Plan and Execute Projects that Deliver Amazing Results
No matter what business you're in, effective project management is a cornerstone of your success. Top performers understand not only how to get results, but how to draw a project to the right conclusion exactly when it's needed.
The Top Performer's Guide to Project Management gives you a quick yet definitive overview of how project management works and ways of creating the best possible results. Discover:
-Why project management is so important
-How to set and meet deadlines
-Budgeting and sticking to it
-Tips for dealing with obstacles
-Bringing the project to a satisfying and happy ending
Top performers know how to plan and run a successful project. You are just a short read away from mastering this essential skill.
Susan Benjamin has been helping businesses and organizations run better since 1989. She has established, trained, and researched strategies for organizations including Putnam Investments and MFS. She lives in Washington, DC.
What is a project management plan? Take out a can of soup. Look at the panel marked "instructions." See where it says to open the can, put the contents in a sauce pan and heat to desired temperature? That's a project management plan for making lunch in the office kitchen.
So why do so many project managers cower at the mention of a project plan? Well, project plans can be complex, especially if you work for a large enterprise and must juggle countless complex, demanding, and unpredictable events. Sometimes you must use sophisticated software and calculate variables that make the average mind blister (of course, in this case, do yourself a favor and hire a certified consultant to assist).
Fortunately, most people can get by with a smaller, simpler, and more manageable project plan. In fact, if you have already picked your team or have a clear vision, you've already launched the plan. Now here's some advice to keep you going in the right direction.
Top Components of a Business Plan
1. Vision and Mission Statement
The vision and mission statements should focus on the actual project at hand and not your organization as a whole. They should encapsulate what you are trying to accomplish and how you would like to do so. Sadly, these can be the most mild, nondescript pieces of writing imaginable and a wasted opportunity to lead and inspire.
Vision: The vision statement should inspire; it's a look at how things could be once your project is complete. It can address everything from a feeling of well-being to a financial state. It can be a few quick words or one or two paragraphs, and it can be literal or symbolic. Think of Herbert Hoover's 1928 campaign slogan: a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. Did he really expect every household to have a chicken in every pot? All the time? The possibility is absurd, but the sentiment is reassuring and inspiring.
Mission: The mission statement directs the business purpose of the organization. You can have specifics, like "Serve Limbo Company with a technology system that seamlessly connects all 2100 employees in 12 countries by the year 2010." Or you can create a softer mission, such as "Develop the best possible footwear for employees who stand on their feet," and "Become the leading provider to food and retail outlets nationwide."
Can you integrate the two into one paragraph? Sure, why not? Just be sure you are targeted enough so that the statement both directs and inspires whoever is reading it.
A few other pointers:
Connect your and your client's futures to the company's to help underscore the business purpose of the project and resonate its overall importance.
Give a copy of the mission statement to your team and refer to it when discussing values and goals.
Get agreement from your team before finalizing the copy.
Steer clear of clichés or sweeping proclamations. A mission statement of "wanting to meet your customer's needs" means less than nothing.
One of the hidden values of a project plan is this: Getting input from your team. Maybe the members agree with every decision you make. (If so, e-mail me at once. I'd love to learn your secret!) Maybe they'll disagree and suggest adjustments. Either way, the process will start them owning the plan and considering the project theirs, which will make them better workers.
2. Project Description and Scope of Work
The scope of work will vary according to why you're writing your project plan in the first place and whom you're writing it for. If the project is for a client like the federal government, they'll demand plenty of details. If it's an in-house job or a plan for a two-person business, you can ease up and lay out just enough information to identify the amount of work involved in your tasks and be able to manage them.
One of your best tools is a Work Breakdown Structure, or WBS. No doubt this term seems more complicated than it is-and frankly, I'm not sure why smart people must give such outrageous names to reasonable things. Name aside, the WBS is much like a family tree, only the parents are your activities and the kids are the tasks involved to accomplish each of those activities. The structure has three levels, each more detailed than the one above. Let's say your project was to host a conference for senior-level clients from around the nation.
So why bother with a WBS? Lots of reasons. For starters, psychologists say the human mind can only comprehend between seven and nine items at once. So, if you have a project with dozens of tasks, how can you keep track? How can you even begin to conceptualize them? But there are other reasons for a WBS as well. Once you figure out all the tasks involved in your project, you'll be ready to determine who does each task, how much each one costs, how long each one takes, and so on.
Naturally, the WBS here contained only a fraction of the content, but the general idea should be clear. In case it isn't, here are a few pointers, then a word from every project manager's best friend: the Project Management Institute, or PMI.
Don't provide too much detail or address specific tasks; this isn't a task list.
The secret is in the outcome. For every item-at any level-think of the outcome.
Make sure your WBS is easy to read and comprehend.
Remember, moderation is the rule-and be moderate with your moderation. In other words, provide all the information you need and nothing less or more. This concept is called the 100% rule.
More on the 100% Rule
According to the PMI, in its book Practice Standard for Work Breakdown Structures (second edition),
The 100% Rule states that the WBS includes 100% of the work defined by the project scope and captures ALL deliverables-internal, external, interim-in terms of the work to be completed, including project management. The 100% rule is one of the most important principles guiding the development, decomposition, and evaluation of the WBS. The rule applies at all levels within the hierarchy: the sum of the work at the "child" level must equal 100% of the work represented by the "parent" and the WBS should not include any work that falls outside the actual scope of the project; that is, it cannot include more than 100% of the work. It is important to remember that the 100% rule also applies to the activity level. The work represented by the activities in each work package must add up to 100% of the work necessary to complete the work package. (p. 8)
Because the WBS is so important, let's have a quick Q&A to address any lingering questions:
Q. How do I know which tasks are involved in my project? It's almost dizzying.
A. One method that's proven helpful to countless project managers is this: Start with level one, the "parent" tasks. That should be easy. Then move to level two, a.k.a. "the children." Don't worry about how many tasks you produce, just get them all out and onto the page. Unlike real children, you can bump off whichever ones are relatively insignificant or redundant. Then on to level three, the specifics.
Q. How do I know when I should stop subdividing my tasks at level three?
A. That's tricky, but basically you should stop when your tasks cover 100% of the "parent," or level one, list.
Q. Should I have a numbering system in my WBS?
A. WBS, now a given in project management, originated in the Department of Defense-so, naturally, they had an intricate system of numbers and sub-numbers. Sadly, the numbering system is distracting and, in my humble opinion, unnecessary. But if you're so inclined, go ahead.
Once you've completed your WBS, you're ready to move forward and address additional items, including these and any other considerations specific to your project:
In the Beginning . . .
Other Financial Considerations
Think It Ain't So?
The Importance of "But Maybe . . ."
Who's Who in Project Management
The Team-and What You Should Know About Them
Contractors and Suppliers
Meet My Friends Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing
Shaping a Vision, Drafting a Plan
Top Components of a Business Plan
Vision and Mission Statement
Project Description and Scope of Work
Roles and Responsibilities
Execution: Fingers to the Pulse
All About Push Me/Pull Me
The PM Monitor or Running Track
What to Do When Disaster Hits the Fan
When the Worst-or Almost Worst-Happens