The Critical Elements of Upfront Project Planning

critical elements of upfront project planningPlanning is a chore. I get that. And believe me, I struggle with chores daily – but it’s a way of life if you want to live an organized productive life. The same is true with the projects that we run. If we want to have productive, organized and successful projects, then we can’t run them on luck and shoot from the hip throughout the engagement.

Upfront project planning is one of the most critical elements of the project. If not enough time is spent really laying out the project, understanding requirements, asking the right questions, and planning the work, then your project is likely doomed to fail. But often it’s that planning time that is looked upon as wasteful, isn’t it?

How often have you heard it said that planning is a waste of time? No sooner is the plan completed than something comes up on the project requiring a change to the project plan. Some argue that the plan, once completed, is disregarded and merely put on the shelf so the team can get down to doing some real work. In people management, the planning activity involves deciding on the types of people resources that will be needed to discharge the responsibilities of the department. That means identifying the types of skills needed and the number of people possessing those skills.

First we must understand that a project plan is dynamic. It is expected it to change as the project itself evolves. A complete plan will clearly state the tasks that need to be done, why they are necessary, who will do what, when it will be completed, what resources will be needed, and what criteria must be met in order for the project to be declared complete and successful.

There are three benefits to developing a project plan:

Planning reduces uncertainty. Even though we would never expect the project work to occur exactly as planned, planning the work allows us to consider the likely outcomes and to put the necessary corrective measures in place.

Planning increases understanding. The mere act of planning gives us a better understanding of the goals and objectives of the project. Even if we were to discard the plan, we would still benefit from having done the exercise.

Planning improves efficiency. Once we have defined the project plan and the necessary resources to carry out the plan, we can schedule the work to take advantage of resource availability. We also can schedule work in parallel; that is, we can do tasks concurrently, rather than in series. By doing tasks concurrently, we can shorten the total duration of the project. We can maximize our use of resources and complete the project work in less time than by taking other approaches.

The project manager must know where he is headed, where his team is headed, and where the project is headed. Not knowing the parameters of a project prevents measurement of progress and results in never knowing when the project is complete. The plan also provides a basis for measuring work planned against work performed.

Summary / Call for feedback

What’s your take? Do you agree with what I’ve presented here? What more would you add? What has helped force you to do that critical, but time consuming project planning or to convince your management and customers that it is truly time well spent? What strategies have worked for you and what hasn’t worked? Please share and discuss.

Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland

Noteworthy accomplishments:
*20 year provider of successful technical project management leadership for clients across nearly every industry imaginable
*Author of more than 4,000 expert professional project management and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos over the past decade
*Articles/professional content receives over 40,000 page views monthly
*Named #1 in the 100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management
*Named a Top 10 Project Management Influencer to Follow in 2016
*The most read author of expert project management content on Project Times/BA Times for 2015
*Named most prolific provider of project management content over the past 5 years
*Noted for successful project management and financial oversight for $50 million Dept. of Education financial contract/program
*Chosen by the Dept of Defense as a subject matter expert (SME) to help select IWMS software provider for the largest IWMS implementation ever awarded

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