• Donald Davis

Five Steps to Building a Project Plan: A Map to Success

Don Davis PhD, MBA

Project Plans result in the output which is a Gantt Chart. What do you do if you are in an organization that has not built a project plan before? Or even worse subject matter experts (SME’s) have what needs to be done where no one can see it, either in their notes or in their head. One of my Lean mentors once said: “You think, you know. They think they know. Make your thoughts visible, we all know.” This was often used to get facilitators to visibly write things down on flip charts so that ideas could be validated among the team. The thought applies to project planning as well. Your project plan is your map so that the entire team can see and understand what needs to be done in a project.

  1. It Starts with the Charter: I have already written about and provided an example of how good projects start with clear charters. Gathering all of the elements in the charter are the first step in good project planning. (Three things critical to project success)

  2. Is there a work breakdown structure (WBS)? If not a quick mapping exercise to get you a WBS will pull together the high-level milestones and tasks to build the framework for your plan. This article by Emily Christensen has a perfect example of how to build your WBS (https://www.lucidchart.com/blog/how-to-create-a-work-breakdown-structure-and-why-you-should). Once you have your WBS you can build the task list in your plan. Emily provides great details around the level of detail that should and should not be in your WBS as well. Prior to COVID-19 I would have suggested that this be accomplished via post-it notes. During COVID I have seen them completed via any number of online screen sharing tools where a team can collaboratively build out the high-level milestones and tasks.

  3. Resources: For each task who is responsible? Load in the names of individuals in your organization that are responsible for completing each of the tasks listed. Consideration should also be given to machine time or other limitations (i.e. Supplies) that may be a resource need in completing the project.

  4. Start and Finish: Project planning for project managers involves quite a few sessions of working alone followed by working with the team. In building the plan for starting and finishing dates you may have to have a series of meetings depending on how complex your plan is to build out when you will start certain tasks, which have predecessors and how those dependencies build out your plan. When you are all done you should have a complete walkthrough with the entire project team to fully vet and align around how they need to work together.

  5. % Complete and updating the plan: As steps are completed tracking percent completion of the planned activities is key so that again you know where you are in completing the project. As you go along the team may recommend adjusting the plan as well. This should be done with care and understanding of the dependencies in the project to other tasks.

With these five steps, you will be on your way to completing your project with clear objectives and a vision for how to get there.

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