While it may not be the most time-consuming element of a project manager’s job, developing project plans is generally considered to be the most important. A good plan will get a project off on the right foot and can steer project teams to success under the most challenging conditions. A poorly-constructed plan, on the other hand, can derail even an otherwise simple project and create problems for everyone involved.
If you’re new to the world of project management, following a few simple steps can help you create a workable project plan every time. Even if you’re a seasoned PM professional, it never hurts to go back to the basics and review the essential tasks involved in creating a project plan that really works.
Understand the Statement of Work
In some cases, a project manager is responsible for developing a scope document or statement of work—a document that describes (in general terms) the purpose of the project and names the responsible parties—and in other cases the statement of work is already complete when the PM takes over the project. In either case, a PM should begin by making sure that the scope documentation is free of contradictions or ambiguity that might lead to change orders down the road. The statement of work will be the foundation for the project plan, so a PM should always get clarification on any potentially confusing statements before proceeding further.
Break It Down
Once the statement of work is in good shape, the next key step in project planning is to create a work breakdown structure (WBS) that provides a detailed list of project deliverables. Whenever possible, a PM should schedule a kickoff meeting with project stakeholders to confirm that the list of tasks in the work breakdown is complete and will meet the project objectives.
Identify the Risks
A project manager can never assume that things will go smoothly. An essential skill in project planning is being able to identify the types of problems that might interfere with the project team’s work. Depending on the industry and nature of the project, risks might come from a lack of resource availability, from unexpected design challenges or from a variety of other sources. Once the risks are understood, the PM should develop plans to lower the likelihood of a problem arising, as well as specific plans to deal with problems that do come up.
Build it Out
It’s important to have plans that include all the elements of the project so there aren’t any surprises along the way. Your plan should include deliverables, dependencies, milestones, schedules, budgets—all mapping to available resources so your team is properly utilized.
Use the Right Planning Tool
When it’s time to create the actual project plan, based on the statement of work, work breakdown structure, risk assessment and populating the project plan, project managers should be sure that they’re using the right tools for the job. Project management software like Clarizen makes it easy to develop detailed project plans and to share plans with internal and external stakeholders. Clarizen also includes innovative collaboration tools that allow project team members to share ideas or concerns about the project plan and to stay informed about any changes to the plan that might happen along the way.
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