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5 Steps to Plan the Project Planning

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There is a saying: "Every minute you spend planning will save you 10 minutes in execution." As a project manager, I've learned that along with communication and execution, planning is one of the three key ingredients for project success.

Planning is not just a one-off activity completed in the early stages of a project. Planning is a process (or rather a group of processes), conducted throughout the project. And like every process, planning itself requires a plan and a setup, which defines the planning scope, details and deliverables.

So how do we plan the planning? Here is my five-step approach:

1. Decide on the project management methodology, framework or practice you will use on the project. Depending on the approach, you might require different planning styles, deliverables, details or rigor.

You might have to go ahead with a detailed planning process if you will use a waterfall approach. Conversely, you might have to keep the planning thin if you will use an agile approach, such as scrum. Or, your planning might be predefined and framed if you have to use your organization's proprietary methodology.

2. Plan project time for planning. In average, at least 10 percent of management time should be allocated to project planning.

3. Write down a checklist of all project documents you plan or need to deliver. The list will mostly depend on your project's complexity, organization and methodology. (More on this in my next post.)

4. Start planning early and continue planning throughout the project.
Some of the planning documents, such as the high-level schedule or scoping documents, might have to be kept frozen upon sign-off. Other documents, such as the risk management planning or rollout planning, will typically require updating as the project progresses.

5. Continuously improve your planning.
Improve planning by communicating the planning outcome with your project team and by collecting their feedback regarding your planning performance. You can use this feedback for continuous planning improvement.

As the project progresses, keep a log of your planning issues to track gaps you encounter along the way. This is the "planning lessons-learned" document that you can also use for continuous improvement.

What do you think? How do you plan for project planning?

See more on project planning.


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I agree that planning should not only be done before implementing the project but rather it is continuously being revised and improved as the project progresses. It may be a bit troublesome because of the constant changes, but it is necessary to mend some flaws to the initial plan that may have been discovered during the process.

Deepa, thanks for your comment. I couldn’t agree more!

Hi William,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Indeed checklists and reminders are excellent means to keep the project planning simple and focused.

Hi Steve,

Yes, the PMO along with the key project stakeholders would be the ideal candidates for such a planning meeting. The sponsor might not be the right person interested in the project planning approach, although she/he could request having at least a high level schedule plan, a scope plan, a budget plan, escalation approach, deliverables acceptance procedure, etc.

As a project manager, I go by the saying "If you are failing to plan, then you are planning to fail".
So, planning becomes the foundation of the project execution and it also lays the path towards project success. Hence,
I ensure that the planning is done and improved continously until the closure of the project.
Also, project planning is not only the project manager's job but it should involve all the stakeholders' buy-in so that
the plan is realistic and does not vary from the actuals.
This makes the project execution and control easier as well.

My planning for project planning is covered in the Exit and Entry Criteria checklists I use, starting with the entry checklist at the receipt of a project request to the exit list, which reminds me of the reasons for sun-setting an application that may have been in use past its prime.

Every checklist has a reminder to review the projected costs and times estimated as well as the actual times and costs against those estimated previously. This reminder and the habit of CHECKING these reminders is part of the way I do business and will continue so until I find some better way to Plan for Planning.

So, would there be meetings to plan the pre-planning, wherein the PMO and sponsor decide the right level of planning for the project to absorb and to determine the project documents?

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