Statement of work. Project budget. Project resource plan. Project charter. Project communication plan. Project schedule. Project test plan. Project implementation plan. Technical project documents like the functional design document and technical design document. All of these are put in place just to make the project manager’s life very complicated. That isn’t true, of course, but it seems that way sometimes.
Any way we can make things a bit simpler for the project manager is something that I am all for…as long as it makes sense. For me…here are four ways that I suggest as “secrets” to creating the best project plan or schedule possible for the project. That project plan is always a big and nervous undertaking because you want to get it right early. When you hand it to the project customer for review and to your project team to assist with and to your senior management for accountability, you want it to make sense and you don’t want it full of errors and omissions. You want to be in control and be accurate. So here are four ways to get there but to hopefully get there easier than you might otherwise get there.
Plan and re-plan weekly.
Never let more than a week go by without revising and re-planning the project. The only way this wouldn’t be necessary is if everybody assigned to every task on the project adhered exactly to the task progress plan you started with. That’s never happened. In fact, in the time it took for you to read that last sentence there was a deviation to your schedule. Oops…there went another one. You don’t have to keep recalculating end dates…but you do need to revise task statuses and progress so that you and everyone on the project is aware of what’s on schedule and what’s behind schedule every week.
The past is merely a starting point.
There is no project in history that ever went perfectly from beginning to end. And likely very few that started out perfectly either – and yours probably wasn’t one of them. So that old project schedule you’re using as a template probably needs more tweaking than you think. You can use it – you should use it…but use it wisely. Check your tasks list – check it twice. Rethink the estimated efforts for each…do they really make sense again for THIS current engagement? Don’t just arbitrarily roll them into the current project…give them some thought.
Use the team.
The project manager often wants to go it alone when creating the project schedule for an upcoming engagement. They are using a past schedule of theirs from a similar project as a starting point and think, “this is my schedule and my responsibility so I will create the schedule for the new project.” I’m guilty of this line of thought, too. But it’s wrong. Your team is highly skilled. Use them to help you put together the best schedule possible for the project. Added bonus…this will also help them “own” the project more as well. Win-win.
It’s ok to plan backwards.
Don’t be a baby. We want our plans and schedules to reflect reality, of course. But the reality is that life isn’t fair. And we are sometimes given unworkable windows of time within which to accomplish something and sometimes we just have to do it…make it work. You may have to trim a couple of corners and that goes with the territory, but if a 15-day task has to be accomplished in 10 days, then you’ll have to make it work…not the other way around. As an example, my vice president at one company kept telling me to re-work the $350,000 department budget when I was forecasting for the next fiscal year. I wasn’t landing at the final budget numbers that she wanted to see. I worked, re-worked it, and re-worked it again. I finally said, “what final number do you want?” She told me and I worked backwards from that number. Done. Should have started with that. Then again, one time the company was handing out big magnets with some sort of continuous improvement motto on it to everyone. She put hers on the side of her tower desktop. None of us told her to move it…we sort of just enjoyed the moment every time we were in her office. Chuckle.
Summary / call for input
We don’t always have to get to successful end results the difficult way. If you know a shortcut that can get you there safely and successfully, then take it. Wasting time figuratively (or possibly even literally) bashing your head against a needless wall is not a good idea. Look for ways to make things a bit simpler when you can.
Readers…what would you add to this “secrets” list? Do these make sense to you? Please share your thoughts.