In my previous post “A Beginner’s guide to Project Management – Part 1”, I spoke about 5 tips that can make your life easier if you are entrusted with the role of project manager during the initiation phase of the project. In case you would like to go through that article again, here is the link.
In this second post, I am going to share some tips to save time and improve efficiency and hence having a better chance at success in the project planning phase.
I am intentionally going sequentially as per PMBOK® guide whereby Initiation precedes, planning, then execution followed by control and closure. In the latest 2017 edition of PMBoK®, i.e. the 6th version of PMBoK® guide from PMI® [Project Management Institute], there are 24 processes within the Planning phase.
I am not going to delve into each and every process and then try to explain to you because this post has been started with the thought in mind that you are well versed with the theory of project management, and you are looking for bullets to help save your time and peace of mind.
In short, idiot’s guide to project management! ☺
Alright. Let’s begin.
Planning is the root cause of evil:Tip # 6: Over Planning is a Sin
Yes, you read that right. We the project management community gets stressed with the fact that there are too many unknowns in your project leading to instability, the budgets and business forecasts can shrink anytime, the team can go on unplanned leaves and what not!
This causes us to plan more and adopt multiple tools to reduce the volatility in our project which in turn increases the paperwork, documentary submissions, compliance requirements and above all, a very stiff environment that hampers team productivity and bonding.
So to cut the evil should we stop planning?
But there has to be a threshold to it. And that relates to my first tip in planning section, numerically numbered as Tip 6 since first 5 tips were covered in post 1.
If you are starting a brand new project with no history then create a broad overall plan for the project and get it reviewed with stakeholders but then do not start planning entire 24 processes right from the word go.
- You should have a broad level [one page max] plan for each of the knowledge area: Quality, resource, cost, schedule, communication, risk, procurement etc. Just a high-level summary of what you plan to do in that particular field
If you make the mistake of planning each and everything in detail right from the word go then you will end up:
- Wasting your time in rework
- Irritating your team by forcing to follow “Your” plan instead of what’s the ground reality
- Demotivated workforce that is scared to talk to you
Tip # 7: Have weekly, monthly, quarterly goals clearly defined.
If you are saving your time by not over planning then you should utilize this opportunity to find out your customer and business owners’ expectations and line them up in weekly, monthly and quarterly goals fashion.These goals need not be hard and set in concrete but laying of a foundation for your entire project team to starting wrapping their minds around them.How do these goals help?
The benefit is since we are not reviewing detailed project plan with the stakeholders at the beginning of the project so sharing with them:
- A broad project plan and
- Your short-term, mid-term goals
Helps them give confidence that you are on board with them on the same ship.
Tip # 8: Get the leave plans of your team first
This tip is based on my professional experience whereby I had burnt my fingers quite a few times in my projects. The problem was my plans were laid bare by the leaves taken by the key personnel of my team on multiple occasions.
If I had known that some of the people were going on long leaves then I can either modify my plans or allocate some other person. While leave planning and allocation is part and parcel of project execution, but as soon as I am allocated to a project and I have a team assigned to me, the first thing I do is to submit their immediate leave plans for at least 1 month. And make it a habit to have that clarity until the project closes.Tip # 9: Have a Refined plan for unplanned leaves
In one of the projects I had under my stewardship, the improvement plans to deliver something more meaningful above and beyond what is committed to the client were big flops because every time someone’s unplanned long leave came into the picture.
While a couple of instances were beyond anyone’s control but in a couple of other instances, the erring team member had intentionally hidden this piece of information for me, only to burst on my face in the time of crucial need.
The trick to bringing this behavior down to 0, as per my experience is as follows:
- Gain trust of the team members that you are not against genuine and planned leaves. And the best way to gain that trust is through “Action”. Because action speaks louder than words.
- Explain to the team the harm it caused to the entire team [not only the project] due to unplanned leaves.
- Let off first few incidents with a polite face to face discussion followed by a written note as an official note.
- Discuss those incidents [without naming the person] in team meetings and help the entire team understand the impact of those actions.
In spite of all this, there will be people who will refuse to cooperate with you and leave you high and dry with unplanned leaves, for those cases, you need to have an official reform mechanism that ranges from personal improvement plan to involving HR.
But believe me when I say that if your team genuinely feels that you will not stop them from going on leaves if they are fair and open with you then the cases of unplanned leaves will come down drastically in your team. That is why first thing I do is to get the leaves plans of the team sorted out as soon as I take over a project.
Tip # 10: A handy and accessible issue tracker.
Speak to your seniors, ex-managers and existing team members on their experience of handling or working on similar projects. Document the issues that they faced and mark them accordingly. Some people confuse it with risk register but that is a different artifact.
- Issue tracker is an ongoing document on the current issues being faced by the team or the ones that are unsolved since long time.
- Document the actions taken so far by the authorities so far on each issue and what are the next expected actions by whom.
- Have a clear-cut ETA on each of those action items
- Regularly review those issues every fortnight until the project goes into cruise mode; then you can move the meeting to monthly or quarterly.
The benefits of having issue tracker handy and accessible for everyone in your team allows everyone to be a stakeholder in your project. If you keep it locked only for you to access then rest assured you will not get the correct visibility. Let your team members add issues to the tracker if they sense something is wrong. You can spend a few minutes to review those entries and weed them out if they are unnecessary but the benefit of being 100% sure you earn by this practice is valuable.
So these are the top 5 tips for you in the planning phase of project management. In total, I have shown you 10 tips so far.
In my next post, I will come back with more such tips and tricks to help you out. So stay tuned and do leave a comment.
All the best !!