Project Planning

Read this chapter, which discusses the planning phase of the project lifecycle. What are some of the pain points in this part of the project management process? What tools do project management professionals typically use to plan projects?

Overview of Project Planning

After the project has been defined and the project team has been appointed, you are ready to enter the second phase in the project management life cycle: the detailed project planning phase.

Project planning is at the heart of the project life cycle, and tells everyone involved where you're going and how you're going to get there. The planning phase is when the project plans are documented, the project deliverables and requirements are defined, and the project schedule is created. It involves creating a set of plans to help guide your team through the implementation and closure phases of the project. The plans created during this phase will help you manage time, cost, quality, changes, risk, and related issues. They will also help you control staff and external suppliers to ensure that you deliver the project on time, within budget, and within schedule.

The project planning phase is often the most challenging phase for a project manager, as you need to make an educated guess about the staff, resources, and equipment needed to complete your project. You may also need to plan your communications and procurement activities, as well as contract any third-party suppliers.

The purpose of the project planning phase is to:

  • Establish business requirements.
  • Establish cost, schedule, list of deliverables, and delivery dates.
  • Establish resource plan.
  • Get management approval and proceed to the next phase.

The basic processes of project planning are:

  • Scope planning – specifies the in-scope requirements for the project to facilitate creating the work breakdown structure
  • Preparation of the work breakdown structure – specifies the breakdown of the project into tasks and sub-tasks
  • Project schedule development – specifies the entire schedule of the activities and detailing their sequence of execution
  • Resource planning – specifies who will do what work, at which time, and if any special skills are needed to accomplish the project tasks
  • Budget planning – specifies the budgeted cost to be incurred in the completion of the project
  • Procurement planning – focuses on dealing with vendors outside of your company
  • Risk management planning – charts the risks contingency plan and mitigation strategies
  • Quality planning – for quality assurance to be applied for the project
  • Communication planning – on the communication strategy with all project stakeholders
The planning phase refines the project's objectives gathered during the initiation phase and plans the steps necessary to meet those objectives by further identifying the specific activities and resources required to complete the project. Now that these objectives have been recognized, they must be clearly articulated entailing an in-depth scrutiny of the recognized objective. With such scrutiny, our understanding of the objective will change. Often the very act of trying to describe something precisely gives us a better understanding of what we are looking at. This articulation serves as the basis for the development of requirements. What this means is that after an objective has been clearly articulated (clearly stated) we can go about the business of stipulating in concrete terms what we have to do to achieve it. Obviously, if we do a poor job of articulating the objective, our requirements will be misdirected and the resulting project will not represent the true need.

Users will often begin describing their objectives in qualitative language. The project manager must work with the user to provide quantifiable definitions to those qualitative terms. These quantifiable criteria include: schedule, cost, and quality measures. In the case of project objectives, these elements are used as measurements to determine project satisfaction and successful completion. Subjective evaluations can be removed with actual numbers.

Example 1:
A web user may ask for a fast system. The quantitative example would be all screens must load in under 3 seconds. Describing the time limit in which the screen must load is specific and tangible. For that reason, you'Il know that the requirement has been completed when the objective has been met.

Example 2:
Let's say your company is going to produce a run of holiday eggnog. Your objective statement might be stated this way: Christmas Cheer, Inc. will produce two million cases of holiday eggnog to be shipped to our
distributors by October 30 at a total cost of $1.5 million or less. The objective criteria in this statement are clearly stated and fulfillment of the project objective can be easily measured. Stakeholders will know the objective is met when the two million cases are produced and shipped by the due date within the budget stated.

When articulating the project objectives you should follow the SMART rule:

  • Specific (get into the details). Objectives should be specific and written in clear, concise, and understandable terms.
  • Measurable (use qualitative language so you know when you are finished). A requirement must have a measurable outcome; otherwise you will not be able to determine when you have delivered it.
  • Acceptable (to stakeholders).
  • Realistic (in terms of achievement). Objectives that are impossible to accomplish are not realistic and not attainable. Objectives must be centered in reality.
  • Time bound (deadlines not durations). Objectives should have a time frame with an end date assigned to them.
If you follow these principles, you'll be certain that your objectives meet the quantifiable criteria needed to measure success.

Source: Merrie Barron and Andrew Barron,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.