September 9, 2007 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Project Plan Development
The production of a Project Plan, or Schedule, is a key part of the development of any project. The schedule will set out the key stages to be completed during the project, with their starting and finishing dates, and the resources that need to be allocated.
“Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. And the nicest thing about not planning is that failure is a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.” - John Harvey-Jones
The stages in your project plan can be turned into bite size pieces, which are then much easier to budget for, and can be smoothly allocated to one or more people as tasks. The reliance on one piece of work finishing before the next can begin is readily visible and so a fairly accurate timescale for the whole project can be set, alongside a cash flow profile which will show at what stages of the project money will be spent.
Progress can be monitored against each stage and completion readily reported on. Planning brings other more subtle benefits. The planning process can be a very effective tool for communication. At each stage of the process, from setting objectives to deciding on tasks, you will need to talk to all those people who can bring knowledge to the project or are likely to be involved in its implementation. If handled well, the planning process will set up channels of communication and draw participants into involvement in the project. This will provide the basis for good teamwork. Objectives and roles should be clear. People will know where the project is going and what they have to do.
In most projects some tasks will be “dependent” on each other – you can’t paint a wall until the bricklayers have finished building it, for example, or you can’t run a playgroup until you have found a suitable venue. The Project Plan should make these dependencies clear – if the wall is not built on time, or if you cannot find a venue for the playgroup, other tasks in the project may be delayed.
There are many ways to produce this Project Plan. It could be done with pencil and paper; be a word-processed table as in our case study or use a spreadsheet; or be a set of dates in a calendar or on a wall chart.
Other techniques like the Gannt chart shown below, which show the dependencies within a project, are an excellent aid to project planning.
Imagine we are going to produce a publication – an annual report for example. The stages, estimated effort and timescales outlined in the project definition will form the basis of a project plan. This will set out the main stages of the project, often called milestones, and the individual tasks that have to be done to complete each stage.
For our annual report the milestones would be:
- the text completed
- illustrations ready
- design and layout finished
- printing done
- distribution completed
For a simple publication that one person was putting together and copying in-house, the five stages set out above would be enough to enable the project to be timed, costed and monitored. However if the publication were a collaborative project that used an outside illustrator, designer and printer, a more detailed breakdown of tasks would be required. The table below shows how that might be done. You would now need to do the same for the other elements of the project and add in any additional costs such as equipment. You can then get on and fund raise or carry out the project if you are lucky and funds are already available, making sure that tasks are done within the time limit and to the budget set.
|Assignments||No. of Days||Who will do the task||Cost per day||Total cost|
|1. the text completed|
|1.1 topics decided||2||editorial group||£450||£900|
|1.2 contributors briefed||1||editor||£150||£150|
|1.3 contributors chased||1||administrator||£70||£70|
|1.4 contributions written||10||contributors||£200||£2000|
|1.5 returned contributions edited||2||editor||£150||£300|
|1.6 whole text proof read||2||administrator||£70||£140|
|2. illustrations ready|
|2.1 outline brief put out to tender||2 + 2||editor + admin||£150 + £70||£440|
|2.1.1 names of illustrators collected|
|2.1.2 tender document prepared|
|2.1.4 tenders mailed|
|2.1.5 tender documents chased|
|2.2 returned tenders evaluated||1||editor||£150||£150|
|2.3 illustrator selected||2||editorial group||£450||£900|
|2.4 initial drawings commented on||1||editor||£150||£150|
|2.5 final drawings approved||1||editorial group||£450||£450|
Project planning software
Computer software is available to help with the planning process. The software will produce attractive project plans complete with Gannt charts, and can also be used to allocate resources. These systems deal with the planning and scheduling elements of project management – they don’t help with defining or managing the process.
The software package that most voluntary sector managers are likely to have available is Microsoft Project. This is not cheap, although it is available to registered charities for £124.
Most people who come to use MS Project for the first time are learning two things: how to use the software and how to do project planning. Both elements involve a fairly steep learning curve. Coming to grips with Project will take several days and can be a very frustrating process. Most people will want to attend a proper training course. This learning process may be unwelcome, especially at the beginning of a new project; but if you’re likely to plan more than one project, the time spent learning a new skill will be repaid. You’ll probably be happy sticking to a spreadsheet or to word processed charts if project management is only incidental to your work and you don’t enjoy learning new software.
Project management software doesn’t have to become the whole basis of project planning. It can be used in a fairly modest way as a tool to identify and break down the key tasks of a project and produce Gannt charts, which provide an excellent representation of how the tasks fit together over time. Used in this way the software is very good at ‘what-if’ analysis, in the same way that a spreadsheet can be used for budgeting. The speed at which this can be done makes the software a very useful tool when breaking down the subtasks for a project, and displaying the results in a visual way.
For more details on the use of MS Project see ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Project Management with MS Project 2000′ by Ron Black (£17.50). Despite the title it is an excellent book, giving good advice on strategies for using Project for effective project planning.
Lasa Information Systems Team provides a range of services to community and voluntary organisations including ICT Health Checks and consulting on the best application of technology in your organisation. Lasa IST is responsible for maintaining the ICT Hub Knowledgebase.
- What is "Good Enough"? - Project Quality Management, Part 1: Planning
- Project Management Process - Phase 2 - Planning Overview
- Project Management Process - Phase 2 - Planning - Develop Project Schedule
- Project Management Process - Phase 2 - Planning - Gather Project Requirements
- Project Management Process - Phase 2 - Planning - Develop Project Design
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