“Plan the work, work the plan” is a popular piece of management advice. For day-to-day management this maxim may hold true. However, good project planning does not necessarily equal good results.
Project planning, often associated with Gantt charts and network diagrams, describes the “how” of doing the project. Equally critical to project success is identifying “what” and “why.” The up-front work of setting the boundaries—defining what the project is and is not meant to accomplish—can make all the difference. This project definition stage can clear the way for good project planning and ultimate project success.
Project Definition: the what and the why of successful projects
- Develop a Clear Project Statement. To set boundaries, start with a project statement that lists the major outcome of the project and the completion date. For example, “Conduct preventive maintenance on #2 recovery boiler during August shutdown” or “Implement a new safety process by second quarter 2014.”
- Set the Boundaries by Developing Objectives. Since a project statement does not include all of the desired project results and constraints, list objectives to fine-tune and sharpen the target image. All objectives should be written with clear measures and standards of performance, and activities should be monitored regularly against them. Sometimes project objectives seem obvious, such as “Work safely” or “Reduce costs.” Not-so-obvious–and often unwritten—objectives like “Develop a new engineer as a sub-project manager” or “Evaluate a new contractor” can quickly drain project funds. It is important to involve the right people when developing project objectives. The project manager, team members, and stakeholders need to help develop project objectives.
- Define the Tasks with a Work Breakdown Structure. With the project statement and objectives in hand, outline the tasks necessary to achieve the objectives. This list—often called a work breakdown structure—provides an inventory of the major accomplishments.
- Identify Required Resources. Most project plans do a good job of identifying the resources that need to be built or installed. Often overlooked are seemingly minor requirements. For example, if the project objectives include developing a new sub-project manager, then resources to provide “mentoring” must be allocated. A detailed list of resources helps project budgets be more accurate.
Defining a project is the key to a successful outcome. The project statement that specifies the goal and completion date, the objectives that characterize what should be accomplished, the work breakdown structure that details what steps are needed, and the list of required resources to complete the project—developing these four elements ensures that you “plan the work and then work the right plan.”
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