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Project Plan Blunder Too Much Detail

Dick Billows, PMP

Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com
Dick’s Books on Amazon

By far the most frequent Project Plan Blunder is Too Much Detail. Why does this happen?  Don’t the executives and stakeholders understand that the Project Plan is a strategic level plan? They should focus on the project goals, not on the details. They may understand that, but getting into the details is too powerful for many people to avoid.  Main Project Planning Page

There are other reasons why stakeholders dive into the details when planning a project. Some decision-makers are uncomfortable committing to exactly what they want the project to produce. It’s easier and safer to talk about the details of the wood paneling in the conference rooms or the data fields in a new accounts payable system.  If they specify precisely what they want the project to deliver, aligned with the strategic goals of the organization, they’re committed to that result. And those commitments are hard to back out of.

Project Plan Blunder – Too Much Detail by the Sponsor

The project manager has to prevent the sponsor from committing this Project Plan Blunder by falling into the details. That’s a difficult challenge because the sponsor usually outranks the project manager by multiple levels of rank and authority. Most of the stakeholders do as well. So the best way for the project manager to gain control is to work with the statement of work (SOW) that the sponsor generated.  That document defines the project scope and deliverables as well as the acceptance criteria the sponsor will use to measure the project’s success. It defines the project at a very high level. It encourages project planning that starts from the top-level and moves down through the supporting deliverables. We call this process top-down planning.

Project Plan Blunder – Too Much Detail: the Project Manager Role

The project manager needs to control the planning process. It must start with everyone understanding the scope of the project. The scope is the largest deliverable in the project plan.  Then the project manager must lead the group through breaking down the scope into the major deliverables that support it. They are the achievements that are necessary to get from where the organization/department/system etc. is now to where it must be to deliver what the sponsor wants.

When explaining how planning with high-level deliverables works, I like to use an analogy of crossing a river by jumping from rock to rock. The deliverable that the sponsor wants (the scope) is reaching the river’s far shore. The project manager starts from this end result and works backwards. He/she asks the planning group, “What is the last rock we must stand on before we can jump to the far shore?” “That is the last major deliverable we need to produce in the project.”

Then the project manager backs up and says, “What is the rock we must stand on before we can jump to the last one?” “What rock must we reach before the last one?” The process goes on, moving backwards and identifying each “rock” (high-level deliverable) that must be reached until they are at the starting point. That starting point is where they are now in the project. And each rock is a step  toward the goal.

This is how the project manager keeps the planning group’s thinking at a high level. Focusing on the major rocks (deliverables), prevents them from sinking into the river (details). Those details are more comfortable for many people to talk about. They also let the sponsor avoid defining what the project must deliver and committing to it.

Watch a video of this typical project planning blunder of too much detail.

    To learn more about how to plan projects the right way, consider our online project management courses. You work privately with an expert project manager who is your coach and instructor. You may begin when you wish and work on the course at your pace and as your schedule allows. You and your instructor have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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