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Planning is the key Project Management discipline

I have been asked a few times, "What are the top xx things to focus in on as a Project Manager?" Well, this is difficult to answer as a PM should have an armoury of technical disciplines and other skills available for different challenges to be faced during a Project lifecycle. But if pressed, I always fall back to Planning. 

Why is Planning the key discipline?

It is a fact that many of the Project team will struggle to look ahead past the next couple of days, sometimes only the next couple of hours! So the Project Manager needs to be planning and looking ahead.

Those that know me, know I like my Project Management Proverbs and I feel it is time for a couple. Let me start with "There are no good Project Managers, only lucky ones". "WHAT" I hear you say? 

Well, there is a P.S."The more you plan, the luckier you get!"
Project Planning - There are no good Project Managers only lucky ones; The more you plan the luckier you get

Or another Proverb is the 6 Ps of Planning...... "Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Project Performance"
Planning 6Ps - Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance

Plans can take many forms

I've seen plans produced in many forms. 

At one end of the spectrum, you may have a detailed plan in a planning tool with integrated feedback from team members via a centralised server where actual effort and "Estimate to Complete" can be fed back. I implemented such a tool for AXA and the trick here is to get good processes in place adopted by everyone. Without that, the value can fall away.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have seen Excel spreadsheets used effectively.

Whatever, the solution I would say the requirements are:
  • ability to show plan at a high level (important for stakeholder management)
  • recording the detail somewhere, because the "devil is in the detail"
  • ability to communicate the plan and get "buy-in" from the team (as they will be delivering it!)
  • ability to understand the critical path (the path through the plan which has no slack i.e. if one of the critical tasks is delayed this will impact the important delivery milestone
  • ability to monitor and control against the plan(s) and see impacts to the high level

I suggest starting with Products that are to be produced along the journey to the "final" Product

Product based Planning is a powerful technique to start your planning. Have a read of a specific post on this.

Action without Planning is Fatal

So if you are to focus on one thing, make it planning and monitoring against the plan once established. One last thing, don't spend all you time planning! Again a proverb helps me illustrate because although Action without Planning is Fatal, Planning without Action is Futile!

Project Planning without Action is Futile; Action without Planning is Fatal

So if you can establish some of the early tasks which can be safely started while the rest of the plan is being flushed out then crack on. And another top tip is to "plan the plan" - plan how you will get to an agreed plan. So you can monitor your progress towards that goal and manage stakeholder expectations. Have a read of this post for more details.

Start early

It is beneficial to have an plan if you are starting some activities early before your any official baselining. Remember the Proverb, The sooner you fall behind the project schedule, the more time you have to make it up!
Early Project plan and monitoring Proverb

A few other Planning Proverbs for you

  1. If you fail to plan you are planning to fail
  2. If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there
  3. The nice thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression

And Finally...

There are a number of other Planning related posts on this Blog so select the Planning tag or indeed use the free form search for Planning, to see how, look here

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