After the project has been defined and the project team has been appointed, you are ready to enter the second phase in the project management life cycle: the detailed project planning phase.
Project planning is at the heart of the project life cycle, and tells everyone involved where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. The planning phase is when the project plans are documented, the project deliverables and requirements are defined, and the project schedule is created. It involves creating a set of plans to help guide your team through the implementation and closure phases of the project. The plans created during this phase will help you manage time, cost, quality, changes, risk, and related issues. They will also help you control staff and external suppliers to ensure that you deliver the project on time, within budget, and within schedule.
The project planning phase is often the most challenging phase for a project manager, as you need to make an educated guess about the staff, resources, and equipment needed to complete your project. You may also need to plan your communications and procurement activities, as well as contract any third-party suppliers.
The purpose of the project planning phase is to:
- Establish business requirements
- Establish cost, schedule, list of deliverables, and delivery dates
- Establish resources plans
- Obtain management approval and proceed to the next phase
The basic processes of project planning are:
- Scope planning – specifying the in-scope requirements for the project to facilitate creating the work breakdown structure
- Preparation of the work breakdown structure – spelling out the breakdown of the project into tasks and sub-tasks
- Project schedule development – listing the entire schedule of the activities and detailing their sequence of implementation
- Resource planning – indicating who will do what work, at which time, and if any special skills are needed to accomplish the project tasks
- Budget planning – specifying the budgeted cost to be incurred at the completion of the project
- Procurement planning – focusing on vendors outside your company and subcontracting
- Risk management – planning for possible risks and considering optional contingency plans and mitigation strategies
- Quality planning – assessing quality criteria to be used for the project
- Communication planning – designing the communication strategy with all project stakeholders
The planning phase refines the project’s objectives, which were gathered during the initiation phase. It includes planning the steps necessary to meet those objectives by further identifying the specific activities and resources required to complete the project. Now that these objectives have been recognized, they must be clearly articulated, detailing an in-depth scrutiny of each recognized objective. With such scrutiny, our understanding of the objective may change. Often the very act of trying to describe something precisely gives us a better understanding of what we are looking at. This articulation serves as the basis for the development of requirements. What this means is that after an objective has been clearly articulated, we can describe it in concrete (measurable) terms and identify what we have to do to achieve it. Obviously, if we do a poor job of articulating the objective, our requirements will be misdirected and the resulting project will not represent the true need.
Users will often begin describing their objectives in qualitative language. The project manager must work with the user to provide quantifiable definitions to those qualitative terms. These quantifiable criteria include schedule, cost, and quality measures. In the case of project objectives, these elements are used as measurements to determine project satisfaction and successful completion. Subjective evaluations are replaced by actual numeric attributes.
A web user may ask for a fast system. The quantitative requirement should be all screens must load in under three seconds. Describing the time limit during which the screen must load is specific and tangible. For that reason, you’ll know that the requirement has been successfully completed when the objective has been met.
Let’s say that your company is going to produce a holiday batch of eggnog. Your objective statement might be stated this way: Christmas Cheer, Inc. will produce two million cases of holiday eggnog, to be shipped to our distributors by October 30, at a total cost of $1.5 million or less. The objective criteria in this statement are clearly stated and successful fulfillment can easily be measured. Stakeholders will know that the objectives are met when the two million cases are produced and shipped by the due date within the budget stated.
When articulating the project objectives you should follow the SMART rule:
- Specific – get into the details. Objectives should be specific and written in clear, concise, and understandable terms.
- Measurable – use quantitative language. You need to know when you have successfully completed the task.
- Acceptable – agreed with the stakeholders.
- Realistic – in terms of achievement. Objectives that are impossible to accomplish are not realistic and not attainable. Objectives must be centered in reality.
- Time based – deadlines not durations. Objectives should have a time frame with an end date assigned to them.
If you follow these principles, you’ll be certain that your objectives meet the quantifiable criteria needed to measure success.