A road trip is a failure if passengers and luggage don’t all arrive at the expected destination together. In the same way, a project that doesn’t accomplish the expected results within the time and money allocated is a failure.
Have you ever been in this situation?
- Key Stakeholder: “I don’t know where this project is or where it’s going!”
- You: “Here is the project plan and the latest status report. I can also point you to the charter and the team minutes.”
- Key Stakeholder: “That’s too much information! I can’t digest all that. Where are we?!”
This isn’t uncommon, and it isn’t because they weren’t paying attention. If this has happened to you, you probably don’t have an Initiation Plan. As the saying goes, sometimes people can’t see the forest for the trees. An Initiation Plan reduces complexity and allows your stakeholders and project team to get the big picture while you focus on the details.
What is an Initiation Plan? It is a high-level view of the project, not a detailed project plan. It helps everyone understand what the project intends to accomplish, why we want to accomplish it, and how we know that we are on track to accomplish it. Best of all, it does so at a level that anyone can understand.
An Initiation Plan need not take a lot of time to develop. And the time and aggravation it saves may be substantial. By providing an Initiation Plan, you’ll help keep all your stakeholders on board, and your project on track.
Risk Management Plan
Murphy’s law says that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time.
Managing risk is one of the main jobs of project management and one of the least understood. You can’t eliminate risk, and you can’t ignore it. But you can’t worry about it all the time either, or you’ll never get anything else done—and that becomes your biggest risk! How you identify, plan for, and handle risks to your project is central to keeping your project on track.
When the unexpected happens, tempers rise, knees jerk, and rash decisions can derail your project. If you fail, are you ready to lose business, be sued, or both? Probably not.
So what do you do?
- Scramble to react?
- Hold hurried meetings?
- Grasp for solutions in the fog of the moment?
Wouldn’t you rather have a plan that gives you space to step back, stay on track, and respond intelligently? This is the Risk Management Plan. Many project proposals have a section on risks, but honestly, it’s boiler plate and nobody ever looks at it again anyway—no wonder people panic when unexpected things happen.
A good Risk Management Plan is its own thing, done in the calm light of day. By anticipating obstacles and planning responses, guess what? You’ve just reduced your project risk—by a lot. And you’ve avoided panicking your stakeholders.
As a project manager, I know I’d rather hear “well, we saw that coming” than “I don’t care how you fix it. JUST FIX IT!”
Poor communication has often been cited as the biggest cause of project failure. A communication plan that is effectively implemented can make all the difference between a project’s success and failure.
Managing projects is really about managing expectations, and effective communication is the key to aligning everyone’s expectations. While you want this alignment, not everyone needs the same type or level of communication.
For example, while executives have a broad range of interest in your project, they don’t have the time or patience for a lot of detail. On the other hand, technical and functional experts may have a narrower interest, but they want a lot of detail in their area. How do you reconcile these two perspectives? You can’t just leave it to chance or habit. You need a plan.
A project communication plan ensures that stakeholders and team members will receive the right information through the right media at the right time. It takes some thought and time to get the right mix of content and delivery methods for the right audience. But the benefits are enormous.
Without effective communication, the expectations of project stakeholders and team members may conflict with the project objectives and threaten project success. A communication plan that keeps all team members and stakeholders informed is the best way to keep expectations aligned and your project on track.
Adaptive Project Plan
Is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) your detailed project plan? If so, you might be missing the forest for the trees.
Sometimes, too many details can get in the way of project success. The secret is to do just enough planning to get the project started on the right track, and then to adapt to changing requirements and conditions to stay on the right track.
A WBS can be your best friend or worst enemy, depending how you use it. It’s a good tool for justifying effort by displaying all the tasks and time to do them. However, problems can occur when the WBS contains so much detail that there is little or no room to adapt to any changes in the project. And we all know that every project plan will change over time.
Regardless of how well initial requirements are stated, changes will occur, whether from change requests for new features or whether from actions taken when unplanned or unforeseen events occur.
In many projects, the WBS is out of date almost as soon as the project starts and usually there’s nobody available to update it. The more detailed the WBS, the more work is wasted. Even worse, there can be a lot of pressure to follow the WBS regardless how out of date it is. If you’ve experienced that, you know that the end result is project failure.
An adaptive project plan is more than the WBS. It’s an estimate for justification, the rolled-up version of the WBS for each of the major tasks you’re going to need to do and when to do them—at a high level. It allows you to adapt the project to meet changing requirements while still providing enough details to keep management happy.
Change Control Plan
They say that change is the one constant in life—that’s especially true for projects. How you handle project changes will determine how well your project stays on track. Don’t try to prevent changes or to accept them wholesale. Either way, you’ll not only sink your project but maybe your career as well!
Not all change requests are created equal. Some changes are needed more than others and some not at all. Some have significant impact on project constraints, and some don’t. But if you accept all change requests, you will soon find yourself fighting for more time and money. That money is not always available, and that time is made up by working long days and weekends.
Change requests by themselves aren’t a problem. It’s how you handle those requests that can make the difference between the project meeting stakeholder expectations or not—the difference between success and failure. It’s not about preventing change—you can’t. It’s about properly incorporating valid changes into the plan, managing the implementation of those changes during the project, and effectively communicating the changes throughout the project organization to keep everyone on the same track.