How to Develop a Project Plan

The biggest key to successful project management is having a well thought-out project plan.

Stephen Blank is chief executive officer of Loman Control Systems Inc.
Stephen Blank is chief executive officer of Loman Control Systems Inc.

Driving from New York to Los Angeles, you have a couple of options. One option is to just drive west until you get to the Pacific Ocean. Once you get to the ocean, if you are in Oregon, head south; if you are in Mexico, head north. You’ll probably need to ask for directions occasionally and you might need to sleep in the car if you haven’t made motel reservations. You might actually get there—eventually.

Another option is to develop a plan using such items as a map (remember them?) or your GPS. Since it’s a long drive you might also plan your hotel stops, meal stops, etc.

It’s about 2,800 miles from New York to LA. I’ve taken similar trips with a car full of children and a couple of dogs. It can be a lot of fun or it can be a long, miserable experience. Imagine doing the trip without a plan.

Managing a project can be a lot like a long trip. You can dive right in and hope you finish on time and the scope requirements were met. Or you can develop a project plan, which outlines key management areas with plans for each area.

A project plan can be very simple—outlining only the key management areas that are crucial to the project’s success. The plan can also be complex—outlining many key management areas and plan to satisfy each area. The project manager, in consort with other members of the project team—including the client and end-user—should complete the project plan.

Management areas that should be defined in the project plan include:

  • Contract management: Pertinent information from the client’s purchase order, terms and conditions, and other contractual documents should be outlined and a plan to ensure that these items are followed should be developed.
  • Procurement management: What needs to be purchased, when, how and by whom should all be outlined and agreed upon. This can get out-of-hand very quickly without a good plan and a plan for compliance.
  • Risk management: All projects have some degree of risk. This should be identified early in the process and a plan developed to manage and possibly minimize the effects of these items on the project. A risk perceived as being minor can prove to have disastrous results on the project’s schedule and success.
  • Resource management: Who is going to do what? Are sub-contractors needed? When are the end-user’s people to be involved? How many? These are just some of the questions that need to be discussed.
  • Communication management: The communication plan is arguably the most important aspect of the project. The success of the project is often measured not just in the performance criteria of the end result, but in how effectively project management and others communicated with the client, the end-user, the project team, etc.
  • Scope management: It is important to define the boundaries and limits of the project. Outline what is to be expected and plan to ensure that limits are met and not exceeded.
  • Schedule management: You’ve defined who is doing what in the resource management section; this is where you define when it's going to be done. Equally important in defining a schedule is to define the plan to manage and maintain the schedule. Trust me—it will change, so a plan needs to be developed to manage the schedule changes.
  • Budget management: Funny thing about people—they want to get paid for work performed and materials and services supplied. The budget management plan needs to be in conjunction with many of the above management areas.
  • Change management: One constant across most projects is that change will happen. When—not if—this occurs, a project plan needs to outline what procedures to follow when changes are needed. A plan to document the change and approval of the change is a minimum requirement.
  • Quality management: How will performance be measured? The plan should include performance metrics and an agreed-upon method to ensure compliance.
  • Project closure: What triggers closure and when is this satisfied? What is to be stored, delivered, archived, etc.?

In reviewing these steps, you'll see that two key points often apply to each step. Because these items are often overlooked, I'll highlight them here:

  • Don’t forget to involve the client and end-user in the project planning process. Ultimately you need to ensure that their metrics for success are the same as yours.
  • Develop two plans—the project plan and the plan to manage the project plan. One cannot exist without the other.

Project plans are dynamic. Check your progress against your plan occasionally and make necessary corrections to the process to get back on plan or discuss plan changes with the team. LA here we come!

Stephen Blank is chief executive officer of Loman Control Systems Inc., a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association. See Loman Control's profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange by CSIA.

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