The Project Management Corner Series: When is planning done?

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Part 3 of our Project Management series, first published by Snowden in 2011, looks at the importance of timing in project planning and knowing what should be done when.

Read Part One here

Read Part Two here

When planning a project it is important to do as much of the planning ahead as possible (prior to the proposal being sent to the client). When the order is received, the necessary planning includes fine tuning the project plan to meet the project requirements.

At the start of project planning it is important to focus on the higher level project constraints first and thereafter to work your way down to the less important constraints. In the first article of this series, we identified the high level project constraints as being the scope, cost, time and quality represented by the project constraints triangle. The most important of these is the scope of the project, followed by quality, cost, time and others. This is because the scope fully identifies all of the project activities and deliverables. Only once these are known, may the remaining attributes be assigned and defined.

Scope planning is the process of identifying exactly what the client expects from the project and tailoring a solution to match these expectations. At this stage, it is crucial to ensure that the scope of the project is specific. The output of the scope planning process is to generate a firm scope of work for the project that meets the client’s requirements and conforms to the client contract. The scope must be documented for future reference and should be agreed to, and signed off by, the client and sponsor. The full project scope is then represented through the use of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

The WBS is the engine that drives the whole project. It is a tool that decomposes the project scope into manageable subsections and activities that, when rolled-up, represent the entire project. A fundamental tenement of project planning is that all work be broken down into manageable portions. An important criterion for the WBS is that it must include 100% of the work to be undertaken, including management and other support activities. The WBS is then used for all future planning to add detail and to refine the project planning and execution process. A good WBS is deliverable-oriented not activity-oriented.

A good rule of thumb is to try not to list all the to-do’s but instead to decompose the high level deliverables into the WBS. The final WBS activities or deliverables should be decomposed to a level that a person or team may be held accountable for achieving.

Avoid ambiguous activities where it is not clear to the team or client what is required. It is preferable to further decompose the deliverable, making it easier to manage and control during project execution. All estimation of work, cost and duration are done at the activity level in the WBS.

WBS Component
Figure 1   Key Snowden WBS Components

For most small to medium size projects ($10k to $3.5m) a WBS structure with 3 to 4 levels and a set of activities will be sufficient to represent the full project scope. Within Snowden the WBS consists of the Client ID, Project ID, Project Stage, Project work package, activities and a number of fields for comments. These key components are then visible within the AX commercial and timesheet systems as depicted above.

Once the WBS has been defined and the project team and client are certain that all activities are included, the development of the WBS dictionary may begin. The WBS dictionary is simply an extended list of information that documents the remaining project constraints and assists to better define each WBS activity. In this way the WBS becomes the central tool that links all the project information. The information included in the WBS dictionary may include, but is not limited to, the following: the resource requirements; time estimate to complete; cost estimate to complete; quality requirements; activity risks; WBS code; start and end dates for the activity; description of the work, and any other information that better describes the WBS activity. This is a useful method for collecting all the project activity details together to ensure each activity is properly defined. Many different tools may be used to collect and represent the WBS dictionary information, the most common being MS Excel, MS Word or MS Project.

This article shows that if planning is not done in this manner there is a greater risk that the project plan will not meet the project requirements or the client’s expectations. It is also typical in this scenario to “just get on and do the work”, without the necessary planning, which may lead to project cost and time over-runs. 

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