Managing a project is exciting, but also fraught: employees off sick during key developments, suppliers not delivering on time, unexpected harvest failures, rises in the price of commodities, or delays in getting goods through Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, can all give a project manager a headache and cost the company money.
Which is why a Project Management Plan is the most important document for any company. Whether it’s for a major or minor project, it will become the source from which everyone in the company will draw upon to keep the project on course.
Every big project in a company has to start with a plan. And it can’t be rushed. The planning stage is the most important part of the process. Without a standard sheet that everyone in the company can refer to at all times, your project is crippled before it’s even started.
Planning requires meetings. The first of which has to establish to end goal, the budget required (even though this can be a fairly fluffy figure at this stage), the people and departments necessary to complete the goal, and the timescale.
Once this initial plan is in place, the project manager has to bring all the departments in to give their professional opinion on how the end goal can be achieved. At this stage, you begin to understand the true scope of the project: most crucially how much it will cost, and whether your company can deliver it on time.
Understanding financial, and time, constraints is essential to the smooth management of a project. A poorly costed project can devour a company’s profits. If there isn’t the manpower available to deliver on time, you could lose employees due to the high level of stress involved.
Who’s involved in planning?
Everyone who will be part of the outcome is the simple answer: product developers, sales team, finance department, marketing, IT department, and the client/customer. If you leave out marketing to the last minute, you could find they’ve already allocated all their budget to another project. IT might need to bring in extra resources to deliver technical materials, and your sales team might not have the customers in place to sell the end product to. And if you’re developing a product for a specific client without involving them from the beginning, you could be spending a lot of time and money on something that doesn’t fit their needs.
Define the stages
A good project manager will put in place very clear stages for the project. Deadlines help focus the mind and with deadlines in place for each of the stakeholders, you can gauge how well the project is progressing. It also prevents feature creep getting out of control.
Every project suffers from feature creep. As different departments get to grips with the project suggestions and ideas will begin to flood in from every direction. Some will be good, some not so good. But it can be managed and kept to a minimum.
This is why it is so vital to have a thorough initial planning stage. By involving everyone at the very beginning ideas can be thrashed out. Solid ideas can be budgeted into the plan, provision made for extra people and materials, whilst marketing can begin to get creative. It also means that bad ideas can be weeded out early in the process.
With a clearly defined plan everyone knows what is required and it’s harder to deviate from that plan. But what about those ideas that are so awe-inspiring they have to be included? Ask yourself, the team, the client, everyone in fact, if it’s really necessary in this phase, or whether it can be placed into a feature update after this project has been completed. Because deviation will cause delays and at that point you have to ensure that everyone is aware of the costs involved. And if it has to be included, a new plan has to be formulated around it with new deadlines and budget plans.
Build into the plan a weekly meeting to established what goals are being met. This way you’ll be able to quickly identify areas that are lagging behind. If you leave out this process you could end up with one area of the project not just lagging behind, it could be dragging the whole project down: increasing costs across the whole company.
From the outset, don’t promise more than can be delivered. From a sales perspective this means managing the expectations of the client. They may want a Ferrari, but only have the budget for an Audi A3. Don’t ever pretend you can deliver the Ferrari.
Know who’s on holiday
Everyone goes on holiday, so it’s essential that you know when key people are away and build that into your plan. If you want a key marketing decision to be delivered on the week the marketing manager is away, you need to know that and adjust the plan accordingly.
Things do, and can, go wrong that are outside the control of the Project management Plan. So it’s best to build in contingencies at the outset. Add time onto the plan to accommodate unfortunate events. That way, if a fire breaks out at a supplier’s warehouse, you’ve got time to find another supplier. It also means that if additional features have crept into the plan, they won’t delay the entire project. And if nothing happens, you had better ensure marketing gets the heads up that you’re delivering ahead of schedule.
ISM runs training courses for PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner in Dubai both in house and publicly. Contact us on [email protected] for more details if you wish to gain these critical Project Management qualifications