By: Jon Dymond
Everyone plans tasks in different ways, but the largest, most complicated projects have tried-and-tested methodologies that help break processes down and ensure that stakeholders and different departments are clear about which tasks need to be completed by whom and by what time. This article breaks project planning down into seven key tasks that have to be completed before work begins to give the project the best possible chance of coming in on time and on budget.
Project organisation and management is a hugely demanding task that can very often be all a person does in their job. There are hundreds of actions and tasks that have to be performed throughout the biggest projects, and it may well be the job of one person, with the help of certain specific software, to manage everything so that the project is completed to a high standard, coming in on time and on budget.
With that in mind, taking the time to prepare before the project starts is extremely important. All of the stakeholders involved need to be aware of who is doing what, when they are supposed to have completed it by and which resources they have been allocated to assist them. This needs to be as clear as possible and easily trackable so adjustments can be made and expectations can continue to be met throughout the process.
Gauge the scope of the project
The scope of the project is the first thing that has to be ascertained. What is the overall aim of the project? What are you looking to achieve? Once you know what the scope of the project will be, a plan can be devised. However, you should be aware that the scope can change throughout the project as different stakeholders ask for more to be included in the final deliverable, so the system must remain flexible.
Set the success criteria
How is the success of the project going to be defined? By the quality of the finished work? By the amount of money it costs? By the length of time taken to complete it? Whatever the factors for success are, they must be measurable and aligned to the objectives of the key stakeholders – in this way, the Key Performance Indicators can be defined.
Identify major risks
Try and work out what the major risks to the project are before you begin. Where are the most likely points that things will go wrong? If you can identify those points then you can try and limit the impact of the problems that might arise when you reach them.
Use SMART milestones
The SMART acronym (specific, measureable, agreed, realistic, time-framed) is well-known in the business world, and it’s one you should adopt when thinking about the milestones in your project. Milestones, such as the completing of an important part of the project, help the process keep its structure and keep different teams in the loop with regard to which milestones need to be completed before they can begin certain jobs or tasks.
Milestones can be used as a focal point for the team, for the monitoring and forecasting of the entire project and for reporting throughout. Setting them using the SMART acronym should go a long way towards ensuring the smooth progression of the process.
Optimise allocation of resources
The resources that need to be utilised in your project could be anything from software and hardware to human team members, and they need to be allocated equally according to their strengths and availability. This could present an issue among those who have holiday, personal commitments or other projects that they have to work on.
Find a solution that ensures the maximum amount of resources working on the project at the same time. For instance, if a resource is not available at a certain time and the relevant part of the project cannot move forward without it, concentrate on a different job or task that can be completed.
Produce Gantt chart
The Gantt chart is one of the most widely-used progress measuring tools used in projects across the world, and the majority of project management software uses the format as standard – not bad for a format first developed at the beginning of the 20th century. Because a Gantt chart’s horizontal bar display allows users to see the order that tasks should be done in, the amount of time it should take to complete them and the relevant dependencies that exist between them, it is ideal to use to track the progress of your project.
Create a baseline
One of the last things you should do is to create a frozen snapshot of all final plans to act as your baseline throughout the project as it is being completed. This will enable you to track actual performance against what was expected, perform “what if” analyses and get new team members up to speed on the project if they join it after it has started.
By Jon Dymond
About the Author:
Jon Dymond is an L&D Consultant at Thales Learning & Development. He began his career in more technical IT roles before becoming a project management trainer with Thales, for whom he designs and teaches the relevant courses. Jon is a regular contributor to Enhance – The Magazine for Learning and Development.
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