What happens when you face a problem so intricate that it seems almost impossible to solve? Do you have enough patience to allow yourself to stop panicking and start making the necessary arrangements?
Or, do you simply need to get it over with, which makes you forget all about thinking and urges you to start acting straight away?
This reoccurring dilemma stands at the very core of project management, thus determining the possibility, duration and success of its final outcomes.
Due to its stark complexity, the project management process not only requires flawless organization, scheduling and time tracking, but planning as well. Out of urgency, impatience or simply negligence, most teams choose to cut corners and skip directly to execution.
No matter the reason, the avoidance of project planning almost always is a recipe for disaster – without a clear sense of objectives and requirements and a firm structure to support the development and get stakeholders on the same page, every other project is bound to fail.
Here are five reasons why:
No. 1 – Clarity of Fundamentals and Objectives: The Initiation Phase
There’s no “how” statement without a clear “what” definition first. For a project lifecycle to commence, a team must determine exactly what the project is, how it fits into the organization’s plans and goals structure, and which requirements have to be met before and during the development phase.
According to the comprehensive guide through project management phases, written by “Project Management’s” Rebekah Peterman, the successful initiation step should accomplish three significant milestones – the concept, the proposal and the chart.
By considering feasibility, resources and profit, the concept milestone results in an Objective Statement, which unambiguously establishes, as its name suggests, the project’s objective, but also defines its purpose and deliverables.
Cutting corners by neglecting the work breakdown structure is perhaps the most damaging thing a project manager can do.
From then on, the proposal should shape the Objective Statement into a stakeholder agreement, thus clarifying the relationship between the parties involved. Meanwhile, the chart milestone should deliver its detailed elaboration and institute the final project initiation document as a necessary foundation for the Scope Statement.
Most commonly, it’s exactly the mismatch between project objectives and its requirements, duration and resources that sets the execution to the bad start. By following these steps, however, you’re evaluating the complexity of the project and determining the methodology required for successful delivery beforehand. That consequently makes the project management process significantly less uncertain, difficult and complicated.
No. 2 – Firm Scheduling Structure: The Project Breakdown Phase
Only when the foundation has been established, the structuring may finally commence. The next project planning phase should therefore return to the Scope Statement and break it down into more manageable units in order to specify and coordinate individual tasks.
By doing so, the work breakdown structure reassesses all the necessary aspects of the project, including costs, scope, duration, quality and resources, which then are subjected to further fragmentation. Every single detail of the following process is revealed and carefully examined, while the process as a whole is distributed into phases, milestones and individual tasks.
Consequently, this allows both managers and teams to establish a chain of dependencies and determine effective sequencing. Each phase of the project development is carefully reviewed and atomized into sub-deliverables that together form a structure firm enough for timely scheduling.
Cutting corners by neglecting the work breakdown structure is perhaps the most damaging thing a project manager can do. Once again, we’ll simplify this issue by putting it in architectural terms – without a foundation to support it, no infrastructure of any kind can be built.
No. 3 – Efficiency & Workflow: Team Management
Another recurring problem of the project management process is the lack of clear roles, responsibilities and coordination. It’s usually the scheduling that makes it so endlessly convoluted, which is why a firm organizational structure makes all the difference.
After the work breakdown structure, the next un-skippable phase is team management, which brings us straight to three important courses of action – scheduling, charting and communication.
Having already established the basic structure and timeframe of a project, at this point, managers should start aligning individual tasks into an all-enveloping schedule that provides team members with a clear visualization of their activities, as well as the sequence and deadlines in which they must be resolved.
Both Gantt and milestone charts are used as handy tools for transparency and progress tracking, with the addition of online project management tools and project tracking software systems that provide convenient platforms for streamlined coordination, sharing and communication.
Naturally, the number of project planning phases may vary, as it always depends on the specific type of project, as well as on the project team itself. Nevertheless, team coordination is what project managers earn their wages for, and no project can be successfully completed without it.
Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.
No. 4 – Unhampered Delivery Process: Risk Assessment
Even when it all runs smoothly, don’t be so naïve as to assume there won’t be any hiccups down the line. Unforeseen changes, halts and miscommunications are common in multitasking processes such as project management, and some kind of a risk response plan always is paramount.
But in order to even outline it, you’ll need to determine risk factors first.
The rough risk assessment should be created as a part of the initial project plan and additionally extended during the work breakdown phase. As such, it should include liabilities identified at the very beginning of the process, their thorough analysis and a description of how these will be managed at due time, but also consider and predict future risks.
No. 5 – Guaranteed Completion: Budget Projections
As arguably the most important step of project planning, accurate budgeting almost is entirely impossible to establish during the execution phase. Without a fundamental project cost estimation, your team simply will not know how much it can spend on individual deliverables.
Worst case scenario, your project will run out of resources and financial means before it’s entirely completed.
When delivered beforehand, a budget plan allows you to carefully consider all equipment needs, particular supplies and materials, as well as additional costs for risk resolution and human capital. Only at this point can you estimate the cost of each individual task and schedule these expenses in a way that promises full spending transparency and stays within the budget.
Simply put, “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”
For project management, this means a strong foundation, coordination of both workflow and resources and, ultimately, an unfailing structure that will make your continual progress toward the objective way more certain end effective.
David Miller is a researcher who has several years of experience in the field of teaching, project management and training. He is associated with prestigious brands and many leading organizations for his expertise in project management. Currently, he is pursuing research in effectiveness of project management software and also is a contributing author with ProProfs.