What are Project Plans important?
Anyone who has ever been involved in a project will understand the importance of project plans. They’re a project manager’s bible and an important tool for people involved in project delivery to help them understand how everything fits and what it is that needs to be done. However, whilst project plans are key, they can sometimes be difficult to get right.
Here are our five tips for creating a good project plan:
1. Make it accessible
It’s easy as a project manager to think that because you understand your plan, everyone does, but that’s not always the case. It’s key that your project team also understand it and this can be as simple as ensuring that others can read the project plan.
How do you make your plan visible to your team?
MS Projects is popular software to use, but if your project team doesn’t have that software, how can they see it? A simple answer is to convert it or draft it using an application you know your team can access and understand. We often create plans in Excel and compliment them with high level visual timelines, which means that people can see the detail and the bigger picture.
2. Keep it action-focussed
This may sound obvious but ensuring that plans focus on action mean that you can get a better grip on what needs to be done. Sometimes project plans can look like lists, but for it to be meaningful for all users you need to ensure that your plan captures actual tasks, described clearly and include who is doing them and by when. Using verbs (‘doing words’) can add meaning and provide context for people who may not be as familiar with the plans as you.
3. Keep it up to date
It is not uncommon for the creation of a project plan to be thought of as something that is done at the beginning of a project and not revisited, but this is very rarely the case. There’s not much point having a plan if it isn’t used throughout the lifespan of the project and kept up to date. Once you have your plan, use it as tool for constant monitoring, take it everywhere with you and ensure you update it after project meetings and milestones.
Personally, I think co-design is really important to create meaningful project plans. I like to create project plans by running planning sessions or workshops across the different workstreams, involving the people who will be responsible for doing the work. Running this in a workshop style with the goal of producing a detailed task list gives you the opportunity to draw on the knowledge and experience of the workstream leads whilst also giving them an opportunity to sense check what will go in the project plan before it is drafted. A sign that this has been done well is when workstream leads use their task list to monitor and report on their progress at checkpoint meetings, for example.
What are the benefits of collaboratively producing a Project Plan?
Collaborating to design the project plan in this way gives a genuine opportunity for the wider project team to input into the plan and flag up risks and dependencies from outset. It’s a really powerful tool in securing buy-in and helping people feel responsible for their element of project delivery.
Shared ownership of a project plan is a gold standard we should all be aiming for, and collaboration in creating that plan is crucial to achieve this.
We all know plans and circumstances change. I have never worked on a project where what we planned at the beginning was exactly what we had done by the end. This is particularly true for projects which involve people and/or are within complex organisations. You’ve therefore got to be ready and willing to change and adapt the project plan as the needs and environment around a project evolve.
This touches on some reflections I had recently when considering different project management methodologies and how PRINCE2 methods can be a bit rigid around this when compared to Agile methodologies.
Unless you’re truly working in a controlled environment, being too rigid with your plan can lead to a lack of engagement, confusion and ultimately project failure.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you hit these five key points you should be well on your way to creating a good quality project plan that is collectively owned, understood, up to date, focussed on action and able to be changed and adapted as needed.