Can Too Much Project Planning Be Bad For Your Project?

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Michelle Symonds
Michelle Symonds spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in SEO.

Planning a project is vital to its success but some restraint is necessary during the planning stage. If the planning phase takes on a life of its own it can waste valuable project resources.

One of the essential parts of a well-run project is the project plan which will include not only the schedule but various other plans such as a communication plan, risk plan, quality plan. A good plan is fundamental to the success of any project and every project manager will spend a substantial proportion of their time first of all putting the plan together. This will include breaking the work down into manageable tasks that can be monitored easily, assigning resources, obtaining estimates, setting milestones and more. Once the project is underway a large part of a project manager’s time will be spent monitoring and controlling each project task through reference to the schedule and adapting it where necessary to fit a clearer understanding of the tasks as the project progresses.

So if you know that a considerable amount of effort will go into re-working the plan as the project develops, what is a reasonable amount of time to spend putting in place the initial plan? That question is impossible to give just one answer to because all projects are different. Very complex projects will, obviously, need a considerable amount of planning up front but it is important to recognise when too much time spent on planning is a waste of valuable resources and that it might be more important for the project to get started and enable stakeholders to see some progress.

If you find yourself in the situation where planning meetings have become a regular part of your weekly activities and at each meeting something new is discussed about the plan so that it needs to be updates then your project is not making real progress.

So instead of trying to achieve the impossible and create a perfect plan at the start of a project, simply plan in revision points at which you can review the plan and make modifications without impacting too much on the progress of the tasks. This will give those working on the project tasks some breathing space at regular intervals to take stock of progress and re-group resources. It is also a good opportunity to re-evaluate the business objectives – particularly on long projects where the initial aims can change over a period of time.

The amount of time spent planning any project should not take up a disproportionate amount of time compared with the estimated time required to complete the project. Just as a project only needs a few stakeholders so the planning phase should be restricted to just a few individuals – if too many people become involved it will become difficult to reach agreement. It is also important to ensure that discussions do not continue to go over old ground – once a decision has been made stick to it and don’t allow individuals to raise issues of contention again and again once they have been resolved.

So next time you find yourself in the position where you are struggling to get the planning phase of a project finalised just take the existing plan, add a review point date to it and get started. Whilst project management methodologies such as APM or PMP recognise the importance of planning documentation as a reference for managing a project it is sometimes more effective to place the emphasis on activities that will produce a tangible deliverable.


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