No One Plans To Fail

No One Plans To Fail 03/11/2018

All too often projects end up delayed or not completing – in other words, “They Fail”.

They may be cancelled by a client or sponsor due to a change in business circumstances, a loss of funding, or a reduction in the ability to achieve the required benefits, however a common reason for project failure is a lack of attention and effort to seven important project performance factors, each of which should be addressed when setting up your project for success.

According to the Project Management Institute[1], these are:

  1. Focus on business value, not technical detail
  2. Establish clear accountability for measured results
  3. Have consistent processes for managing unambiguous checkpoints
  4. Have a consistent methodology for planning and executing projects
  5. Include the customer at the beginning of the project and continually involve the customer as things change so that the required adjustments can be made together
  6. Manage and motivate people so that project efforts will experience a zone of optimal performance throughout its life
  7. Provide the project team members the tools and techniques the need to produce consistently successful projects

These seven project performance factors can be classified into three broad categories:

  • People
  • Process
  • Communications

So, while it is important to make sure that the cost, time and resources needed to complete the project are clear and understood by all stakeholders at the start of the project, and throughout the project as circumstances change, it is also critical to make sure you adequately consider how you will address and manage the above success factors.

One common place to capture all of these is in your project plan.

So, What Is A Project Plan?

Ask many people for the difference between a project plan and a project schedule and they will tell you that there is none – that the project schedule and the project plan are the same thing: a list of tasks and dates that tell you what to do and when to do it.

For very small and simple projects where everyone involved knows exactly what to do and has probably done it many times before, this might be true. However, the reality is that not many projects we undertake are simple repeats of what we have done before. The scope, the objectives, the team, the stakeholders, all of these can vary and for these projects, the project plan takes on a more critical role in helping to ensure successful delivery.

The project plan, and the role of project planning refers to everything you do to set up your project for success. It’s the process you go through to define your projects objectives and scope, the goals and milestones (deliverables), to develop the detailed task list and to assign resources and budget for each task.   The project schedule is part of your project plan, but it’s not the only part.

The activities you complete when project planning vary for every project, with every client, because the goals of each project vary.  Every project is going to be different as the objectives for every project will be different.  The majority of work in project planning is actually thinking about what needs to be done to successfully deliver the project and then putting in place the structure or plan to make that happen.

By structure, I mean the processes, the resources, the budget, and most importantly, the governance to keep everything running smoothly.  A good project plan includes things like the change management process, the resource plan, the budgeting and approval process, the sign-off process for project deliverables, how you will measure quality, etc.

A project plan is a document or set of documents that explain what you are going to do and how you are going to do it. It provides a roadmap that shows the steps you need to take to get from A to B.  It shows how you get from your current state to the desired future state.

As a project owner or business sponsor, detailed project planning might seem like a waste of time and effort from the outset, but you’ll actually save a lot of time, resources, and heartache if your project is documented in a project plan right from the start and used as a roadmap to keep the team and the project on track to completion.

Why Do We Need A Project Plan?

As more and more projects move to an ‘agile’ delivery method, the argument can be made that project plans for complex projects are just a waste of time. That agile and other iterative development methods have done away with the need for project plans.

Common arguments against the value of project plans can include:

  • Project plans are always out of date and are constantly changing;
  • Project plans constrain the team’s ability to iterate and improve;
  • Project plans don’t take into account the realities of delivery in our organisation and become chains around the team’s neck;

The alternative of having no project plan and being more ‘agile’ is to set up a self-organising team, give them the project brief, let them get started on sprints and let them all work together to figure it all out.  The team will be more motivated because they will own the ‘plan’ and can keep delivering, testing and learning until the project is complete.

But is this really a suitable option for clients who have budget, resource and time constraints? And is it suitable for project managers who have committed to meeting the expectations set by clients and other stakeholders?

I have been delivering projects for over 20 years and whether for internal or external clients, there are 4 questions that I have been asked, every single time:

  1. When is the project going to be delivered?
  2. How much will it cost?
  3. What exactly will be delivered?
  4. How will it be delivered?

These are pretty basic questions to ask a project manager and without a project plan they are pretty difficult to answer honestly (and I pride myself on answering these questions openly and honestly). 

As a project manager, I want to know more than what my clients need to know about my projects. Once a project gets started, I want to know that my project is on track, that it is meeting budget, timeline and quality goals and I can’t know that unless I have something to measure it against.

Why Project Plans Matter

[1] Source: https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/seven-causes-project-failure-initiate-recovery-7195

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