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Master the Art of Project Planning

// 2018 Sep 24

Part of the series “The Accidental Project Manager”

By Dr. Surya Ganduri, Rutgers University

Every project tells a story about its goals, team, timing, and deliverables. Some of those stories are short and to the point while others are epic novels rife with twists and turns. No matter the length or level of drama, every story is based on an outline–or as we call it in the project management world, a project plan.

A career in project management means you have to always stay on top of trends, changes, and deliverables in your industry. A good project plan is worth being proud of because it represents the confluence of so many factors: project scope, professional experience, research, process knowledge, and a ton of input from clients and team members.

WHAT’S IN A PLAN?

Project planning is at the core of what all project managers do, no matter the industry, type of project, or level of expertise. At its core, a project plan defines your approach and the process your team will use to manage the project to scope.

Every project needs a plan; not only does it go a long way toward keeping teams honest in terms of scope and deadlines, a plan communicates vital information to all project stakeholders.

BEFORE YOU JUMP INTO GANTT…

Remind everyone involved that the journey of creating a plan does not consist of you, the project manager, sitting down and writing up your approach and dumping it into your project planning tool of choice. In fact, that’s the opposite of how you should handle it. Make sure that you have done your due diligence by asking about the factors that could delay your project, but go beyond that; good project managers plan for the unplanned.

START WITH RESEARCH

A good project manager is well-informed and methodical in the way he or she guides a project. Set time aside with your client to ask some tough questions about process, organizational politics, and risks. Doing so will not only convey that your team has the experience to handle any type of difficult personalities or situation, it shows that you care about the project and want it to run smoothly.

Think about the tasks and the mechanics of how they will happen. Getting tied up in the execution will only confuse you and likely make you feel unimpressed by the final product because it’s not what you envisioned. Remind yourself that you are there to plan and guide the project, not create it.

TALK TO YOUR TEAM

Starting a project must begin with clear communication of the project goals and the effort required to meet them. Running ideas by the team and having an open dialogue about the approach can not only help in planning the project, it’s also a big help in getting everyone to think about the project in the same terms. This type of buy-in and communication builds trust on a team and gets people excited about working together.

It’s a good idea to be as flexible as possible when it comes to how your plan is presented.

GET IT REVIEWED

After you have put all the work into creating this important document, you want to make sure it is reviewed. This ensures that your client will understand the process and what each step in the plan means. It shows your client that you care about the project timing and budget.

BECOME A MASTER PLANNER

Sometimes projects are smooth and alarmingly easy to manage, and sometimes they are a complete nightmare that wakes you up at 3 a.m. every other night (it happens). Regardless, plans will change. With a good team and a clear scope of work, you are on your way to making a solid plan that is manageable and well-thought out. In the end, having a solid plan is your best defense against project chaos.

Dr. Surya Ganduri is an Instructor/Advisor for the Rutgers University Project Management Certificate Program. The certification is based on PMI’s PMBOK Guide Sixth Edition. For more information, visit Rutgers University Project Management Certification.