After the project has been defined and the project team has been appointed, you are ready to enter the second phase in the project management life cycle: the detailed project planning phase.
Project planning is at the heart of the project life cycle, and tells everyone involved where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. The planning phase is when the project plans are documented, the project deliverables and requirements are defined, and the project schedule is created. It involves creating a set of plans to help guide your team through the implementation and closure phases of the project. The plans created during this phase will help you manage time, cost, quality, changes, risk, and related issues. They will also help you control staff and external suppliers to ensure that you deliver the project on time, within budget, and within schedule.
The project planning phase is often the most challenging phase for a project manager, as you need to make an educated guess about the staff, resources, and equipment needed to complete your project. You may also need to plan your communications and procurement activities, as well as contract any third-party suppliers.
The purpose of the project planning phase is to:
- Establish business requirements
- Establish cost, schedule, list of deliverables, and delivery dates
- Establish resources plans
- Obtain management approval and proceed to the next phase
The basic processes of project planning are:
- Scope planning – specifying the in-scope requirements for the project to facilitate creating the work breakdown structure
- Preparation of the work breakdown structure – spelling out the breakdown of the project into tasks and sub-tasks
- Project schedule development – listing the entire schedule of the activities and detailing their sequence of implementation
- Resource planning – indicating who will do what work, at which time, and if any special skills are needed to accomplish the project tasks
- Budget planning – specifying the budgeted cost to be incurred at the completion of the project
- Procurement planning – focusing on vendors outside your company and subcontracting
- Risk management – planning for possible risks and considering optional contingency plans and mitigation strategies
- Quality planning – assessing quality criteria to be used for the project
- Communication planning – designing the communication strategy with all project stakeholders
The planning phase refines the project’s objectives, which were gathered during the initiation phase. It includes planning the steps necessary to meet those objectives by further identifying the specific activities and resources required to complete the project. Now that these objectives have been recognized, they must be clearly articulated, detailing an in-depth scrutiny of each recognized objective. With such scrutiny, our understanding of the objective may change. Often the very act of trying to describe something precisely gives us a better understanding of what we are looking at. This articulation serves as the basis for the development of requirements. What this means is that after an objective has been clearly articulated, we can describe it in concrete (measurable) terms and identify what we have to do to achieve it. Obviously, if we do a poor job of articulating the objective, our requirements will be misdirected and the resulting project will not represent the true need.
Users will often begin describing their objectives in qualitative language. The project manager must work with the user to provide quantifiable definitions to those qualitative terms. These quantifiable criteria include schedule, cost, and quality measures. In the case of project objectives, these elements are used as measurements to determine project satisfaction and successful completion. Subjective evaluations are replaced by actual numeric attributes.
A web user may ask for a fast system. The quantitative requirement should be all screens must load in under three seconds. Describing the time limit during which the screen must load is specific and tangible. For that reason, you’ll know that the requirement has been successfully completed when the objective has been met.
Let’s say that your company is going to produce a holiday batch of eggnog. Your objective statement might be stated this way: Christmas Cheer, Inc. will produce two million cases of holiday eggnog, to be shipped to our distributors by October 30, at a total cost of $1.5 million or less. The objective criteria in this statement are clearly stated and successful fulfillment can easily be measured. Stakeholders will know that the objectives are met when the two million cases are produced and shipped by the due date within the budget stated.
When articulating the project objectives you should follow the SMART rule:
- Specific – get into the details. Objectives should be specific and written in clear, concise, and understandable terms.
- Measurable – use quantitative language. You need to know when you have successfully completed the task.
- Acceptable – agreed with the stakeholders.
- Realistic – in terms of achievement. Objectives that are impossible to accomplish are not realistic and not attainable. Objectives must be centred in reality.
- Time based – deadlines not durations. Objectives should have a time frame with an end date assigned to them.
If you follow these principles, you’ll be certain that your objectives meet the quantifiable criteria needed to measure success.
Project Implementation Overview
After you have carefully planned your project, you will be ready to start the project implementation phase, the third phase of the project management life cycle. The implementation phase involves putting the project plan into action. It’s here that the project manager will coordinate and direct project resources to meet the objectives of the project plan. As the project unfolds, it’s the project manager’s job to direct and manage each activity, every step of the way. That’s what happens in the implementation phase of the project life cycle: you follow the plan you’ve put together and handle any problems that come up.
The implementation phase is where you and your project team actually do the project work to produce the deliverables. The word “deliverable” means anything your project delivers. The deliverables for your project include all of the products or services that you and your team are performing for the client, customer, or sponsor, including all the project management documents that you put together.
The steps undertaken to build each deliverable will vary depending on the type of project you are undertaking, and cannot therefore be described here in any real detail. For instance engineering and telecommunications projects will focus on using equipment, resources, and materials to construct each project deliverable, whereas computer software projects may require the development and implementation of software code routines to produce each project deliverable. The activities required to build each deliverable will be clearly specified within the project requirements document and project plan.
Your job as project manager is to direct the work, but you need to do more than deliver the results. You also need to keep track of how well your team performs. The implementation phase keeps the project plan on track with careful monitoring and control processes to ensure the final deliverable meets the acceptance criteria set by the customer. This phase is typically where approved changes are implemented.
Most often, changes are identified by looking at performance and quality control data. Routine performance and quality control measurements should be evaluated on a regular basis throughout the implementation phase. Gathering reports on those measurements will help you determine where the problem is and recommend changes to fix it.
When you find a problem, you can’t just make a change, because it may be too expensive or take too long to do. You will need to look at how it affects the triple constraint (time, cost, scope) and how it impacts project quality. You will then have to figure out if it is worth making the change. If you evaluate the impact of the change and find that it won’t have an impact on the project triple constraint, then you can make the change without going through change control. Change control is a set of procedures that lets you make changes in an organized way.
Any time you need to make a change to your plan, you must start with a change request. This is a document that either you or the person making the request must complete. Any change to your project must be documented so you can figure out what needs to be done, by when, and by whom.
Once the change request is documented, it is submitted to a change control board. A change control board is a group of people who consider changes for approval. Not every change control system has a board but most do. The change request could also be submitted to the project sponsor or management for review and approval. Putting the recommended changes through change control will help you evaluate the impact and update all the necessary documents. Not all changes are approved, but if the changes are approved, you send them back to the team to put them in place.
The implementation phase uses the most project time and resources, and as a result, costs are usually the highest during this phase. Project managers also experience the greatest conflicts over schedules in this phase. You may find as you are monitoring your project that the actual time it is taking to do the scheduled work is longer than the amount of time planned.
When you absolutely have to meet the date and you are running behind, you can sometimes find ways to do activities more quickly by adding more resources to critical path tasks. That’s called crashing. Crashing the schedule means adding resources or moving them around to to bring the project back into line with the schedule. Crashing always costs more and doesn’t always work. There’s no way to crash a schedule without raising the overall cost of the project. So, if the budget is fixed and you don’t have any extra money to spend, you can’t use this technique.
Sometimes you’ve got two activities planned to occur in sequence, but you can actually do them at the same time. This is called fast tracking the project. On a software project, you might do both your user acceptance testing (UAT) and your functional testing at the same time, for example. This is pretty risky. There’s a good chance you might need to redo some of the work you have done concurrently. Crashing and fast tracking are schedule compression tools. Managing a schedule change means keeping all of your schedule documents up to date. That way, you will always be comparing your results to the correct plan.
After the deliverables have been physically constructed and accepted by the customer, a phase review is carried out to determine whether the project is complete and ready for closure.
This chapter of Project Management is a derivative of the following text: