Project Planning

Project Planning

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Project planning in teams is crucial at the beginning of a project but remains necessary throughout the whole life of the project.

Project planning is the single most important tool for ensuring that a project will be completed successfully. Without project planning it is very likely that a project will fail, even if the project has sufficient budget, excellent resources and an undefined deadline. This kind of projects would not be clearly defined, and will have many resources wasted and left unused while the project is blocked waiting for critical information or some task to be finished. This kind of project may fail before it even starts, or it may be terminated after hitting one of the problems that cannot be unblocked.

A project may be a big financial failure if it is badly planned and is not terminated in time. This kind of project would slowly be revised to use more and more time and money, finally being finished after going so much over the initial budget and time restraints that the result will be a financial failure – the only reason the project is allowed to continue is due to political or sentimental factors. A typical example of this kind of project is the Concorde Project, which was a technological success but a total commercial failure. The Concorde was originally estimated to cost 6 million pounds, but ended up costing 1065 million pounds, resulting in big losses for the French and British governments (Peter Hall, 1980).

The most critical impact for project planning occurs at the start of the project. If the project is planned well from the beginning it will have a better basis to build on, and the project plan will not have to undergo many changes during the course of the project. Poor initial planning is often the difference between a success and failure.

When the project encompasses several team members (people resources), it is necessary to assign roles at the start of the project. Project planning includes appointing the individual roles and responsibilities of each team member and setting the ground work that is clear and concise and understandable to everyone on the team. The project will need a leader, and the leader will need a project plan.

The team leader must provide a clear and concise plan that the team can follow effectively as well as understanding the various stages of team development. There are 5 stages of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning [McDonald, 2005].

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Forming an effective team can and should include different kinds of expertise and leadership abilities. Such differences encompass system leadership, technical expertise and day to day experience [McCarthy, 2005]. This may include one or more individuals with one or all of the different qualities but you must have all of the differences represented to have a quality team.

Every member in the project needs to realize the importance of following the plan, and in the initial planning sessions they will need to voice their opinions if they disagree. A brainstorming session can be very helpful if the atmosphere is relaxed. On the other hand, if the atmosphere is too strict and confining some project members may intentionally sabotage the project if they feel that they are not being heard and their opinion does not matter. So, it is crucial that the project planning team, and especially the project leader have good communication and people skills (soft skills), in addition to having the background needed for understanding the project.

A good plan, following it through throughout the life of the project will help identify and react to possible problems and bottlenecks and will help the project finish in a timely fashion. The most basic approach is to divide the project into tasks and identify the needed resources and relationships between the tasks. This way many tasks may be worked in parallel, speeding up the project finishing time.

In order to understand the different tasks, a lot of information needs to be collected. Crucial information includes identifying the needed resources and people and estimating the required time correctly. Sometimes different people will estimate their required time very differently, so this information needs to be considered carefully. If there are many opinions on the required time, it is best to research or ask for an expert opinion, to find out which estimate is most likely to be correct.

The critical path for the project can be determined by identifying the tasks that rely on each other and have to be finished sequentially. If there are many tasks depending on a particular task, the critical path will have to consider the task with the longest finishing time. This way the total length of the project can be calculated: It is the length of the critical path. This means that any changes done to the tasks in the critical path will directly affect the length of the project! There are many tools and programs that help creating a good project plan and observing the critical path. One widely used program is Microsoft Project™.

Some very common mistakes can be made, even when using tools and techniques designed to help creating a project plan. For example the tools may suggest a totally different critical path if there is not enough information available on how reliable the required times are for the different tasks. This can be due to resources not being available for the tasks to be started, or an unrealistic time schedule that cannot be met. If the information is not available, this needs to be clearly marked as a risk factor instead of hoping for the best or making assumptions.

During the length of the project, the project plan needs to be closely monitored to make sure the tasks will finish in time. The performance of different team members needs to be monitored, so the time can be adjusted if a similar problem may occur later in the project. If the tasks are not part of the critical path some slipping can be allowed, but special attention needs to paid to the tasks in the critical path. If these tasks do not finish in time the whole project will not finish in time.

During the project, it is important to track the time and resources used and keep the collected information for review during project milestones. This will help in knowing the exact status of the project, and to know if the project has a chance of completing within the set parameters. If the project is encountering insurmountable problems, it may need to be finished early.

At the completion of the project, project planning will transform into reviewing and evaluating the team and what parts of the project planning were effective and what needs improvement in subsequent projects. The successful team will prevail when proper project management and planning is done as a whole. Each individual will gather an increased awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses as well as a better understanding of their most critical asset in a team project thus increasing the likelihood of each future project being a pleasant and productive experience.

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