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Project Planning at its Best

Often a project manager is handed the project and probably some early draft schedule and told to “run with it.”  At least that’s been the case for me for much of my PM career.  I’ve experienced at least some PMO structure in some organizations and also some templates thrust upon the PMs in those organizations and others.

For the most part, however, it’s been a case of hand me the ball and let me run.  I like that…some PMs don’t.   And over the course of more than 20 years of managing IT projects I have accumulated my fair share of leadership skills, templates and best practices.

Thankfully I was able to assemble enough to be able to define success and by defining success, create my own successful project management office (PMO) at one organization, though it was short-lived as the company crumbled due to some behind-the-scenes fraud that employees didn’t know about but the IRS, FBI and US Treasury Department certainly did.  Oh well…win some, lose some.

Anyway, back to my topic of project planning.  There is planning in the form of developing project planning documents, gathering requirements, meeting and mapping out design and construction concepts and plans, etc.  And then there’s planning that happens early by you – the project manager – and your team on just how you are going to run this project, collaborate together, and productively manage the customer throughout the long project engagement.

What’s the best way to do this?  Sit in a room with a white board for hours on end?  Perhaps a paper flip board?  Maybe a long video conference?  I’ve found that for some larger projects and geographically dispersed teams an even better way may be to use a good mind mapping software tool that will allow you to share and capture ideas while you’re meeting and turn those into tasks, milestones, risks, and assumptions on the project you’re planning out in detail.

Basically, no matter what software or tool you’re using, you need to follow these steps…

 

Gather the team together.

Gather the team together and go over all key project material.  This can be in a war room, via video conference for those geographically dispersed teams who must “see” each other, by phone conference, or possibly using a combination of one of those along with some collaboration software – like a mind mapping software solution – that will capture ideas and concepts throughout your one or more planning sessions.

Produce the initial project schedule.

I admit, I often have to do this alone.  But when I have my team assigned early, I much prefer to do it with them.  I start with a project schedule template that I think will most closely meet the needs of the current project and revise from there.  I do the same if I’m meeting with the full team – it makes everyone’s job easier and makes this planning session go much smoother.

Plan for next steps.

Finally, plan for next steps.  What’s the best thing to happen next?  A customer face to face?  Some onsite customer travel?  How are you going to kickoff the design phase of the project?  Who’s going to put together the Functional Design Document?  What about other planning documents?  Map all these out – and revise the project schedule as needed to accommodate any more project planning you do as a team.  Ultimately you finish this early team planning process ready to kickoff the project (formally, if you haven’t already done so) and the next phases with the project customer.  This early team planning process is a critical element in building a cohesive team, setting the path for collaboration throughout the engagement, and preparing yourselves to best deliver a successful solution to the customer.

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