How do you plan a project? I see many project managers sitting down with sticky notes or a laptop and trying to collate information from emails and conversations into one plan.
There’s nothing wrong with sticky notes and laptops, by the way. It’s the ‘trying to do it all yourself’ part that is a problem. If you want an amazing plan, you have to use amazing planning techniques, and it is virtually impossible to do that alone. Let me explain more, and share another four tips for creating a great project plan as well.
1. Work as a Team
It’s really important to realise that as a project manager you don’t have all the facts to hand.
That’s why you have a team.
A project team is made up of the experts who will actually be doing the job.
Why wouldn’t you ask them for help when it comes to calculating how long the work will actually take?
Get your team together and invite them to take part in building the project plan.
By working together you’ll be able to work faster, be smarter about how you create your plan and you will have a lower risk of forgetting to add tasks in.
2. Use a Work Breakdown Structure
A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a way of creating a visual map of all your project deliverables. It’s a decomposition of the overall project plan into the smaller component parts. Project managers use a WBS primarily to ensure that the team hasn’t forgotten anything – in other words, that the whole scope of the project is included in the plan. Having this marked out visually is a good way of making sure that you haven’t left anything out.
It’s also a great tool for people who think visually. Having said that, a WBS is a glorified list, so even if you don’t consider yourself someone who likes to work with pictures and graphics, give it a try anyway. Get a trial of a desktop mind mapping tool like iMindQ and have a go – you’ll probably be surprised at how useful a WBS will be on your project if you aren’t used to using them.
3. Use a Mind Map as a Project Planning Technique
A mind mapping software isn’t just for capturing ideas generated during creative thinking sessions. You can also use mind maps to plan out your project.
Take your WBS and add task properties to the items on the map. Once you have created start date and end dates for the tasks and added resource names you’ll have enough information for iMindQ to create your Gantt chart for you.
You can work with the Gantt chart view of the mind map view depending on what you are doing and your preferred working style.
4. Circulate a Draft for Approval
Don’t publish your plan as soon as you’ve finished your Gantt chart. Let your work rest for a bit. Circulate a draft plan to your project team and let them take a look at it. It’s probably been a few days since they were in that planning workshop with you and they may well have remembered additional work that should go into the plan.
Only issue your plan as a final version once everyone has agreed that this is representative of the work that needs to be done. At this stage, you can have lots of different iterations because it’s still the early days of the project. Best that you work out the complete list of actions now than spend time worrying about how you will do tasks you had not included when they come to light in a few months.
5. Share your Plan
Once you are happy that your plan is the final version, share it with a wide audience. Publish your high-level milestones. Make sure that people know when they are expected to do their tasks – and make sure they know that this is the actual, final, current version of the plan, not another iteration out for discussion. This is what they have signed up for, so they had better start being accountable for the deliverables down against their name.
Circulate your plan via email or by using online project viewing tools to share it with people who don’t have Microsoft Project. Regularly share the updates too so people are always working from the latest version.