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Avoid Spending Too Much Time at Project Planning

Eric McConnell
March 11, 2013

When Too Much Planning is Bad

Avoid Wasting Time at Project PlanningPlanning is vital to success. A well-planned project makes 80% of successful product delivery, while the rest 20% are achieved by effective control and execution. However, good planning doesn’t mean that a project manager needs to spend most of his/her time on creating and polishing a project plan. Instead, this executive must proportionate the time spent on the planning stage to the time expected for project implementation to ensure that valuable resources aren’t wasted and real progress is made.

Understand If You Waste Time at Planning Stage

Developing a project plan is one of the fundamental processes in project management. This process enables you to consider success factors, understand all possible issues and risks, and create a road map to project delivery. Meanwhile, if you dedicate too much time to planning your project, you get less time to control and execute the planned work. Lack of time at the implementation stage makes your team fail their assignments and break scheduled deadlines.

Here are several signs of ineffective and time-wasting planning:

  • In each next meeting you see new people, and the last meeting’s attendees don’t show up any more
  • The same issues are discussed in meetings over and over again, so no real progress is achieved
  • Your planning documents are too complex and large, so a taxonomy is created to group them together
  • You make too many re-assignments after the tasks have been assigned to team members
  • You’ve been planning so long that the original objectives of your project are no more vivid and addressed by the plan.

Don’t Try to Create a Perfect Plan

If you expect that a considerable amount of effort will be allocated to re-working and improving the general plan as your project develops, then how do you determine the reasonable amount of time to be spent on putting the initial plan in practice? It’s impossible to give just one answer for this question because each project is unique. If your project is very complex, then obviously it needs a considerable amount of planning up-front to ensure success at the implementation stage. Meanwhile, it’s important to recognize the moment when too much time spent on project planning turns into a waste of valuable resources. And perhaps the project is better to get started immediately to enable stakeholders to see real progress, rather than showing them expected events and planned performance.

So if you see that in each weekly planning meeting something new is discussed and approved about the plan, most likely your project doesn’t make real progress. You can discuss multiple ways of achieving perfection, while the project gets stuck at the planning stage and no actual work is done.

Use Revision Points in Planning

So instead of trying to create a perfect project plan, you can simply review your current plan and make modifications as the project develops and real progress is achieved. Revision points in planning enable your team to take stock of progress and get some breathing space at regular intervals. As a project manager, you can re-allocate resources at each revision point and update documentation appropriately, without making too much impact on the progress of the tasks. This approach also lets re-evaluate the business objectives against the plan to ensure that the project makes progress towards the right aims over a period of time.

Be Agile with Iterations

This approach is widely used in Agile project management. Iterations – brief, regular intervals – allow product development teams to do assigned tasks following a short, release-scaled plan. Any long planning or forecasting is avoided, but short-term plans are developed to ensure agility and compliance with client needs. During each iteration, the team and potential end-users review a short plan, exchange feedback and gain insights to determine the next step in product delivery. Iterative development removes any possibility that too much time will be spent on planning. Project managers dedicate about 15% of their time to creating short-term plans, while the rest of their time is spent on facilitating teams to make real progress. Gantt Chart is often used to visualize how iterations make project progress.

Gantt Chart for Planning Agile Iterations

Restrict the Planning Stage

It’s important to recognize that the amount of time spent on planning should proportionate to the estimated time required for successful project delivery (ex.: in Agile-driven projects the proportion is something about 1/5). Disproportion between these characteristics breaks the project. Just as your project needs a few stakeholders to develop a good action plan in several days, so the planning stage should be restricted to just a few individuals. If more people are involved in planning, most likely it will be difficult to reach agreement. Too much time will be wasted on discussions, and no balance between planning time and execution time will be achieved.

So by restricting the planning stage you can ensure that the right people are involved in your project and that discussions don’t keep churning over things that have already been reviewed and settled. You must allocate a definite amount of time to planning and keep track of how this amount is consumed – don’t allow individuals to raise issues again and again once they have been successfully resolved.

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