute to the discussion, identify risks, and confirm their commitment to the plan at the end of the session.

DURING THE SESSION

  • Start with high-level milestones – Have each workstream lead walk through the high-level milestones for each deliverable. Map these milestones on a blank piece of paper along the wall. Ask questions to confirm understanding of what is required.
  • Capture decisions, approvals, risks, and interdependencies – Use sticky notes to capture decisions and approvals required. Ask team members to raise risks and identify interdependencies with their own workstreams or functions (e.g., IT, Legal, Compliance, etc.).
  • Assign owners and timing – Confirm who will own each task. Clarify the timing of each task, especially once all of the milestones are on the wall and you see how much work needs to get done. Determine whether anything should be adjusted based on the interdependencies that were identified.
  • Gain agreement from project team – Ask the team to voice any concerns with or questions about what was outlined during the session. Confirm commitment to the plan (assuming issues and questions will be resolved). Celebrate a productive day!

AFTER THE SESSION

  • Send a workshop summary – Summarize key takeaways, decisions, actions, and outstanding questions. Update the project plan and other support materials. Write a simple and effective email that includes the summary, project plan, support materials, and a note of thanks for their time and commitment to this work.

In terms of what should be included in the project plan, I suggest the following items to keep it both simple and effective: task, owner, start date, end date, % complete, and notes. You can adjust these categories based on what works for you and your team. I will write more about the project plan document in another post.

So, gather your people and start talking! This team activity will help everyone get to know each other, understand the work, and share accountability for delivering on the project goals.