Project Planning Template

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

You can use this project planning template to define the project scope and identify major deliverables. You can also use it to manage the project risks and constraints as well as the resources it requires. On every new project, you need to decide what Project Planning Template elements to include, what to exclude and how to develop them on each particular project.   For 90% of the projects done in most organizations, your project plan should be 1–2 pages long. Managers are more likely to read a short, concise document.

Project Planning Template 1st Step – Define the Scope

You need to define the project scope as a deliverable with measurable acceptance criteria. To do that, you talk with the project sponsor, ask questions and then develop the scope statement. Next you define 4 to 7 high-level deliverables and their associated acceptance criteria. Those criteria tell everyone exactly what the project must deliver. They also help you control expectations by making it clear what the project will and won’t deliver. Fast Track Project Plans

When you ask the sponsor what he or she wants, they might say something like, “We really need to have this project cut costs for us.” You immediately try to get to quantified acceptance criteria by asking, “How much cost reduction would make this project a success?”

When the sponsor says, “$15,000 of cost reductions,” you have the scope definition with an acceptance criterion that tells you how much cost reduction the project has to deliver. This is the key to the project plan template. You can then drive the rest of the project from that number. (On larger projects consider the scope reach) How to evaluate a project plan

This is a simple example of top-down planning but most project managers don’t ask the right questions. They are satisfied with a To Do list of the first dozen things the project sponsor wants them to do. That is a terrible basis for your a project plan and it’s disastrous if you start work with no more information than a To Do list. To successfully plan a project and have high odds of project success, you need to know what the boss wants in measurable terms.  How to Plan Top Down

Project Planning Template 2nd Step – Define Major Deliverables

You then break down the measurable project scope into its major supporting deliverables.  There are several different ways to do this. The simplest is where the high-level deliverables literally add up to the scope and its acceptance criteria. Therefore, in a conversation with the sponsor, you might talk about how to break down the scope. The sponsor might say, “I want each department to develop their share of the overall savings.” During further discussion, you might identify the savings amount for each of those departments. You use them as your high-level deliverables with the acceptance criteria being the dollar amount of savings each department has to produce.

You see the major deliverables below and how they add up to the project scope of $15,000 of cost reductions.

  • Reduce order intake monthly operating expense by $4,000
  • Reduce production monthly operating expense by $2,000
  • Reduce order production monthly operating expense by $3,000
  • Reduce inventory monthly operating expense by $2,000
  • Reduce shipping monthly operating expense by $4,000  project plan template

Project Planning Template 3rd Step – Identify Major Risks

Depending on the size of the project, you may invest a great deal of time identifying the risks that threaten the project. You can do this in brainstorming sessions with the project team and stakeholders. But on a small project, you might develop your list of risks over coffee. In either case, you’ll include them in the project plan along with ideas for mitigating those risks. See example risks you would enter into the project plan template below:

  •  Layoffs may result in labor actions which disrupt operations
  •  Production may drop as much as 25% for 3 – 5 months.

Project Planning Template 4th Step – Identify Project Team Resource Requirements

Using the major deliverables, you now identify the number of hours of work and the skill sets required to create each deliverable. You would total those estimates up to the level of the entire project and make very rough estimates of the people and skills required. Below are examples that you would enter into the project plan template.

  •  Bill – full time 3 months
  •  Mary – half time 2 months
  •  Raj – full time 3 months
  •  Sharmaine – quarter time 4 months
  •  Henry – full time one week

Project Planning Template 5th Step – Break Down to Individual Tasks

The last of the five steps in creating the project plan is to decompose those major deliverables developed in the second step. You break them down into smaller deliverables until you reach the level of a deliverable that’s an appropriate assignment for one team member. That’s the level of your work breakdown structure (WBS). It completes the project planning process in the project plan template. Then you can move on to the scheduling process.

Project Planning Template in Practice

In many organizations, project planning is a combination of vague generalities about the objective of the project. But the one thing that is often rock solid is the completion date. That date is frequently the only measurable project result. Because project managers don’t know what the executives want them to deliver, they have no ability to exercise control over the scope of the project. As a result, the objectives change weekly. Project team member assignments are vague and ever-changing. That is why estimating is inaccurate and why 70% of projects fail when they are planned that way. Let’s look at the best practices for project planning and then look at a project plan template for projects of different size.

Project Planning Template “Best Practices” In the Real World

Very often, project managers face a difficult organizational environment. The organization lacks the processes to do project management right and the executives don’t know how to play their role correctly. In these situations, the PMs need best practices that allow them to do things effectively, even though the executives and the organization’s processes are obstacles and not assets. The project plan template will help. The purpose of this intense project planning process is to make all the decisions before starting work. The approach of making the project plan and then executing it is much more efficient than a “plan as you go” process. However, it is very difficult in many organizations.

For this approach to work, the organization, its executives and project managers must do things correctly. That is, the executives must specify exactly what they want the project to deliver. They cannot make the project assignment using vague generalities where the only thing that is specific is the due date. The organization must have processes for evaluating and prioritizing projects and giving them access to resources based on those priorities. Last, the project managers must know how to do top-down project planning. That means they are able to take the clear acceptance criteria, specified by the executive/sponsor, and decompose it down to the level of specific assignments for each team member. Most organizations fail to meet one or more of these criteria and that is why we rarely see an ideal project planning process. There are two major ways to go Large Project Planning Techniques or for less paperwork and meetings,  Small Project Planning Techniques.

Project Planning Templates by Scale of the Project

We utilize three tiers of project plans techniques in the project plan template. They depend on the scale and complexity of the project:

  • Tier 1: Small Project Plans – Done within a department with the boss as the sponsor.
  • Tier 2: Medium Project Plans – Affect multiple departments or done for customers/clients.
  • Tier 3: Strategic Project Plans – Organization-wide projects with long-term effects.shutterstock_96175697

Identify Stakeholders

  • Tier 1 – Identifying stakeholders is not necessary on an in-department project where the manager is the primary stakeholder.
  • Tier 2 – We must identify stakeholders across the organization and find out their requirements early. Requirements cost more late in the project than they would have at the beginning.
  • Tier three – Requires an elaborate process of surveys and interviews to identify internal and external stakeholders so we can consider their requirements.

Project Business Case

  • Tier 1 – We often skip this since we don’t need formal project approval on an in-department project.
  • Tier 2 – Organizations with sound project management processes require a business case to justify a project’s priority versus other projects in the portfolio.
  • Tier 3 – The scale of financial and human resources usually requires detailed justification and demonstration of the strategic impact of the project.

Project Charter

  • Tier 1 – A 1-page broadbrush plan with achievement network, risks, resources and PM authority.
  • Tier 2 – This project charter addresses the project acceptance criteria, business justification and rough estimates of the resource requirements (human and financial).
  • Tier 3 – The size of the investment in these strategic projects usually requires extensive documentation of risks, benefits and impacts on other strategic initiatives and the entire organization.

Gather Project Requirements

  • Tier 1 – Usually limited to a meeting with the boss where the PM defines the project’s scope and decomposes it into the major deliverables.
  • Tier 2 – We survey project stakeholders for their requirements. Each requirement is reviewed and either included or explicitly excluded from the project.
  • Tier 3 – We follow an extensive process of identifying and analyzing requirements gathered from the stakeholders. It includes assessing stakeholders in terms of their interests and their ability to influence the project’s success.

Project Scope Statement

  • Tier 1 – A short statement of the project’s desired result and the acceptance criteria.
  • Tier 2 – A more detailed scope statement that also covers assumptions, constraints and the major deliverables.
  • Tier 3 – A full scope baseline development with exploration of alternative means of delivering the project scope.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

  • Tier 1 – Decompose high-level deliverables into the deliverable for each team member’s assignment.
  • Tier 2 – Decompose high-level deliverables and use WBS sections from previous projects that are similar.
  • Tier 3 – Usually developed in sections with the people responsible for that major deliverable doing the decomposition.

Project Planning Template Summary

This project plan template uses a five-step project planning process. You can modify the planning to fit projects of different sizes depending on their complexity. You can learn to use this template in our online Project Management Basics courses. You’ll work privately with Dick Billows, PMP, an expert project manager. You control the schedule and pace and have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish.

During an introductory video conference, you and Dick Billows, will design your program and what you want to learn. You will choose you course and select your case study from business, marketing, construction, healthcare, or consulting options.  Your case study-based assignments that include project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your project specialty.

Project Planning from the Top Down

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

In many organizations, managers (and especially senior managers) view project planning as a waste of time. To them, the project plan is needless. They want to “start work immediately without wasting time in useless planning meetings and creating mounds of paperwork.”

Project Planning: A Waste of Time?

Why do many managers and executives have the attitude that project planning is a waste of time?  Why are they unwilling to invest their time in project planning? Here are a few of the reasons:

  • They have never seen a project properly planned so they have no understanding of how smoothly things can run.
  • Project planning requires that the sponsor and stakeholders know what business result they want the project to produce. Often executives start projects to fix a problem they have just heard about. They have no idea how to solve it or define what they consider to be a fix.
  • The sponsor and stakeholders are unwilling to make commitments about the acceptance criteria for the project’s deliverables. They are unwilling to take the risk of specifying precisely what they want. Project Plan Template Main Page

Project Planning: A Waste of Time Reason #1

The most common reason why they have never seen a project properly planned is that the organization doesn’t exercise control or require justification for starting a new project. There is no reason to plan if people can start a project any time they want. The organization also doesn’t require a return on investment (payback) from a project.

On the other hand, executives must plan their projects if the organization requires the following:

  • a cost-benefit analysis for new projects
  • a clear specification for the business results the project will produce
  • its cost and duration.

Project Planning: A Waste of Time Reason #2

A second and very common reason for these “waste of time” attitudes is that many executives have never sponsored, run or even worked on a properly planned project. As a result, they don’t know the benefits a properly planned project can deliver. Their projects usually miss their planned completion dates and budgets. They rarely deliver the project scope or any business value. Project teams don’t know what they are accountable for delivering, what performance level the project manager expects or how the project manager will evaluate their work. As a result, the project manager must tell the team members what to do each week.

The executives also have no practical experience with change control. They don’t realize that a well-conceived project plan gives them and the project manager tools to manage changes to the scope, budget, quality and resources.

Project Planning: What Is Top-Down Planning?

Despite the reasons why the executives have the attitude that project planning is a waste of time and resources, you (as the project manager) must persuade them of the benefits of planning a project from the top down. When executives want to start a project, you must describe the right steps and explain how that process benefits the organization. Finally, you must discuss the top-down project planning techniques, documents and meetings. Executives also need to understand that you cannot use the same project planning techniques for every project. You should not bury a small project in needless paperwork. But a large strategic project will suffer if there isn’t sufficient planning, control and risk management.

A well-planned project uses the top-down project planning technique. Top-down project planning starts with a project scope that is defined in measurable terms. That means the sponsor identifies the overall scope of the project and the deliverable(s) the project has to produce. Then you and the sponsor identify the acceptance criteria that the executives will use to approve those deliverables. Next you break the criteria down into deliverables for each assignment. This lets you and every project team member know exactly what the executives want in a deliverable before you start work. On a well-run project, you and the team members don’t have to stop work to figure out what to do next. Each team member’s assignment or task is specifically defined so they know what they must deliver before they begin work.

project planning

Project teams that must stop and figure out what to do next are working on a project with a “To Do” list plan. In this situation, the project manager planned the first thing they’re going to do, then the second and then the third. Things get a little vague after that so the team members must stop work and ask the PM what to do next. That process continues until the planned completion date is looming on the horizon. At that point, the PM and team members must stop work and plan what they can quickly finish before the completion date. This is a disaster for the project and the PM’s career.

Project Planning: Top-Down Benefits

When you use top-down project planning, you make as many of the decisions as possible during the planning process which is before you ever start work. When the team does start work, they focus on executing the plan, not re-planning the project. You save several hours of meetings, talks and arguments for every hour you spend planning before the work actually begins.

Top-down project planning also saves you from doing the wrong things on the project. That’s because you have done all the thinking on the deliverables before you start work. And that means you don’t incur the costs of having to produce “missing” deliverables at the last moment. In top-down project planning you start with a clear definition of the project’s scope. Then you can break it down into high-level deliverables. You continue to break these down into sub-deliverables until you get to the level of tasks you assign to the team members.

Project Planning Summary

You are certain to have a failed project if you fall into the trap of starting work immediately without using the top-down project planning technique. The executives who forced you to start work quickly will be exceedingly dissatisfied with the results as well as the money and the time spent to produce them. The only way out of this situation is to explain to the project executives that success is a direct result of a solid planning effort.  Working from the top down, you and the sponsor must define the scope of the work and the acceptance criteria that the project stakeholders will use to judge its success. The key to top-down project planning is having a clear scope definition that you can break down into high-level deliverables and sub-deliverables. Then you have the basis for a work breakdown structure (WBS) that minimizes the amount of work required to successfully deliver the project’s scope.

Consider our online project management courses to learn how to use all the tools and techniques for top-down project management planning. You’ll work privately with Dick Billows, PMP, 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 Dick as you wish. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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Project Plan – Answer Tough Questions

Every project manager must get Project Plan Approval before they begin work. That includes getting the “go-ahead” for the plan, schedule and budget for a new project. Even if you have been working closely with the sponsor and stakeholders, there is still the need to persuasively present the information you have developed. Too many project managers approach these meetings as “data dumps.” They think all they have to do is recite the scope, budget and schedule highlights and the executives will automatically give their approval.

A better approach is to anticipate the questions the decision-makers will ask you about your data. There are two questions that have been asked in every project approval meeting since the dawn of time.

Project Plan Questions: Time and Cost

First, the executives want to know how the project can finish earlier. Second, they want to know how the projects’ cost can be reduced. You, as the project manager, must have answers to these questions in the form of alternative ways of doing the project. If you don’t, the executives will make arbitrary changes to the budget and schedule. Then tproject plan approvalhey’ll tell you to find ways to make it happen.

Project Plan Answers: Trade-offs

You must be prepared to answer these questions with “trade-off options” so your project has a chance of success. The trade-offs will give  the executives information about how the project can finish earlier and deliver the scope for less cost. Specifically, you need to have modeled options for finishing 10% and 20% earlier and delivering the scope for 10% and 20% less than the budget you submitted for their approval. You need to have these alternatives ready to present in the project approval meeting. If you don’t provide the data, the executives are likely to arbitrarily decide that you can finish the project 20% earlier without additional people or budget.

If you aren’t prepared to respond to the inevitable questions about finishing earlier and spending less money, you will leave the project approval meeting with a project that is doomed to fail.

Here is a video about how to answer difficult questions from executives.

How to Answer Executives' Questions

You can learn all of those skills in our project management courses. Take a look at the courses in your industry specialty.

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Launch Meeting For A Project

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

The launch meeting has several purposes. They include the following:

  • Expectations for performance and behavior
  • Links between tasks and the overall objective (scope) of the project
  • How the project success will benefit the team members
  • Generating enthusiasm and commitment to the project.

But too often the launch meeting does none of these things. Here are some of the common causes:

  • The sponsor makes vague threats about the consequences of failure
  • The stakeholders are not supportive of the scope and discuss changes to it
  • Department managers discuss pulling their people off the project for higher priorities. Launch Meeting Main Page

To achieve the benefits and avoid the problems, the project sponsor and project manager need to carefully plan and control the project launch meeting. Very often there are issues or concerns that are affecting the team members’ and stakeholders’ attitudes about the project. The project sponsor and project manager should understand these concerns and have a plan for addressing them. The project launch meeting is not the time to “downplay” or try and minimize the concerns. Instead, the project sponsor and project manager should use the launch meeting to directly address people’s concerns about the impact of the project on their departments and their daily work.
Unfortunately, launch meetings often leave team members wondering how they can avoid being blamed if the project fails. They may be concerned about finger-pointing when things don’t go right.

Watch this video as a project sponsor and project manager conduct the worst launch meeting in the history of project management. I’ll point out some of the mistakes the project manager and sponsor make. Then you can listen to the project team members privately describe their reaction to the meeting. Finally, I will analyze what went wrong and suggest how to do it better.

 

Project Plan for Small Projects: Fast Food Approach

5-5

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

Creating the Project Plan for a small project is difficult for many reasons.  One of them is that the boss wants you to start as soon as possible without “wasting” a lot of time with meetings and paperwork.  Also the boss usually doesn’t give small projects much thought before dumping them in your lap. You clearly see that this is a recipe for failure.

Good project managers know that for every minute you spend on your project plan you save 10 minutes during the execution of the actual project. The reason for that 10 to 1 payback is that a plan allows the team to focus on executing rather than deciding what they’re going to do next.  A project plan also communicates to everyone what you’re going to do and how you’re not going to do it.  So how do you deal with the boss and still get even a basic plan?

Project Plan: Drive-thru Window at “Projects Are Us” Fast Food

You can do your project plan like the order-taker at a fast food drive-thru window. The fast food approach to planning is focused on getting started quickly by finding out what you. Here’s an example of how to apply that approach to a new Supply Room Project the boss emailed you about. You’d go to his office and the conversation would go like this:

Project Manager: “Exactly what do you want me to deliver on the last day of the project?”

Boss: “I want you to clean up the file room!”

Project Manager: “That’s what you want me to do but what is the end result you want me to deliver?  What should I be able to show you at the end of the project?”

Boss: “I am too busy for games.  I want you to show me a clean file room!”

Project Manager: “What is your standard for a clean file room?”

Boss, irked: “Nothing on the floor and everything stacked neatly in part number order”

Project Manager: “I can deliver that.” But then you remember how the fast food folks at the drive-thru window always ask if they can supersize it. So you add, “Do you also want to make it easier to find supplies? Not everyone knows the numbers of the parts.”

Boss, smiling for the first time: “Good thinking. I get a lot of complaints about things being hard to find.  Let’s kill two birds with one stone.”

Project Manager: “Great. Give them to me and I will suggest some additional deliverables before I leave today!”

What did the project manager accomplish here?  First, he/she improved the chance of project success.  They would have been near zero if the project manager had just started work with a scope of “clean up the file room.” Second, the project manager enhanced their credibility by asking some good questions that earned the boss’s praise. The approach used here appeals to a lot of bosses who sponsor projects. Particularly the ones who often complain about the planning meetings and paperwork that are necessary to start a project. In the fast food approach, you’ll forget all that PMBOK® stuff and reach agreement with the boss on the project’s scope. The project manager’s “supersize” question got a great reaction from the boss and they could continue talking about what business value the project has to deliver. The the project manager can get to work.

You can learn these skills for small projects in our project management basics courses.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

 

Project Plan: Surface Expectation Differences Early

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

Stakeholders and project managers often judge the success of a project plan meeting by how well everyone gets along. But they are making a mistake. One of the key outcomes from the planning process should be to surface any conflicts about the scope, deliverables and resources.  It is better to have those disagreements aired and resolved during the planning phase than have them erupt half way through the project. Project Plan Main Page

Project Plan Step One: Surface Expectation Differences

First, as the project manager, you do not take sides in the conflict.  Your best position is that you don’t care which side wins. You just want the conflict resolved before work begins on the project. Basically, you are on the sidelines for the whole project plan meeting. But you periodically sprinkle gasoline on any smoldering embers of conflict until they are all put out.

Why should you go to this trouble?  Why not smooth-over any conflicts about expectations and requirements now? That will get the project plan approved and let you start work.  That’s what the boss wants. The answer is that the conflicts you smooth-over in the project planning meeting always rear their ugly heads halfway through the project. Then they slow the work down and may even cause problems with the availability of team resources.  Experienced project managers know that there will be plenty of unexpected conflicts that arise as the project progresses. You don’t need to have known conflicts festering and bursting into flames late in the project. Resolving these expectation differences now, during the planning meeting, is a form of risk avoidance.

Project Plan Step Two: Draft the Project Plan

The second part of this technique is in how you write your draft project plan.  As an example, on a customer service project you would never define a deliverable with wording like, “Improve the quality of answers given to customers who call Customer Service.” That’s a terrible way to define a deliverable. It’s just motherhood and apple pie mush.  It’s not specific enough for anyone to disagree or raise differences of opinion. It allows every stakeholder to define their own expectation for the accuracy level. And their expectations will vary wildly.  You need to surface and resolve these differences, then get agreement on their expectations of the deliverable.

Here is another problem with the “Improve quality of the answers given to customers who call Customer Service” statement. It doesn’t give you or the team any of idea what the accuracy level goal is on the answers given to customers. Here is a better way to define the deliverable; “Improve the accuracy of answers given to customers from 61% to 71%.  Some stakeholders may want 90% accuracy and others will want less.  But now the discussion can focus on the differences in cost and time (duration) between various specific accuracy levels.project plan

Once again, your role is not to take sides or voice your own opinion.  Instead, your job is to quantify the tradeoffs in terms of cost and time between the various accuracy levels. You use project management software to model these options. For example, you would say, “Going to 91% accuracy would increase costs  by $18,000 and increase the project duration by 8 weeks.  Is that what you want?” The one issue you are very firm on is that no improvement in accuracy is free. The tradeoff always has a cost and duration impact. Your stance on this is very important.  If you let your stakeholders believe that they can change the project scope for free, you will face a constant flow of change requests throughout the project. And, stakeholders will be angry if you tell them there is a cost.

You learn all of those skills in our project management basics courses. Take a look at the basics course in your specialty.

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

 

Project Plan in 5 Steps

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

You can produce an excellent project plan that can fit on one side of one piece of paper and take less than an hour to create. It will be suitable for 90% of the projects that most organization do. The key to making this work is for you and the project sponsor to play your roles properly. The project sponsor (that’s the boss, executive or customer who wants the project done) has to define the business result that the project must produce. That business result is the scope of the project and it has to be a metric. The scope must have acceptance criteria that define success in objective, measurable terms. If the sponsor prefers to “plan as we go,” and “stay flexible so we can adjust,” they are not fulfilling their role on the project. It would be foolish to start work on the project without knowing where you need to be at the end.   Main Project Planning Page

Your role as the project manager is to get the sponsor to tell you the acceptance criteria-type of scope definition. Then you and the sponsor break the scope down into the major deliverables the project has to produce. These deliverables the stepping stones for how the project will move from where it is now to the end result the sponsor defined. You are not doing your job if you start work before you have a clearly defined scope with major deliverables. Let’s look at the steps you need to follow.

Project Plan Step 1 – Defining the Scope

Defining the scope involves gaining agreement on the metric that the sponsor (the boss, executive or customer) will use to measure the end result of the project. Project planSponsor who have a successful track record for initiating projects know that you (the project manager) need a clear definition of the project scope that includes a success metric. If the sponsor doesn’t know how to play his or her role, anonymously send them a link to this article. You don’t want your project to fail because the sponsor has a failing record on their projects.

Once you have that success metric, you can create the project plans and schedules rather easily. The difficulty comes when people try to skip this first step or when the sponsor doesn’t know how (or is unwilling) to define the project’s success. Without that scope metric, the rest of the project pieces are useless. Here’s an example of a small project to illustrate how this is done.

A project manager gets a phone call from a project sponsor who says, “I’d like you to run a project for me to deal with our problems getting office supplies out of the warehouse.”

The project manager goes to the sponsor’s office and during the discussion, asks open-ended questions aimed at defining the scope. It’s very possible that the sponsor has started the conversation about the project without having a clear picture of the end result they want. The project manager has to ask questions which help the sponsor define the project’s end result. The project manager asks how performance of the warehouse will be different after the project is complete. The sponsor says, “We can’t run out of supplies so often; we have to reduce the number of these stock-outs. And it shouldn’t take people as long to find what they need.” The project manager should follow up with questions like, “How often do we run out of supplies now?  What’s an acceptable number of stock-outs each month?” The project manager might also ask, “How long does it currently take to find supply items and how long should it take?”

That’s a good example of the project manager asking polite and respectful questions in an attempt to get the sponsor to be specific about the project’s scope. Let’s say the sponsor says people should be able to find the supply they want in less than 120 seconds 90% of the time. That is a crystal clear metric or acceptance criteria for the project scope.

Project Plan Step 2 – Breaking Down the Scope into Major Deliverables

With the scope defined as a metric which the warehouse project must produce, the project manager will work with the sponsor to break that scope into 4 to 7 major, high-level deliverables. They will lead from where the warehouse performance is now to the end result the sponsor wants. The PM may talk to people in the warehouse to find out why it to take so long for people to find the supplies they need. The PM may also ask the warehouse staff for their ideas about how to reduce the time needed to get a supply. The project manager may come back to the sponsor with some suggestions based on this fact-finding process. They may suggest the following high-level deliverables:
1. Increase the lighting in the warehouse to an average of 65 lumens
2. Track the location of all supply items with 95% accuracy on a commercial PC inventory system. The system cost should not exceed $500.
3. Discard any supply items in the inventory that have not been used in the last four years.
4. Redesign the inventory layout so the most frequently utilized supplies can be retrieved in less than 30 seconds.
5. Distribute new procedures for using the supply warehouse to all employees.

Each of those high-level deliverables has an acceptance criteria that can be objectively measured. The project manager reviews the deliverables with the project sponsor. The sponsor may change or adjust any of the deliverable’s metrics to fit his/her assessment of the situation. When the sponsor signs off on the scope and the high-level deliverables that will lead to it, the project manager has a strong start on the project plan and can move on to the planning details. The key point here is that the sponsor and project manager worked top-down; starting from the end result down to the contributing deliverables that will help them get there.

Project Plan Step 3 – Breaking Down the Major Deliverables

The next step is for the project manager to continue to break down those major deliverables into smaller deliverables. The lowest level of deliverables should be suitable for assigning to an individual. These assignments should also be measured deliverables so the team members know what is expected of them (what they must produce) before they start work. These deliverables will become tasks in the work breakdown structure (WBS).  They are also the basis for estimating the amount of work, cost and duration of each deliverable.

Project Plan Step 4 – Estimating

Once this breakdown into smaller deliverables is complete, the project manager has an assignment for each team member. The next step is to meet with the people accountable for producing each of those deliverables. Each of the tasks (the lowest level deliverables in the work breakdown structure) will have an estimate of the amount of work and  the duration. The project manager engages the team members in this estimation process. Involving each team member in this part of the process produces more accurate estimates. The team members also become more committed to producing their deliverables in the estimated amount of time. The PM will enter this data into project management software to create the schedule and budget. Using project management software saves project managers a great deal of time. Software options include Microsoft Project and several low cost or free scheduling applications that are available on the web. Any of those are suitable, especially for a small project.The project manager  will track each task’s actual work and duration against the plan.

Project Plan Step 5 – Final Approval By the Sponsor

The last step in developing the project plan is to secure the sponsor’s final approval on the project scope, major deliverables, budget and the planned duration of the work. With that approval, the project plan is finished and the project manager can begin work.

At the beginning of your course, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management

Project Plan Blunder #2 – Turf Wars

A project sponsor is meeting with the department managers who are her subordinates. She’s called them together to tell them their company is receiving terrible publicity. Their horrid customer service has made the front page of the local paper. She needs them to create a project plan to improve their customer service.

The sponsor explains that they need an integrated effort. Each of the four departments needs to cooperate with the others to bring about a significant improvement in the company’s customer service. When the project manager suggests that people in the various departments will work on tasks he assigns them, all hell breaks loose. The turf wars are intense. None of the managers accept the idea that people can work effectively on a cross-functional team. The project sponsor makes more speeches about the need for cooperation. The project manager tries to explain that isolated efforts in each department will not bring about the strategic improvement that the company needs.

Project Plans and Turf Wars

Project plan turf wars happen in many organizations.  When political battles exist between departments, the warring sides often suggest separate projects in each of the departments. They think that eliminates the need for cross-functional cooperation. But that never works. It also doesn’t work if there is a separate project manager in each department with the overall project manager coordinating all their efforts.  The idea of separate projects and project managers sounds good to people caught in inter-departmental conflicts. But successful project managers know that the way to succeed in cross-functional projects is not to subdivide them. That’s the easy step to take. It allows them to avoid solving the basic conflicts that exist.

Let’s look at the video and see how the project manager and sponsor do with their project plan. What would you do to end these turf wars and give the project some chance of succeeding?

Project Planning Blunders: Stakeholder Turf Wars

Top Down Project Plan

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

Creating the project plan is the first step in every project. The best practice is a Top Down Project Plan. To be successful as a project manager, you always need a project plan but length is not important. An excellent project plan of one page works well. The important thing about the project plan is the thinking that goes into it.   Project Planning Main Page

Top Down Project Plan: A Best Practice 

The top down planning technique means we begin the planning process by knowing the result the customer or boss wants from the project. Part defining the result is spelling out the specific measurable criteria we (and the sponsor) will use to decide if the project succeeded. It can be something simple like, “Employees can get the supplies they need from the supply room in less than two minutes.” What’s important about that kind of definition is that it tells people what they’re going to get from the project.  As importantly, it tells them what they are not going to get. If there are managers who think employees should get their supplies in one minute, we need to clarify their expectations before we start work.

The project result is at the top of the project planning pyramid. We start there and then break it down into smaller pieces until we get to the level of team member assignments that are deliverables. We now have a pyramid with the overall project result at the top and smaller deliverables below. That hierarchy is our work breakdown structure (WBS). It’s the spine of the project. We add flesh to it by assigning people to the deliverables. Then we work with them to estimate the time and effort to produce the deliverables. One important piece is that we define every deliverable with measured acceptance criteria.  That way the boss knows what the project will deliver. And everybody working on the project knows precisely what he or she has to do. Everyone knows this before we start work.

The top down project plan needs to communicate several important things to the team and everyone who’s affected by the project. As we just discussed, we need to define what the project is going to deliver to the organization. Part of that definition is to spell out the specific measurable criteria we (and the sponsor) will use to decide if the project is a success. The measure of success can be something simple like, “Employees can get the supplies they need from the supply room in less than two minutes.” What’s important about that kind of definition is that it tells people what they’re going to get from the project.  As importantly, it tells them what they are not going to get. If there are managers who think employees should get their supplies in one minute, we need to clarify their expectations before we start work.

Second, the top down project plan also needs to communicate what resources we need to produce the planned result. How much time and money do we need? We also need to explain what authority we need to manage the project. We might ask for the authority to assign work directly to the project team members, even if they work in another department. Other items we might address are the risks the project faces and the help we need from management to defend the project from those risks.

Remember, this top down project plan can be short; one page. We project managers get into trouble when we write so much detail that no one reads it. When that happens, we can’t manage our stakeholders’ expectations for what they’re going to get and what they must invest to get it. Small Project Plan Techniques

Project Plan: The Wrong Way

The wrong way to do a project plan is to start by identifying the first task we’re going to do, then the second, then the third and so on. This “to do” list approach is easy and doesn’t need much thinking. But it has some downfalls. When we use this approach, we tend to include a lot of good ideas. But we don’t limit our plan to what we absolutely must do to deliver the result the boss wants. Since we don’t know exactly what the boss wants, we can’t decide how to deliver it. That results in doing many things that aren’t necessary. We also waste a lot of time and resources adding things to the project later on. These are vital things that we discovered too late. The “to do” list approach to project planning is faster but we wind up with projects that take longer and cost more than they should.

Top Down Project Plan: How To Do It

You may have managed projects for years using “seat of your pants” techniques. And you may have had some success.  Long-term success, however, requires you to use project planning best practices. Those are the skills needed to consistently deliver the scope on time and within budget. For small projects at an entry-level, a five-step method is enough. Here are the steps:top down project plan

  1. Planning – focused on a clear scope and a deliverable-oriented project plan and work breakdown structure (WBS). You also plan how you’re are going to do the next four steps.
  2. Scheduling and assigning work – create a schedule with project software so you can stay on top of your project’s progress. Assign work to your team members and give them a crystal-clear understanding of what you expect before they even start work.
  3. Estimating how much work it will take to produce each deliverable. It’s always best if the team member who’s going to do the work takes part in this estimating process. It’s more accurate and you get their commitment.
  4. Tracking progress against the plan and spotting variances – use project management software and status data from your team to spot problems early. This avoids unpleasant surprises late in the project.
  5. Designing corrective action and reporting status – design corrective action when you find problems. Then you clearly report the problems and propose solution options to the project sponsor.

You can learn this top down planning process in our online project management courses. You will be able to use these techniques so your projects finish on time and within budget. You’ll work privately with an expert project manager who is your coach and instructor. You may have as many phone calls and live video conferences as you wish. You begin when you wish and work on it at your pace and as your schedule allows. Take a look at the courses in your specialty.

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Project Management Foundations – First Project Video

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

Every project manager learns the Project Management Foundations on their first project.  These foundations give them the skills they will use on every project they manage. Our video is about a brand-new project manager starting her first project with an executive who doesn’t know how to correctly sponsor the project. In fact this executive, Mr. Cordalon,  has the worst project track record in the entire organization.  Our novice project manager has no idea how to handle him. But fortunately she gets advice from two senior project managers in the project office. They have dealt with Mr. Cordalon on several projects and they know how to handle him.

Project Management Foundations – The Scope and Deliverables

Mr. Cordalon tries to wiggle out of providing the project scope. He gives the new project manager nothing but the project’s completion date and its acronym.  Armed with the advice of the two experienced project managers, the new project manager goes back to him and asks the right questions to properly define the project scope. In the next step, the rookie leads Mr. Cordalon through the process of defining the project’s high level deliverables, constraints and risks.

Project Management Foundations – Identify Stakeholders and Requirements

The project moves on to more of the Project Management Foundations which include identifying the stakeholders and gathering their requirements.  Mr. Cordalon wants to keep the project a secret so there’s no interference from other departments. Guided by her two behind-the-scenes advisers, the new project manager persuades process as a new project manager learns the Project Management Foundations of her professionhim that there is value in identifying and actively managing the project stakeholders. The new project manager successfully gathers requirements from the users and stakeholders. The project pros teach her how to evaluate requirements in terms of whether they are necessary to deliver the project scope.

Project Management Foundations – WBS and Estimates

In the rest of the movie, the new project manager assembles her project team. She has them participate in the formulation of the work breakdown structure (WBS) and leads them through the process of estimating the duration of their tasks.

In summary, the video takes you step-by-step through the

Project Management Foundations: A Project Manager's 1st Project