There is no such thing as a ‘perfect plan’. The secret is to plan and plan again until you get better at it. Check out “Project Planning Steps for Dummies” before reading this post. After you have acquainted yourself to some of the terms and core concepts, try to implement a few of the following project planning tips:
THE ‘WHAT’ – GOALS & BUSINESS OBJECTIVES
- Write down your project plan. This project planning tip helps you significantly reduce your chances of forgetting something. Make them as detailed as possible. Clarify every goal and objective so that you can refer to them even after a long while. Write down your reasons, your intended results, your project limitations or constraints, assumptions, strategies, and so on. What are your budget, costs, projected sales or profits? What could hinder my plan? Are there limitations to it? Be as detailed as possible. Don’t expect to write the perfect plan, but you should at least try to cover as many aspects as possible.
- Set due dates and milestones. Allow some ‘slack’ (or ‘float’) in between important tasks. So if one dependency takes a little longer than estimated it won’t negatively impact your project. Milestones mark the beginning or end of significant phases of work, or an important upcoming decision. “Short-term milestones can be set as early as a week, although some specialists recommend once a month. Long-term milestones can be set quarterly, biannually, yearly, and so on. Whenever you think of setting a milestone, ask yourself what should be done, rather than what needs to be avoided”. Read more about milestones and how they affect project planning.
- Set measurable and realistic goals. This goes hand in hand with setting due dates and milestones. In order to achieve your set milestones, there has got be a shift in mentality: the ‘do-or-die’ mantra has to go since it can seriously hinder your team members from performing due to a possible fear of failure, job loss, or underachieving. Instead, ask yourself what should be done, what pushes the project forward. Make deadlines and milestones challenging, yet approachable. You should always ask your team whether they feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the workload. If they are stressed out, it’s probably too much to handle. Read more about SMART goals.
THE ‘WHO’ – STAKEHOLDERS & TEAM MEMBERS
- Determine roles for the stakeholders of your project. You should make it clear who needs to oversee the progress, who reads the reports, who audits teams, who approves decisions, and so on. These people have to be kept in the loop at all times – when things are going according to plan but also when the project seems to be going south.
- Determine roles for your human resources. “Who is in charge of which task? Are they full-time workers, freelancers, contractor, part-timers? Do they have specific needs to help them do their job properly? Is the workload manageable? Good feedback is essential, since you can always hire someone to help lessen the workload, rather than overwork one poor employee, thus leading to job dissatisfaction, overwork, burnout, and loss of productivity”. Read more about it here.
- Communicate clearly. As we’ve mentioned in an earlier post, don’t assume stakeholders understand your plan perfectly, but explain it to them in detail and as visual as possible. Minimize the use of jargon and technical terms as much as possible. Create infographics, tables, timelines. Use Gannt charts for your reports. What makes perfect sense to you might be confusing to others.
- Communicate efficiently. It’s a mistake not to have a direct line of communication. Stick to one integrated system for communication to avoid a very confusing mess of e-mails, phone calls, text messages, apps, sticky notes, or whiteboard notes. If you hate the ‘ping-pong’ style of e-mailing as much as we do, you have to try out Slack. It’s by far one of the most efficient and effective means of communication. Allow your team members to bring insights and input to your project. Brainstorming can prove especially fruitful, even if it’s online.
THE ‘HOW’ – TASKS AND DELIVERABLES
- Describe your deliverables. What is it that you want to achieve, sell, promote, and so on? Make accurate and detailed accounts of your deliverables and tasks. Not only will this help you make sense of your work, but it will help your team members engage with the project. There should be a list of ‘key deliverables’, namely tasks or outputs that are mandatory in order to meet your objectives and due dates.
- Create an action plan for your deliverables. How much time (billable hours and work days) does it take to complete the endeavor? How many human resources (team members, collaborators, contractors) are required to complete the activity? What equipment does your project need? Here is a checklist of other factors you need to consider when planning your resources. Specify exactly how, where, when, and to whom each deliverable should be delivered and add everything to your project plan.
- Establish the ‘critical path’ of your tasks. Remember that ‘dependencies’ are key deliverables or tasks which ‘depend’ on others in terms of starting/finish dates, resources, and so on. Similarly, the critical path is much like a continuous line of your progress, starting from the first dependency and finishing with the last dependency of your project. There are four types of dependencies: (a) Start-to-finish. Task A must start before Task B can finish. (b) Start-to-start. Task A must start before Task B can start. (c) Finish-to-finish. Task A must finish before Task B can finish. (d) Finish-to-start. Task A must finish before Task B can start. Read more about the critical path here.
Plan and plan again. Implement these project planning tips. Revise and edit your plans. Try to find flaws and inconsistencies in your project. If not, others probably will. The success of your project lies on clear and realistic goals attained by highly motivated team members for the involved stakeholders. Granted, some plans fail. Don’t worry too much about that possibility, but work on each step of the project plan. It’s all about baby steps.