Project Plans: Three Sizes


Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP

You need to build project plans by using a lot of science and a touch of art. The art comes in deciding which processes, tools and techniques are best for each new project.  The lazy way is to use the same Project Plan steps on every project. But that approach buries small projects with paperwork, meetings and processes that don’t contribute to the odds of its success. On the flip side, it often leaves large strategic initiatives with insufficient project management and overly simplified techniques. You have to use the right techniques and processes for your Project Plans to improve the project’s end results. In this article, I suggest the right steps for building a plan for projects of various sizes.

Your first step in Project Plans is always to define the project scope. That is the basis for the scope statement, the work breakdown structure (WBS) and the estimates of cost and duration. The amount of project planning you do relates to the size, risk and complexity of the project.  But all project management plans should include a scope statement and a work breakdown structure (WBS). On smaller projects, your project management plan can skip the risk and quality management pieces.

Let’s look at specific Project Plans recommendations for projects of different sizes.

Project Plans for Different Sized Projects

  • Tier #1 Small Projects: Done within one department for the manager who is your boss. The team members also report to that boss.
  • Tier #2 Medium Projects: Affect multiple departments and each department contributes deliverables. The final product benefits customers/clients or an internal user.
  • Tier #3 Strategic Projects: Organization-wide projects or initiatives. They affect a larger number of stakeholders and have long-term effects.

Project Plan Step #1: Identify Stakeholders

Tier #1 Small Projects: This step is not necessary on an in-department project where the manager is the primary stakeholder.
Tier #2 Medium Projects: Process to identify stakeholders across the organization. Prevents surprises when you must add late arriving requirements. These cost more at that point than if they were identified during initial planning.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: Process of surveys and interviews to identify internal and external stakeholders affected by the project. You must consider their requirements. Project Management Plan

Project Plan Step #2: Project Business Case

Tier #1 Small Projects: This step is not necessary because you don’t need formal project approval.
Tier #2 Medium Projects: Organizations with sound project management processes require a business case. This justifies a project’s priority versus other projects in the portfolio.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: The amount of financial and human resources requires detailed justification. That is based on the strategic impact and benefit of the project.

Project Plan Step # 3: Project Charter

Tier #1 Small Projects: A 1-page broad brush plan is enough. Small Project Planning Techniques
Tier #2 Medium Projects: The project charter addresses the project business justification,  acceptance criteria, and rough estimates of the human and financial resource requirements.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: The size of the investment in these projects usually requires extensive documentation. It includes the risks, benefits and impacts on other strategic initiatives and the entire organization.

Project Plan Step #4: Gather Project RequirementsProject Management Plans

Tier #1 Small Projects: Usually limited to a meeting with the boss where you define the project’s Measure of Success (MOS).
Tier #2 Medium Projects: You survey stakeholders for their requirements. After considering each requirement, it is either included or explicitly excluded from the project.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: An extensive process of identifying and analyzing requirements gathered from the stakeholders. You also assess stakeholders in terms of their interests in the project and their ability to influence the project’s success (positively or negatively).

Project Plan Step #5: Project Scope Statement

Tier #1 Small Projects: A short statement of the project’s result and acceptance criteria.
Tier #2 Medium Projects: A more detailed scope statement that covers the major deliverables, assumptions and limits.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: A full scope baseline developed. It includes explorations of different ways of delivering the project scope. Project Plan Approval

Project Plan Step #6: Stakeholder Management & Communications Plan

Tier #1 Small Projects: Not necessary with the limited stakeholder group.
Tier #2 Medium Projects: Communications plan developed. It takes includes the information requirements of the stakeholders.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: Plan developed for meeting stakeholders’ communication needs. It requires actively managing and resolving all the stakeholders’ issues. Fast Track Project Planning

Project Plan Step #7: Project Change Control

Tier #1 Small Projects: Project sponsor approval is the only requirement.
Tier #2 Medium Projects: Use existing organizational process for change control (if it exists). Alternatively, develop a project-specific change control  procedure. It must include analysis and documentation standards and identification of specific individuals authorized to approve changes of a specific size.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: Change control and configuration management are often combined for handling changes to project baselines as well as changes to the specifications of the deliverables.

Project Plan Step #8: Project Schedule

Tier #1 Small Projects: Schedule based on work estimates made by the team members.
Tier #2 Medium Projects: Schedule based on work estimates plus work packages for each assignment.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: Work-based schedules, work packages with estimates and a work breakdown structure (WBS) dictionary.

Project Plan Step #9: Project Procurement

Tier #1 Small Projects: Usually handled by the purchasing department.
Tier #2 Medium Projects: Request for Quotations (RFQs) on smaller purchases. Competitive bids on larger purchases.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: Full competitive bid process. Large Project Planning Techniques

Project Plan Step #10: Project Quality Management

Tier #1 Small Projects: Not necessary.
Tier #2 Medium Projects: Quality control effort to measure deliverables against their quality metrics and specifications.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: Quality control plus active quality assurance. The latter is a continuous improvement effort for the processes that produce deliverables.

Project Plan Step #11: Human Resource Management

Tier #1 Small Projects: Not necessary.
Tier #2 Medium Projects: Simple resource acquisition plan with limited training provided to team members.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: Human resource staffing, acquisition and team development plans are fully detailed. They are tied to gaps in a “requirements versus capabilities” analysis.

Project Plan Step #12: Risk Analysis

Tier #1 Small Projects: 1-2 hours total.
Tier #2 Medium Projects: Qualitative risk analysis with a risk response plan for 5 – 10 key risks.
Tier #3 Strategic Projects: Qualitative and quantitative risk analysis with a risk response plan for several dozen risks.

Consider our online project management courses to learn how to use all the tools and techniques for project management plans. You’ll work privately with an expert project manager as your instructor and coach. You begin when you wish and control the pace and schedule. You can have as many phone calls and live video conferences with your instructor as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on