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Enough is Enough: Planning is Important, BUT…

Over and over we hear how inadequate we are in planning our projects. Lots of people judge it to be this way because they think project managers do not know how to plan. Supposed experts say we need to be more rigorous in our planning. As a result, templates and forms are beefed up to give the impression of planning strength but really don’t produce any tangible value.

Two misunderstandings need to be considered when evaluating our planning success. The first overarching misunderstanding is that projects should be completed just as they are planned. This never happens and thinking it is possible is living in a fantasy land. The second misunderstanding is that people do not spend time planning because they don’t know how to or lack a rigorous process. Most people actually do know how to plan but like to design and build (produce) more than they like to plan and analyze (prepare). Management encourages this behavior because they want to see results sooner than later. Very few people really like to plan. Those that do would rather plan for a vacation than go on one. Be honest, these folks are a rarity.

A good plan takes what is currently known and expected by all project stakeholders and formalizes the scope of the project. The scope is never perfect, but is enough to develop a strategy for delivering on the expectations. From this resources can be forecasted and a time schedule developed. The end result is a baseline that is approved by all stakeholders; and, one that is the best that can be developed given the current knowledge. The initial planning process should never take any longer than 10% of the overall project duration.

The only way to ensure proper planning occurs in your organization is to have a formal planning review process that does not let a project continue unless the project manager has produced an appropriate plan. The person in charge of the process should be a very detailed and systematic person who has the support of top management. That way project managers who do not like to plan will have a tough time circumventing the policy.

As projects progress and issues come up that cause them to veer off-plan, make sure when looking for the cause-effect relationships, proper analysis is conducted. It is way too easy to conclude it was the result of poor planning, often the default reason in organizations. The only way this could be the case is if all the knowledge and insight gained after planning and prior to the issue coming about was stripped away and those involved in the planning process could have foreseen this issue.

Given that projects will veer off-plan it is important to ensure planning adjustments are made and new expectations are established with stakeholders throughout the life of a project. This is the one shortcoming rarely discussed in articles or organizations. It should be discussed since 90% of the project’s duration needs to be continuously executed, controlled, and re-planned by the project manager.

We live in a world dominated by chance resulting in a lack of foresight. Shouldn’t our expectations and processes be in alignment with this reality? That way we will be putting our energy and resources into areas that can make a difference rather that butting our heads against a brick wall.

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