We should not think there is a magic bullet approach to the work. There is no such thing as a panacea to our work troubles. This is true even if our company has a well-documented, tried, and true approach to our project processes. Like many sports or athletic endeavors, there are a few fundamentals we will need to correct to succeed. This will not require special tools. That is not to say that tools cannot be of service. Do not expect tools to deliver a successful project, it still takes human interaction.

The infirmity of human nature renders all plans precarious in the execution in proportion as they are extensive in the design.

~Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) Preface to An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

What is Planning?

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), planning is not just defining the project’s objectives, scope, and deliverables but genuinely understanding them. It is about determining the most effective approach to achieving these objectives. This involves creating a detailed roadmap that outlines the necessary tasks, resources, and timelines for successful project execution. Effective planning ensures that project stakeholders are aware of and fully understand the project’s direction, empowering them to make informed decisions throughout its lifecycle.

Start Planning

When starting a project, it's essential to turn to the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge as our first reference point. This comprehensive guide encapsulates and condenses the fundamental practices required for project management across various industries. The Seventh Edition of the PMBOK® Guide has evolved to meet the challenges of today and covers all development approaches (predictive, traditional, adaptive, agile, hybrid, etc.). It offers an expanded list of tools and techniques, with a focus on deliverables and project outcomes, providing a reliable framework for effective project planning.

Most planning books I have read usually start out with picking up a pad of paper. Start writing:

  • What is the scope?
  • What is NOT in the scope?
  • When is it due?
  • Who can deliver what and by when?

Effective project planning involves tailoring the approach and tools to your project's unique needs, working around constraints, and capitalizing on available talent, assets, and opportunities. Consider the context, team, and project goals when selecting the most suitable tools.

PM Tools

Project Management Software, Templates, and Tools: While PMI does not provide directly, various software tools are available to assist with project planning and execution.

Work Breakdown Structure

To be completely honest about project planning tools, we are old school. we get the potential team together with a pen and sticky note pads. The objective is to rough out a Work Breakdown Structure.

*Potential team means representatives of the departments involved in the project and input from the domains of expertise. Some team members may remain part of the project or be replaced by others. For Example, I have had department managers in the WBS development meeting a few times, and they assigned someone else to the project.

What makes a plan capable of producing results is the commitment of key people to work on specific tasks.

~Peter F. Drucker (1909-2005) Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, 8, 1974

Gantt Charts

These visual representations help you schedule tasks, allocate resources, and track progress. We have written about Gantt Charts. This tool is very helpful. However, considerable work has been done to build these charts. We must understand the scope and have decomposed what is required to meet that scope. There is a connection between Gantt Charts and the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique)

A probabilistic approach for estimating project duration.  We have written on PERT as well at PMTips.  In that article, we demonstrate the schedule's forward and backward pass assessment.  This

PERT attempts to account for task variation by providing a range of durations, pessimistic, most likely, and optimistic, for any given task, with most likely weighted more heavily.  The problem with this is we are assuming the range distribution of duration for the task is normal, which is not likely true.

The true benefit of this approach to derive a duration for a specific task is understanding the estimation's level of certainty. In other words, the more significant the gap in this range, optimistic and pessimistic, the more uncertainty in the estimate.  When these numbers are close, it implies that the person performing the estimates is more comfortable with the estimation topic, and therefore the estimate is less risky.

Kanban Boards

This is a lean approach to identifying and managing work and workflow, which helps manage work items and visualize workflow. There are online versions of these boards; however, physical displays, such as a whiteboard with the categories for workflow, are used. This visual representation of the workflow helps keep the team on the same metaphorical page.

Critical Path Method (CPM)

A technique for identifying the longest sequence of dependent tasks in a project. If everything goes according to plan, this informs the project manager and team of the project's planned completion date. It is even helpful when things do not go according to plan. The critical path method helps us manage the expectations of the sponsors.

Risk Management Tools

Tools to assess and manage project risks are essential. Risk management is a vital responsibility of the project manager, but it is not their sole responsibility. We will need diverse perspectives, and to get this, we will rely upon the experiences and input of the team members. Creating an environment that encourages this input is essential. However, then we will need some tools to evaluate and track the risks and our response, which is the risk register. Develop the Risk Register in connection with the Work Breakdown Structure. Another risk perspective to investigate is the risk registers from previous similar projects.

Resource Allocation Tools

Resource allocation will be connected to the work breakdown structure and project schedule. We may use RACI charts (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed). There are many other variants of this tool, but regardless of the categories, this tool helps connect the talent to specific deliverables and what may not be apparent communications needs.

The Gantt chart is also helpful with resource allocation, contingent upon building the schedule with diligence and accuracy, including assigning responsibilities for specific tasks. When built correctly, we will see if we have a demand of time from the available talent beyond the capacity.

Project Management Software

After the above information is collected and the team thinks we have captured 95% of the work items, it is time to input it into a project management platform. Assuming your organization is employing one. If not, several platforms like Seavus Project Viewer, Microsoft Project, Asana, Trello, and Jira offer planning, collaboration, and tracking features.

Watch out: The output is only as good as the input.


As mentioned, project planning is not magic. I admire project managers who are adept at developing their plans directly on a project management platform. However, it still requires the work mentioned and the ability to integrate all the information into a workable project plan. Many excellent software, templates, and tools exist.