Two Techniques to Help You Plan Your Projects

This TenStep post discusses the Catch-22 for a project manager - that you need to begin planning, and even other project phases, before you have all of the information you'd ideally like to have.

This process is otherwise know as progressive elaboration. It is the process by which more and more details about the project bubble to the surface as you do more work on the various components of the project. No matter what project management methodology you use, you will need to bounce around a bit among the various initiating and planning documents until you and your stakeholders begin to feel comfortable.

As the post points out, aspects of the schedule need to be pointed out in the Project Charter...but the Project Charter precedes the schedule. In addition, the schedule takes input from the Project Charter - which cannot be completed without substantial schedule information.

this is a problem with any design problem - and projects are, to a large extent, at least in planning, like a design problem. You often need to go down the road, or into the weeds, a bit, in order to test out some ideas and get it all to fit together into a cohesive package.

The post takes it a bit further by differentiating between small and large projects. This process of taking a peak into the weeds in order to finish the various initiating and planning documents is far simpler on a small project, and care must be taken to provide sufficient detail and level of accuracy appropriate to the project.

Here's the TenStep guest post entitled, "Two Techniques to Help You Plan Your Projects".

Work on the Project Charter, Schedule and Budget Simultaneously

There is not necessarily sequential order between defining (planning) the project and building the schedule and budget. That is, you do not have to completely define the work first and then build the schedule and budget second. Some of the sections of the Project Charter, such as the estimates for cost and duration, cannot be completed without starting to lay out the overall project schedule. At the same time, you cannot complete the schedule without gaining agreement on the Project Charter. For instance, you cannot build the schedule and budget without gaining a high-level agreement on deliverables and scope.

To a certain extent, defining the work and building the schedule and budget need to be done simultaneously. The main deliverables, the Project Charter, schedule and budget, should also be developed in parallel. You will find that as you gather information about scope and deliverables, you can start laying out a high-level schedule. As you gather more information about the work, you can fill in more details on the schedule. When the deliverables, scope, assumptions and approach are complete, you should have enough information to complete a high-level schedule. You can then use the high-level schedule to estimate the necessary budget - which in turn are used to complete the Project Charter.

Make Sure Everyone Understands Project Roles and Responsibilities

For small projects, the Project organization is pretty simple - maybe just the project manager and the sponsor. The person who is managing the project may be the only person actually working on the project.

However, for large projects, there may end up being an elaborate and formal organizational structure. You may have team members, an executive sponsor, a project sponsor, a customer manager, a project director, a steering committee, vendors, clients, and others involved. You do not want to get overly complex, but the more people that are involved in the project the more important it is that everyone be clear on their roles and responsibilities. For example, the last thing you want is to have someone give you direction as if he were the sponsor when really he may just be a management stakeholder.

One aspect of defining the project is to define the organization structure and the roles and responsibilities of all the major participants. The typical roles and responsibilities can be defined ahead of time for your organization and then reused as appropriate from project to project.

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