Set Your Project Up … Right!

Plan Your Project ... Right!Almost every organization will have its unique requirements of how they want their project management process to flow. Many organizations have proprietary software that is used for all or most projects of a certain size and scope. There are many Project Management Software packages that are available to help you setup and manage the project.

Every project should begin with the realization that it is important to create a contingency plan, although you have not even developed the project plan yet, because even the most experienced project managers are not able to plan a project exactly to the penny and time frame. It is therefore necessary to allow for certain contingencies. The most frequent contingencies are related to budget, human resources and time. In projects with uncertainty, it is common for project managers to control a management reserve of 5 percent to 10 percent of the total project budget.

Secondly, discussing and agreeing upon the major milestone to achieve project completion is important. If your project involves several functional groups, it may make sense to develop major milestones for all the functional groups. For example, a major milestone for marketing might be the development of a specific marketing plan or document.

Thirdly, there should be a risk assessment process. After all the assumptions have been identified, assess the risks associated with each task. Risk is the probability that an obstacle to project success will materialize. In planning for the company picnic, the risk of rain cannot be estimated until a few days before the picnic. You plan to play softball and horseshoes and to swim, knowing that it could rain. A task that has a high probability of failure represents a high risk.

The actual work of managing the project includes at the very least, four (4) ongoing steps: Project Costs and Budget, Documentation, Work Breakdown Structure and Evaluation.

Every project should begin with the development of a Project Plan that includes (1) Recruit and assign project team members, (2) Compose the first five sections of the project plan, (3) Constructing the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), (4) Estimating the time required for each task, (5) Create a Task Network. This is also known as Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT). Now you are ready to create the work breakdown structure.

Project Costs and Budget – All project tasks and resources must be defined so that you can develop a cost estimate or budget. A thorough understanding of the different types of costs, the impact of cost estimating, and the methods of collecting and recording costs is necessary for successful project management. The cost estimate, or budget amount, is normally estimated before the project begins and is updated as necessary. It is the best guess about what the project will cost. Because the project contains elements that are unfamiliar, time “guesstimates” are used to predict project labor cost.

Documentation – Various types of documentation are required for virtually all projects. Environmental cleanup projects require reports to the Environmental Protection Agency. Other U.S. government projects require up-front documentation, such as technical and cost proposals, as well as periodic and final reports.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) – A (WBS) is a hierarchy of project work. It usually breaks all project work into an outline. As a rule of thumb, if any of your activities or tasks is estimated to take more than a month to accomplish, they should probably be decomposed, or broken into a finer granularity. This will make it easier to estimate costs and identify opportunities to reduce project time.

This step may not be necessary for small projects of 25 or fewer tasks. On projects of that size, a simple Gantt chart may be enough to plan and track. The amount of expended time and elapsed time for each project component must be estimated. Expended time is the amount of effort, expressed in time it would take to complete a task if a person never left the desk or workstation. Elapsed time is the actual calendar time needed to accomplish a task.

PERT Method – PERT is an acronym for program evaluation and review technique. This technique accounts for the uncertainty in time estimates. The PERT approach to time estimating takes into account risk and uncertainty. This is a useful approach for tasks that have seldom or never been encountered, as in the development of new products. This technique normally requires a Gantt chart, (bar chart) that depicts the relationship of activities to your calendar.

If you are planning a small project, with 25 or 30 tasks, a simple Gantt chart may suffice as a stand-alone chart to aid in project planning and management. But, if you have project management software, I recommend using it. Updating project results and making changes is much quicker. All the popular project management software applications are capable of providing a variety of data columns for costs, schedules, and resources.

Related Articles: Keep Track of Your Next Project and My Project Failed … 5 reasons why!

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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