Failing To Plan Is Planning To Fail

Hello everyone! My name is Peter and today I want to talk about a crucial phase in the project management lifecycle. Based on the title, you might have already guessed the topic. So today is going to be all about the planning phase.

Planning is fundamental to the success of any project. Period.

You may have heard the old saying, “failing to plan means planning to fail” and nowhere is that truer than in the field of project management.

The planning of a project requires lots of focus, time, and enough information to allow you to build a detailed plan that prevents as many unforeseen events as possible. So, what is included in this phase of the project lifecycle?

The previous article described the first phase of the project management life cycle which is Initiation. (If you didn’t read it yet, just click here)

Our focus now is on the three pillars of the planning phase. The first is scoping a project. That is to say, defining and agreeing on the goals of the project. The second planning pillar is scheduling the project. Scheduling requires setting the necessary activities into a time frame to reach defined goals. Lastly, planning requires cost estimation for handling the project. A successful project not only has to meet its goals within the agreed upon schedule but also within the agreed upon budget.

Now that I’ve  introduced the pillars of the planning phase, let’s look at some key questions that can help us to achieve the planning phase and move to the execution phase:

  1. What is the scope of the project?
  2. What resources do I need?
  3. What is the deadline for completion?
  4. What budget do I have and will it be suitable for the resources I need?

When I took the C|PM course (see the course brochure here), I realized that this approach is kind of different than the traditional approaches we all know. I was amazed because it was the first time I heard about Smart Planning and how planning is the most critical component in the project lifecycle. The Smart Planning element introduced in the C|PM course is now crucial to my success as a project manager.

Now that we understand the basics of the planning phase,  let’s explore scoping in more depth.


Scoping the project

As I have worked on different projects and with lots of project managers, I know that they tend to ignore or not spend enough time during the planning phase. This leads to them having to compromise on something later in the project to finish it on time.

To define the scope of a project, it is necessary to establish the objectives of the project first. This is something that we already talked about in the last blog during the initiation phase.

Only when a project manager has a clear idea of what the project’s goals are and what needs to be achieved during the initiation phase is he or she truly ready to begin the planning phase, starting with scoping the project.

Scoping is the foundation of the planning phase as it details the deliverables of the project. To define the scope, the project manager should identify the following:

  1. First, the project manager should clarify all objectives. You cannot meet requirements you are not aware of! Make sure you’re meeting with your stakeholders and you understand all the objectives of your project.
  2. Once you understand your goals, complete the tasks required to meet them.
  3. Finally, make sure you know what resources will be needed to achieve those objectives. If the needs of the project require more budget than has been allocated, either the budget will need to increase or the scope will need to decrease.

When it comes to the project scope, the project manager needs to have a clear idea about what is included or excluded from the project scope. Improper scoping can add unnecessary elements that can negatively impact the cost of the project and cause delays and budget overruns.

Once the project manager has defined the objectives, he or she must have a good idea of how the whole work will be subdivided into activities and tasks that need to be done.

I find that it is important to talk about a fundamental tool that helps project managers to break down the work into tasks and subtasks: the Work Breakdown Structure or WBS.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK 5) defines the WBS as an “A hierarchical decomposition of the total scope of work to be carried out by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.”

Once the WBS is set, the project manager should check the deliverables. I think that is significant to add that any deliverables that are not present on the WBS will not be addressed. This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how often a stakeholder will be expecting something that the rest of the team is unaware of! This is where your communication skills will be crucial – make sure everyone’s goals are part of the WBS.

In my opinion, the best approach to developing the WBS is to begin by identifying all of a project’s deliverables and then to subdivide them into tasks with deadlines.

The WBS constitutes the basis for the project manager to start scheduling the project.

Now we understand what a scope is and how to make it clear, and we have a better understanding of the role of the WBS. Obviously, the next step is to set up the schedule.

See you next month to talk about scheduling and costing!

Stay tuned and let’s manage projects!


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