Developing Your Project Plan

Planning Your ProjectYour project definition or, statement of work, briefly describes the project, exclusions, and criteria for success. The project manager must ensure that the project’s product, or deliverable, meets the specifications determined by the client or customer. The project leader translates specifications into quantifiable terms that clarify the work necessary to complete the project.

Project Goal and Purpose
The project goal specifies the deliverable and the desired end date. It should describe why the project being undertaken. For example, cost reduction, to expand XYZ product line, or to re-engineer workflow in section ABC, new revenue sources, or a new market.

Major Milestones
Major milestones represent completion of a significant amount of work in a major category. For a project that includes several functional groups, it may make sense to develop major milestones for all the functional groups. A major milestone for marketing might be the development of a market requirements document. Measurable work is one key to a successful project. In determining what is quantifiable, it is important to agree on the measures you will use to gauge the project’s success or failure. You can use such categories as volume processed, quantities produced, frequency of occurrence, square feet, response time, types of categories produced, and expected accuracy.

Team Requirements
Every project requires a variety of skills that need to be matched to appropriate tasks. In some organizations, project teams might be made up of people from different departments. After major milestones are identified, it is time to list the skill requirements necessary to implement the project. In the process of detailed planning that follows, it is possible for the project’s scope to change significantly. Therefore, the probability of adding to your skills list after the project begins is high. This is an area that is easily handled by software.

Work Breakdown Structure, Task Network, and Gantt Charts
A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a hierarchy that displays the levels of project work. A task network is a chart that displays the sequence of project tasks on nodes and lines. It is a collection of paths that begins at a start node, shows all predecessor and successor relationships, and converge on the completion of the project. A Gantt chart is a graphic display of project tasks with corresponding horizontal bars representing the duration of the work. It is the most popular project planning tool.

Every project rests on assumptions about the future. New products are launched on the assumption that a market will exist during a period known as the market window. Forecasts of the market share and sales are based on assumptions and related trends. New commercial and residential construction is based on assumptions about business and population growth. Capital projects to expand plant capacity are based on assumptions and long-term forecasts of the future. For your project, you need to determine the bets you are making about the future of your organization and about forces external to your organization.

Risk Assessment
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. A task that has a high probability of failure represents a high risk. Types of project risks include technical or market failure, failure to perform, failure to finish on time, Insurmountable technical obstacles, legal and regulatory uncertainties, staff turnover and scope creep. After project-level risks are identified, specify the risks and contingency plans for each project task. A key component of risk assessment is contingency, or disaster recovery, planning. Project management software applications allow users to play “what if.” This means that you can make changes in scheduled durations and costs to reflect that certain risks materialized-and the software will calculate the extent of the delay or cost overrun.

Documentation is required for virtually all projects. Many government projects require up-front documentation, such as technical and cost proposals, as well as periodic and final reports. Software development projects typically require technical and user manuals. Computer-aided software engineering (CASE) tools are used to improve the quality and maintainability of systems documentation. They meet customer needs and are flexible enough to be customized when integrated. A good approach to documentation is to determine up-front documentation for engineering change orders (ECOs).

Project Budget
After all project tasks and resources have been defined, 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 retooling costs is necessary for successful project management. It is common for project managers to control a management reserve of 5 to 10 percent of the total project budget. Most of the popular packages have features that allow you to estimate and accumulate costs and export data to spreadsheet programs. Most project costs will be accumulated by using an hourly rate. So start at the lowest level of task detail from the work breakdown structure and work up to the summary level.

Change Control Procedure
It is nearly impossible to work any project through to completion without making changes. Generally, changes and revisions must be incorporated into the plan and the workload. Changes occur for many reasons, including, mistakes, technology advances, team members being transferred or promoted, scope creep, government or legal requirements and acts of God. If a Change Procedure doesn’t exist, one should be developed by a Change Control Committee.

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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