The Basic Process of Project Planning

The Basic Process of Project Planning


Before commencement of any project, the first thing that we need to do is project planning. Any reasonable project manager* certainly understands the importance of planning a project well. Carefully planned project takes into account necessary aspects of a project (e.g. tasks, milestone, schedule, risks, communication, quality, etc.) and provides a plan which project team can refer during execution.

What is Project Planning? 

The project planning is commonly perceived as creating 'Gantt Chart' alone, which is incorrect. Gantt chart is merely visual representation of project schedule. In fact, project plan is quite broader concept. A project plan expresses the objectives & requirements of the project in terms of 
  • Project Scope
  • Project Schedule
  • Resource Requirement
  • project cost estimation
  • Project Quality and
  • Project Risk Management
A project planning enables project manager to translate project requirement into Work breakdown structure (WBS), tasks list, Gantt charts, resource assignment and risk register, etc. Once project charter is approved, the project is formally initiated. Project planning activity can begin based on the project charter document, project requirement document.

Why do we need project planning? 

You see, careful & detailed planning help us to reduces risk and in turn uncertainty in any given project. In meticulously planned project, project planner attempts to make a provision for potential occurrences of uncertainties in advance. 

It is true that project plan in advance, cannot take care of all unforeseen events, risks, and deviations nevertheless; we still, are in a better position than having no planning. Why? – We know what needs to be done, we can organize our work and also, with well-planned project we can better equip ourselves to respond aptly to potential risks, slippages, etc. Hence the bottom line is, we are able to save on time, on resources and as a result, we can save on cost too.

Elements of project plan 

1. Project Scope Planning 
Any project is expected to provide its stakeholders with certain outcome, which is commonly termed as project deliverables. These project deliverables depend on the scope of the project. Analogically, defining a project scope is like drawing a map. In the map, the boundaries are drawn to indicate stretch/ extent of a given territory; similarly, project scope outlines the extent of project deliverables. 

Essentially, project scope is the definition of what the project is expected to achieve and specify the budget of both time and cost that needs to be provisioned to create the project deliverables before the project gets closed. For the best result, one needs to take care of clearly carving out project definition & the budgetary requirements. More detailing & precision during project planning definitely help the team organize their work efficiently & deliver the project more effectively. Without a project scope, project execution can go haywire. 

Project Deliverables 
To define project scope, one needs to refer project requirements. The project planner needs to list down project deliverable items unambiguously stating whether they are ‘In Scope’ or ‘Not in Scope’. So, project scope is about outlining the project deliverables. Based on project scope, project planner(s) create(s) work break down structure (WBS).

1.1. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS
The WBS is a breakdown/ decomposition of project work into distinct work items at higher level. These work items are aligned with the project objective and can help the project team to create expected deliverables. Generally, the project team can refer to this work item hierarchy to decide whether any given task is included in WBS or not.

Essentially, WBS is decomposition of project work in a hierarchical fashion wherein with each descending level, it gives details of project deliverable required from project team.

Triangular Constraints (TQR) 

The project scope is generally constrained, with respect to following aspects 
  • Time 
  • Quality 
  • Resources
If you stretch any corner of the triangle in Figure 3: Elements of Project Planning: the triangle gets distorted; similarly any change in the scope of the project has direct effect on (either any or all) of time, quality and resources of given project. Vice versa, any change in time or cost or resource can make the project scope altered. 

And each corner of this triangle, in turn, has cost implication e.g. any addition of resource to project can increase cost of project, any delay in delivery can increase cost of project, any compromise can quality can have further effect on cost of the project. Hence cost of the project is directly dependent on project scope & project scope, in turn, is dependent on project delivery time, quality parameters & resources assignment.

2. Delivery Schedule Planning 
Once project scope is determined and work breakdown structure (WBS) is created, the next step is to create delivery timeline. For each of the deliverable work item identified in the work breakdown structure (WBS), project planner needs to identify list of activities need to perform. 

Activities as mentioned above, become a basis for estimation, scheduling, execution, and monitoring and controlling of the project work. For each of these activities, he/she needs to figure out 
  • How long will it take to complete each activity (days, weeks)? 
  • What kind of resource(s) – required for its completion (skill set, experience, etc.)? 
Based on the estimate of efforts required to carry out each activity, one can sum up to get duration required for each deliverable. Thus working backward, project delivery timeline can be tweaked further to provide better estimates. 

A milestone marks a significant event in the project. Generally, project sponsors would refer to list of milestones to trace project delivery in respect of timeline & cost overrun.

Gantt chart 
The visual representation of project schedule can be viewed through a Gantt chart. Many portfolio managers & project sponsors find it easy to work with Gantt chart. Since referring the Gantt chart for a given project, project manager/ project planner & other stakeholder can optimize/ change the schedule further. Generally, this is where project sponsors start pushing for aggressive project deadline which might have been indicated/ agreed earlier and sometimes it becomes a real problem. In such case, the reasonable way out is to consult the project sponsor team & provide the details of project schedule. If there are differences, highly detailed project schedule can help you – to make your point. Based on the discussion, you may agree to following options:
  • Reschedule project delivery timeline [Time Implication] 
  • Deploy additional resources [Resource Implication]
  • Change the scope of project [Scope Implication]
  • Enforce additional/ lesser Quality checks [Quality Implication]
As project team can manage timely completion of project activities based on project delivery schedule, it is quite imperative to perform detailed estimation work on project schedule. To estimate delivery timeline, generally, it involves performing following processes.

These five steps will help us create project schedule and it would become a baseline for a given project. The project schedule may change as project progress; this change can be attributed to change in scope, deliverables, quality and risk aspects of the project.

3. Project Resources 
Planning It is the people who make the project work hence it is critical to plan for project team. But project resource is not just about the people to be involved in the project, rather materials, equipment required for successful completion of the project. Having mentioned this, generally, resource planning tends to revolve about people/staffing management.

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