Delivering the right results with a Real Project Plan
There is a common theme when delivering a project; it requires finesse to obtain all the relevant information to ensure the information is accurate. However, there has to be a distinct separation on the information being delivered, in particular, the separation between, if it is a plan or a schedule. A plan is where the approach is mapped out to deliver versus the schedule which covers the tasks and dates.
Depending on the size of the program it is best to use Microsoft project to build plans as opposed to using Excel. When reporting high level milestones for governance purposes Excel is an invaluable tool, but to use it solely during the delivery of a project is recipe for failure. If an Audit is conducted it can be looked upon as a violation of SDLC practices.
Strategic plans can deliver business value; the default project plan can be used as a starting point, but some things cannot be automated or standardised. These kinds of tools so only be used for reference purposes, and not as shortcuts to doing the thinking about what is really needed to execute successfully. It is a fine balance between reinventing the wheel each time and working with your own data.
Plan out the success criteria with stakeholders and craft out the high level milestones that task will roll-up to deliver the vision. The tasks must be prescriptive and should be done in short form tweet like entries. Declarative entries should be used to perform and validate. Words like Secure, Verify, Validate, Obtain, Draft, Approve and Distribute should be commonplace throughout the plan.
Project plans which require rework have the following characteristics;
- Task durations are greater than 10 or 15 days. When would it be known that a 60-day task is late? On the 61st day it is too late to affect any kind of change. Tasks that have a long duration require subtask items to allow for follow-up and remediation.
- Keep the schedule up to date, if all stakeholders agree to the approach and its reflected in the plan, then it should be used to manage day to day deliverables.
- Tasks that are past due with no percentage completed is a red flag. Find out if teams have skipped tasks or decided certain deliverables have been deemed out of scope.
- Tasks are not prescriptive enough to convey work deliverable. It doesn’t have to be overly elaborate but at least include enough information to make it reusable
Unfortunately, Project Managers tend to get assessed on the existence of artefacts but not necessarily on the quality of products that get produced. It is time to start looking at how project plans connect to success criteria and how the details drive the intended result. Start performing self-checks and peer reviews and include stakeholders in the process. Share plans with them and ask them to comment on dates and resource availability. That is a great way to get buy-in and learn from others.