The need to have structures for project planning seems so obvious. Projects are part and parcel of the fabric of work life, and they constantly arise. It is surprising then that so many teams are busily working away with no structure whatsoever. The team jumps straight into arranging the details, without giving any thought to how the project should be approached in a holistic manner.
Think about your own experience. Can you rattle off a structure for how projects should be planned? If you have never followed a systematic approach, the answer is probably no.
There are eight steps we need to consider when beginning a project. Let’s assume that the team has been created and there is great compatibility between the skill sets of staff and those required to successfully complete the project. However, even if you don’t have all the bases covered, a good structure will help to overcome the gaps.
1. Define the project scope
It must be in harmony with the project creator’s vision. What will success look like to the client? If we don’t have a clear idea of what we are supposed to achieve, then trouble is close by. Often the project goals are focused on the big picture and lack detail. We then need to push hard to attain greater clarity about what we need to produce.
2. Analyse reality
What are our circumstances at the start of the project? What are our current work demands, besides this new initiative? What resources and time frames have we been given?
3. Set goals
With no clear goals firmly attached to projects, we will see drift and time wastage. The larger goal should be a construct of smaller goals, which all come together to create the final output. SMART is a well-known and useful acronym for thinking about how to create goals. The goals should be:
- Specific—in terms of processes and resources
- Measurable—allowing us objective data to gauge progress
- Attainable—something the team can be motivated to pursue
- Relevant—to the vision of the project sponsors
- Time-specific—with clear deadlines and milestones to check progress
4. Choose the right action steps
In order to achieve the goals we have set, priorities must be established and, from that, action steps developed. We need to clearly set the requirements of the job, noting who will do which tasks, and how they should be completed. We also have to plan for how individual pieces of work will come together in progression to achieve the desired outcome. And we must think about how to communicate the results both during and after the project.
5. Establish the costs
People, money and time are the resources we normally lack when trying to do projects. At the start, we need to estimate to what extent we will need each of them.
6. Use timetables to check progress
Clear deadlines—set out at the beginning—should be well communicated, understood and broken down into smaller stages throughout the project. As we move forward, we need to check the completion of work alongside our original time estimates to understand our progress.
7. Explain roles
The implementation of the plan necessitates that everyone in the team understands its specific goals, the timelines and the reason for the work.
8. Celebrate completion
Then check the reality against what we presumed would occur. This is a vital learning step, often neglected, which results in our continuing to reinvent the wheel regarding projects. We should seize best practice, refine internal processes and set ourselves up for future success.
This eight-step guide is not a complex process, but it will save a lot of panic, late nights, wasted efforts and stress if we go through it from the start.