Project Management Success Factors Part 4

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The fourth critical factor for project success is having a well-developed project plan. Here is a six-step approach to creating a project plan, not only showing how it provides a road map for project managers to follow, but also why it is the project manager’s premier communications and control tool throughout the project.

Step 1: Explain the Project Plan to Key Stakeholders and Discuss Its Key Components
The project plan, one of the most misunderstood terms in project management, is a set of living documents that can be expected to change over the life of the project. Like a road map, it provides the direction for the project. And like the traveler, the project manager needs to set the course for the project, which, in project management terms, means creating the project plan. Just as a driver may encounter road construction or new routes to the final destination, the project manager may need to correct the project course as well.

A common misconception is that the plan equates to the project timeline, which is only one of the many components of the plan. The project plan is the major work product from the entire planning process, so it contains all of the planning documents for the project. For example, a project plan for constructing a new office building needs to include not only the specifications for the building, the budget and the schedule, but also the risks, quality metrics, environmental impact, etc.

Step 2: Define Roles and Responsibilities
Identifying stakeholders, those who have a vested interest in either the project or the project outcome, is challenging and especially difficult on large, risky, high-impact projects. In addition, there are likely to be conflicting agendas and requirements among stakeholders, as well as different slants on who needs to be included. It is important for the project manager to get clarity and agreement on what work needs to be done by whom, as well as which decisions each stakeholder will make.

Step 3: Develop a Scope Statement
The scope statement is arguably the most important document in the project plan. It is used to gain common agreement among the stakeholders about the project definition. It is the basis for securing the buy-in and agreement from the sponsor and other stakeholders, and decreases the chances of miscommunication. This document will most likely grow and change with the life of the project and should include:

 

 

  • Business need and business problem.
  • Project objectives, stating what will occur within the project to solve the business problem.
  • Benefits of completing the project and justification for the project.
  • Project scope (which deliverables will be included and excluded from the project).
  • Key milestones, the approach and other components as dictated by the size and nature of the project.

 

The scope statement can be treated as a contract between the project manager and sponsor, one that can only be changed with sponsor approval.

Step 4: Develop the Project Baselines
The first project baseline you must develop is the scope baseline. Once the deliverables are confirmed in the scope statement, they need to be developed into a work breakdown structure (WBS), which is a decomposition of all the deliverables in the project. The scope baseline includes all the deliverables produced on the project, and therefore identifies all the work to be done. Building an office building, for example, would include a variety of deliverables related to the building itself, as well as such things as impact studies, recommendations, landscaping plans, etc.

Schedule and cost baselines must then be developed:

 

 

  1. Identify activities and tasks needed to produce each of the deliverables identified in the scope baseline. The level of detail in the task list depends on many factors, including the experience of the project manager and team, project risk and uncertainties, ambiguity of specifications, amount of buy-in expected, etc.
  2. Identify resources for each task, if known.
  3. Estimate how many hours it will take to complete each task.
  4. Estimate cost of each task, using an average hourly rate for each resource.
  5. Consider resource constraints, or how much time each resource can realistically devote to this one project.
  6. Determine which tasks are dependent on other tasks, and develop critical path.
  7. Develop schedule, which is a calendarization of all the tasks and estimates. It shows by chosen time period (week, month, quarter or year) which resource is doing which tasks, how much time they are expected to spend on each task, and when each task is scheduled to begin and end.
  8. Develop the cost baseline, which is a time-phased budget, or cost by time period.

 

This process is not a one-time effort. Throughout the project you will most likely be adding to or repeating some or all of these steps.

Step 5: Create Baseline Management Plans
Once the scope, schedule and cost baselines have been established, create the steps the team will take to manage variances to these plans. All of these management plans usually include a review and approval process for modifying the baselines. Different approval levels are usually needed for different types of changes. In addition, not all new requests will result in changes to the scope, schedule or budget, but a process is needed to study all new requests to determine their impact to the project.

Step 6: Communicate!
One important aspect of the project plan is the communications plan. This document states such things as:

 

 

  • Who on the project wants which reports, how often, in what format and using what media.
  • How issues will be escalated and when.
  • Where project information will be stored and who can access it.
  • What new risks have surfaced and what the risk response will include.
  • What metrics will be used to ensure a quality product is built.
  • What reserves have been used for which uncertainties.

 

Once the project plan is complete, it is important to communicate its contents to key stakeholders. This communication should include such things as:

 

 

  • Review and approval of the project plan.
  • Process for changing the contents of the plan.
  • Next steps—executing and controlling the project plan and key stakeholder roles/responsibilities in the upcoming phases.

 

Destination Success
Developing a clear project plan certainly takes time, and the project manager will probably be tempted to skip the planning and jump straight into execution. However, remember this: The traveler who plans the route before beginning a journey ultimately reaches the intended destination more quickly and more easily than the disorganized traveler, who gets lost along the way. Similarly, the project manager who takes time to create a clear project plan will follow a more direct route toward destination project success.

Elizabeth Larson and Richard Larson, co-principals of Edina-based Watermark Learning, have more than 25 years each of experience in business, project management, business analysis and training/consulting. They have presented numerous workshops, seminars and presentations to more than 10,000 participants on project management, requirements analysis and related subjects. E-mail Elizabeth and Richard at elarson@watermarklearning.com or rlarson@watermarklearning.com.

 

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