Being at the helm of a project is both exciting and scary! If you jump straight into it without a good plan you run the risk of your voyage ending in a shipwreck. You don’t want that, nobody wants that to happen. The best solution for this is what is called a project plan.
Yes, as a project manager, it sounds tempting to just go with the flow and wing it, but the dangers of not sticking to a project plan are many. Without a project plan teams may find themselves to be aimless and duplication of efforts will be a nasty common occurrence. Additionally, allocating resources haphazardly usually ends in huge unnecessary expenditures.
Project plans help make sure that stakeholders are all sharing the same perspective, they have clear and attainable goals and set up an open and transparent communication channel between team members and stakeholders. But what exactly is project planning? Let’s take a deep dive and learn all about outlining a project plan set for success.
What is project planning?
There’s a lot of jargon in project planning with concepts such as Gantt charts, RFPs and more. So let’s start with the basics. Project planning the process through which project’s goals, scope and stages are defined. It’s a key aspect of project management and after the project planning stage, to logical output would be a project management plan (or project plan).
What is a project management plan?
A project management plan is a document or group of documents that delineate the series of steps that teams will follow to complete a project. It is used as a guideline to manage the project in accordance with its intended scope and making sure its goals are met. The idea behind a project plan is to act as a roadmap that will show all the steps and resources that must be taken into consideration when trying to complete a project on time as well as within its budget constraints.
It’s crucial to understand that project management plans contain key information for all stakeholders to be informed at all times. This means milestones, assignments, deadlines and more. More often than not, project management plans are represented in the form of a Gantt chart to ensure that everybody is clued in at all times.
Why is project planning important for service management?
Project planning is paramount to any big endeavor in IT service management (ITSM) because it ensures that there is constant monitoring of both the project schedule and the budget allocated to the project at all times. This becomes even more relevant to the field of IT when you take into account how project planning essentially works as a sort of binding agent for all areas of IT to work together towards a common goal. Active participation is encouraged and a project schedule guides team members in completing their tasks and understand how and when use the tools at their disposal.
What’s more, project planning ensures that the project’s output is tested for quality at every step of the way. If well executed, every member of the team can be one step ahead of any problem before they even happen. This generated efficiencies and allows for swift and effective execution of the project plan.
On top of that, project planning aids in prioritizing, analyzing and devising a proper course of action for all possible risks. A good implementation means that if there are any associated risks when executing the project plan, these are prioritized and dealt with in a timely manner. Thus, having project plans in ITSM helps maintain an IT infrastructure running without jeopardizing other operations or putting other areas in danger of interrupting their service.
5 essential steps for project planning
Step 1: Research and preplanning stage
Before even writing a single line in your project plan document, some prep work is necessary. The best plan of action is to research and know your fact before committing to the task. Let’s take a look at what that would entail:
- Gauge the project scope and its value
This means understanding the ins and outs of the project. You want to think about what the goals and potential outcomes would be, what partnerships you would need to consolidate to see the project through, as well as any potential risks or issues that might arise.
Remember to review the scope of work document and all related documents such as an RFP or notes from client team meetings. Ask thoughtful questions and be thorough with your research so as to pinpoint critical project details.
- Interview stakeholders
In order to accurately represent what your project’s final product will look like, you need to know what stakeholders are expecting from said project. Schedule meetings with your main project contact and try to get the difficult questions out of the way. Learn about organizational politics, and the process. When actually talking with the stakeholders you want to discuss topics such as product ownership and the decision-making process, their involvement levels and driving factors. Leave no stone unturned.
Consequently, this will give project stakeholders more confidence in your team and its experience to handle potential difficulties through the execution phase. Additionally, it shows stakeholders that you really care about the project from its nascent state.
- Know your team
The very last stage before you actually get to project planning is to take the time to meet and connect with those responsible for the work itself. Every person involved is important so knowing their expertise, their interest, their availability and workload helps in creating a thoughtful plan. Teams that feel cared for, deliver better results; that’s just a basic rule of team management.
Step 2: Outline a rough version of your project plan
With all the information gathered from the previous step, it’s time to start designing a rough draft of your project plan. There’s two big objectives you should accomplish in this stage to ensure it is successful:
- Jot down the main elements of your project plan
Here’s where the delineation process actually begins and it’s quite literally a pen and paper affair. Write down the who, what, when and how of your project and make sure that you know: which are your major deliverables, how to get them and their deadlines (included in the project schedule), who’s on the project team and how will they work on the deliverables, when will milestones be met.
In addition, it’s important to remember that this is a draft version of the final project management plan. Take notes of ideas and resources needed for tasks, timeframes and the client’s approval process. All of this information will allow you to go back and forth with your team and give your project management plan the final touches.
- Include your team’s input in the project planning draft
Once your project plan’s basic needs and the way they’ll be met have been jotted own, it’s time to bring your team into the drafting process. Project managers should not be the only ones participating in the planning stage because sharing ideas with your project team ensures that your work breakdown structure can be followed too.
Foster an active discussion with your team about what you’ve outlined and see if they can meet your proposed goals in a realistic timeframe. Communication is paramount to achieve project success, so make sure that everybody can get things done without putting their morale or the company’s budget at risk. Build trust and results will come.
Step 3: Build your project plan
Now that you’ve laid the ground work for what your project plan will look like and you’ve already discussed it with the project team, it’s time to actually build your project management plan. A great way of doing this is by using a project management tool or project planning software such as Microsoft Project or Zoho Projects. In here you want to clearly state the tasks, their duration, their milestones and dates. Keep it simple.
Flexibility is also key, as with plans there are no absolutes when it comes to format as long as the team understands it. Gantt charts are a common tool used in the project planning process but others might prefer a list of tasks, that will depend on the work methodology that you and your team members prefer. We’ve mentioned Gantt charts as they are pretty much an IT industry standard but feel free to study the market for project management tools and software that work for you.
Step 4. Plan presentation and confirmation
It’s the homestretch from here! Last thing you should do is present the plan and run it by your internal team. This means that if there are any last minute changes before you present the final version to the stakeholders, they need to be ironed out and talked about with your project team. Things you should review with your team include: review times, dependencies, the final deadline, time off, work breakdown structure, meetings and milestones, etc. Doing this will ensure that you and your team are all on the same page before delivering a presentation to the stakeholders.
After that, it’s time to go over the plan with the stakeholders . When delivering your project management plan, you want to provide an executive summary. It’s up to you if you want to do it as a project brief or a project charter. Either way, these will serve the function of recapping the methodology, the resources, deadlines and assumptions about the project plan. You want to let them know what the overall process and pacing will look like, as well as the overall timing for task groups and phases in your project’s timeline.
Step 5: Project execution and course correction
You are now ready to carry out your plan. But that’s not the end. You see, it’s good to think of plans as living documents. That’s why they need constant updating and course correction in case something goes array. Some good tips to keep in mind for this stage are the following:
- Communicate at all times with your project team and stakeholders
- Update your plan as things change
- Monitor risks as the project evolves
A prominent user on the r/projectmanagement subreddit, smashing1989, shared a couple of extremely useful tips for those first-timers who need a little bit of extra guidance with project management. Here’s 5 of the most important ones:
- It is all about the people.
- Be truthful with the team (I know some will not agree), if something is going on then tell them, show them the numbers, give them the bigger picture.
- Know your numbers! What was the work sold for?, what was the budget?, what is the expected gross margin you should be delivering to? You need to know this stuff!
- Build a relationship with the customer as soon as possible. You would be amazed at the amount of goodwill that can be established once the relationship is up and running.
- If you are the project manager and you fail to deliver, it is on you, not on your team…yes I have thrown myself under the bus when others have failed to deliver (and yes I had an action plan to make sure it didn’t happen again)
Frequently asked questions
What is project planning?
Project planning a process that involves outlining a project’s goals and expectations within a company’s budget and time constrains.
What is a project management plan?
A project management plan is a document that details how a plan will be carried out. Including its scope, objective, available resources, and deliverables (including work breakdown structure). This is usually presented through in a project charter and with the aid of project planning software, project planning tools and Gantt charts.
Why is project planning important for ITSM?
If done correctly, project planning ensures that an IT infrastructure is never under any kind of strain and service is never or hardly ever interrupted while a plan is being executed.