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Avoid Inadequate Planning, the Primary Project Management Mistake

Daniel Linman
April 2, 2013

Explicitness and Accuracy Drive Plan Success

Avoid Inadequate Planning, the Primary Project Management MistakeI’ve been practising project management for several years, and today my (so far) little experience tells me that right planning is one of the keys to project success. Certainly, most experienced project managers think the same way, and best practices of project management prove this fact as well.

Meanwhile, in my career I saw some executives who believed that the time they dedicated to planning could be much better spent “doing the actual work.” As practice showed, those people were not right, and unfortunately they understood their mistake only after their projects failed (and the business failed either) because of insufficient planning.

I consider inadequate planning the number one mistake in project management. I believe that many troubles can be prevented and tracked by effective and efficient planning. So this time I’m going to describe what primary mistake some executives make when trying to set up and handle their project initiatives.

What Makes Project Planning Inadequate

Before any project begins, the very first thing the project manager (PM) must do is to make sure that the work is clearly communicated to the sponsor and key stakeholders and that all the parties agree on project launch. It should be noted that in larger projects it’s harder to define and communicate information formally and explicitly. As a PM, you need to define the tiniest piece of information on your project and discuss it with the stakeholders. And no step forward to further definitions if the previous one remains unclear and inconsistent!

So, the key reason why project planning turns inadequate is lack of clarity and consistency in definitions. When you realize this, many possible problems can be prevented at the very beginning, before your project starts.

Avoid Inefficiency at Planning

Here’re some suggestions that can help you keep the planning process efficient, that is contributing to obtaining the expected results.

  • Understand the totality of the work (scope) that must be done, so that it will be easier for you to keep project estimates accurate and error-free
  • Remember that effective planning is based on explicitness, so never neglect details!
  • Conduct a thorough risk analysis at the beginning in order to create a robust foundation for early issue tracking and solving throughout the project life-cycle
  • Think out the project schedule accurately and unambiguously in order to avoid missing work
  • Gain strong commitment from all the key stakeholders, or otherwise your project may suffer from insufficient financing, guidance and oversight

Triple Constraint Model

As you can see, the listed suggestions are mainly about the key constraints, which are Scope, Budget and Schedule. The known concept of Project Management Triangle (or the Triple Constraint model) works fine for most projects. According to this concept, a better definition of Scope, Budget and Schedule ensures the higher efficiency of a project plan.

The Model of Triple Constraints in Project Management

So the quality of the planing process in your project will depend greatly on your ability to create accurate and explicit project definitions. As a PM, you can avoid most troubles and mistakes by doing a good job of planning up-front.

Key Steps to Right Project Planning

Taking into account the model of Triple Constraint, you can now try to plan out a good project that has accurate and explicit definitions of Scope, Budget and Schedule. Below are 4 key steps to guide you through the right planning process:

1. Define the work that must be done

As a PM, you must understand the very idea of your project, including such “essentials” as business objectives, assumptions, risks, time-frames, organizational structure, and overall approach.

2. Develop the schedule

A detailed schedule should be created prior to your project starts. Accurate scheduling helps you determine how and when to complete every piece of the work and estimate the total effort and duration.

3. Estimate costs

Cost estimation helps you create a budget that covers the cost of your project. To create a good cost estimate, you need to collaborate with the project sponsor, who handles the financial matters and provides strategic guidance and oversight.

4. Agree on management processes

Your general project plan is composed of smaller, subsidiary plans address lower-level management processes and constraints, such as issues, risks, communications, staffing, procurement, and more. When everything is agreed and each smaller plan is developed and verified, you can proceed to the next phase of your project.

If somebody asks how much time it takes to plan out a great project, the best answer should be “sufficient and adequate.” Each project is unique and the planning process appears to be unique as well. No exact time can be set for developing the right plan. As a good project planner, you must be adequate in estimating the work that must be done and sufficient in defining the scope, budget and schedule. If your project is larger, be ready to spend more time on planning and never forget that explicitness and accuracy should come up together in order to ensure an efficient project plan.

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