You don’t have to feel embarrassed about being a rookie when it comes to project planning. We have all been there, you know – looking up definitions, terms, tips and tricks, and tutorials. What’s worse is faking that you have it all figured out. We should strive to learn one concept at a time, and to take one baby step at a time. We have prepared a few baby steps for you to consider in your growth as a project manager. Let’s take a look at a few things beforehand to get an idea of what project planning involves:
1. Identify your goals, namely ‘business objectives’ and KPIs
We have discussed in an earlier post about KPI, which stands for ‘key performance indicator’. Let’s say that one of your business objectives is to improve your online sales performance. A good KPI would be measuring the pace of your project’s sales by analyzing your social media usage. Make a bullet list of your project goals. Moreover, make them as specific as possible. For example, “Increase online sales performance by 150% by the end of the quarter” is far better than “Improve sales”. These objectives have to be easily understood by your ‘stakeholders’, which leads us to the next step of project planning.
2. Identify your ‘stakeholders’
Stakeholders are “those with any interest in your project’s outcome. They are typically the members of a project team, project managers, executives, project sponsors, customers, and users . . . who are affected by the execution or outcome of a project” (defined by Wrike). This means that you always have to bear their best interests in mind. You will have to meet with them regularly to discuss project goals, budget, scope, and so on. It’s essential you have everyone engaged in your project in order to avoid miscommunication that could cause problems or losses. The problem with miscommunication is that it’s too pervasive. Stakeholders certainly cannot read minds and they rarely get the big picture without clear examples. If they don’t know what they need to do, they probably won’t do anything at all. Don’t assume they understood your plan perfectly, but explain it to them in detail and as visual as possible. What makes perfect sense to you might be confusing to others.
3. Identify your ‘deliverables’
Deliverables are “products or services given to your client. A deliverable usually has a due date and is tangible, measurable and specific” (defined by Chron). A deliverable can be a physical or intellectual product, a service, or training. Ask yourself, “What do I need to produce to achieve my goal? What do my clients need?” These are mainly for your clients. But there are also deliverables for your stakeholders, such as milestones, deadlines, and systems. You might ask yourself why these count as deliverables if there’s no profit. Here is an entire article on milestones. In a nutshell, your team and stakeholders depend on these ‘thresholds’ and ‘updates’ to know that the project is running smoothly. Now that you have your deliverables, here is what you need to do next:
4. Establish a ‘timeline’
A timeline is not only a schedule with due dates for your deliverables, but it also tells you exactly who is working on what, along with the progress, milestones, deadlines, ‘dependencies’, and ‘critical path’.
- ‘Dependencies’ mean that certain tasks ‘depend’ on others in terms of starting/finish dates, resources, and so on. Think about how much time each task needs in order to be completed. So be realistic about the deadlines. Take into consideration different factors: is there enough manpower, does the task depend on external factors, such as collaborators, is the deadline doable, is the task urgent or important? While most tasks are important, only a few are urgent. Some might be secondary, optional, or completely useless (yes, it can happen, don’t worry about it – your goals can change during the project). Simply put, ‘dependencies’ are like building a car – you can’t have the paint shop before the body shop. You wouldn’t tune up or paint your car before welding the chassis. Some might even deem the tuning as unnecessary. This leads us to the next aspect.
- What is a ‘critical path’? It is the sequence of necessary tasks or endeavors that take the longest to complete. Simply put, the critical path is outlined by tasks that have to be completed in order to push the project forward. To use the same analogy, the critical path of building a car would start from welding the metal components in the body shop to assembling it. An excellent timeline tool is Toggl Plan due to its perfect balance of UX and UI: user-friendliness, visually stunning interface, and effective and intuitive operations. Now you are able to track your deliverables and deadlines. A timeline is particularly helpful when you need to let your stakeholders know about your project’s progress.
5. Identify the weakest links
Call this whatever you want: your ‘anti-plan’, your ‘arch-enemy’, a ‘risk assessment’ for your stakeholders, or your ‘cruel fate’. The purpose is to find flaws in your project, assess risks, think of possible issues, losses, and weaknesses. Don’t be optimistic or uselessly idealistic about your objectives and plans, but ask yourself, “What could affect the project in the short and long term? Are there other circumstances or unforeseen variables? How about holidays, procrastination, or simply ennui? What about possible technical issues?? Create a ‘worst-case-scenario’. Allow yourself and your team some time in between tasks – which we call ‘slack’. Using our car analogy, assess whether there are technical issues with the engine, if the engineers and workers have enough time and manpower to assemble everything, if you have all the resources needed to push the car into the next phase of the assembly line.
In a nutshell, you have to identify your goals, stakeholders, deliverables, flaws and weak links, and establish a timeline for your project. Does project planning still sound terrifying? Which of these steps seems difficult? Let us know in the comment section below. Follow these baby steps to acquaint yourself to project management. Have you tried Toggl Plan yet?