Monday, 11 July 2016 07:25

5 Step Strategy for Effective Project Planning

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Project planning is an art – no two projects will ever be the same, and as such each plan and approach has to be customized according to the circumstance. If the plan isn’t an effective one, the project has less chance of succeeding.

For instance, a key part of planning involves ensuring that the company has the resources, capabilities and capacity to complete the project as well as identifying any potential obstacles that could affect its progress. Additionally, progress must be predicted so it can be tracked for deadlines, and contingency plans must be developed.

Related Article: 4 Steps to Project Planning Success

With this in mind, you should try and devise a project planning methodology that you can use to check off various aspects of your plan before you submit it. This will differ for every project, but as a general strategy or checklist to be consulted when planning a project, it could be an invaluable help.

Make sure you have all the skills you need

As the project planner, it is your responsibility to ensure that your skills are up-to-date so you can do the most effective job possible. One area in which a lot of project planners lack the necessary level of skill can be in people management, as failing to deal adequately with the different demands and requirements of stakeholders and team members can lead to project derailment. With this in mind, you should ensure that your skills are up-to-date in areas other than the likes of analytical thinking and time management.

Alternatively, you could surround yourself with people who do have the skills you have yet to develop. This will create a balanced team of planners and, while you have the final say on any decisions to be made, you will be able to draw on the skill sets of multiple people rather than having to shoulder the responsibility yourself. This is especially important for larger projects.

Understand the scope of the project

Every decision you make when it comes to the project plan will stem from your understanding of the scope of the project and the work involved. You should ideally have been involved in the project bid so you should already have an understanding of the scope. If this isn’t the case, it is up to you to collate the relevant information and decide whether the objectives outlined in the scope are achievable or not.

This is where those people skills are utilized – if something isn’t achievable (because of resources, deadlines or anything else), you need to tell the relevant person and subsequently face pushback from them. Negotiation, conflict resolution, and general communication skills are therefore extremely important here.

Get the basics right

The “basics” of a project plan refer to the fundamentals – the building blocks of a solid plan that are vitally important to get right to give the project the highest chance of success. Stick to “who, what when, how” questions such as:

  • Who will design, create and review/test the deliverables?
  • What form will the deliverables take?
  • When will they be delivered?
  • How will the work be done?

Once you have answered these questions in a general way, you can then be more specific and begin to work out things like timelines, risk assessments, and contingencies.

You should also now define the priorities for the project – what needs to be done first so that other work can commence? What resources do these initial jobs need to get the project off to a good start? Once you know what the initial steps are in their most basic terms, you can begin to think about more complicated things like work breakdown structures and baselines.

Review it frequently

It’s obviously not enough to devise a final project plan and assume that it will progress exactly as you intended. It needs to be reviewed almost constantly along the way so you can assess its progress (for instance, actual costs versus estimated costs to date) and ascertain whether it is progressing better or worse than you had expected during planning. You can then tweak accordingly – perhaps reallocating some resources or pushing back a deadline – in order to ease any pressures that have developed on team members or the work as a whole.

Plan for completion

The way in which you complete a project is just as important as the way you start it. Closing a project down has an impact on the team, the stakeholders and any customers who are involved, so it is important for this part to be made as smooth as possible. A completion point has to be clearly defined so that everyone is aware of it – whether it’s the point at which the team are no longer required or the point at which a product or service is fully integrated into the business depends on the project. This milestone may change, so everyone involved should be aware of that change and how it will impact the project’s completion in terms of extended resources.

You should also convey to other departments when resources and team members are free to work on other projects, and send a round-up evaluation of the project to stakeholders to celebrate its (and your) success and ensure they remain engaged with it.
These project planning pointers may be obvious to some, but many projects have been derailed because simple planning strategies haven’t been followed. Ensuring that you understand the project, the skills you need to plan effectively and the need for reviewing and proper completion will go a long way towards ensuring the project’s success.

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Sebastian Bos

Sebastian Bos has been working in digital for nearly seven years, with his career taking him both client and agency side. Along the way he has developed an understanding of the importance of project planning.

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