2) Planning

What’s the problem?
Before you start, ask yourself this – “whats the problem I’m trying to solve here?” its not always an obvious answer. Defining the real problem is a crucial step at the start of a project as it can mean the difference between success and failure, too often in the rush to get the next software version out the door or update the widget it is easy to rush into solution mode before clearly understanding what the problem is.

Without understanding the real problem you run the risk of wasting resources by building  a solution that may not meet what the customer really needs, use the following questions to help:

  1. Whats the perceived need or problem?
  2. Who has an interest in the outcome i.e. is a stakeholder?
  3. How do the stakeholders need vary?
  4. What criteria are the stakeholders going to use to measure success (these are also know as Critical Success Factors)

Identifying Stakeholders
Anyone who has an interest in the outcome of the project or who provides tools, people or money is a stakeholder. It is important that all stakeholders are identified and their relationship noted, you can use a RACI chart to help assist with this by breaking down stakeholders into four distinct groups:

  • Responsible – Those who do the work to achieve the task. There is typically one role with a participation type of responsible, although others can be delegated to assist in the work required.
  • Accountable (also approver or final approving authority) – The one ultimately answerable for the correct and thorough completion of the deliverable or task, and the one from whom responsible is delegated the work.In other words, anaccountable must sign off (approve) on work that responsible provides. There must be only one accountable specified for each task or deliverable.
  • Consulted – Those whose opinions are sought, typically subject matter experts; and with whom there is two-way communication.
  • Informed – Those who are kept up-to-date on progress, often only on completion of the task or deliverable; and with whom there is just one-way communication.

Another point worth making is to make sure that you have the necessary support to be able to execute the project or program and achieve the outcome. Identify your project sponsor, work closely  with them to understand their requirements and keep them informed on a regular basis. One of the most common reasons that projects fail is due to poor sponsor engagement.

Define Project Objectives / Activities
Be clear on what the project objectives are – make sure you get these agreed with your key stakeholders and definitely the project sponsor! The clearer you can be in defining the objectives the easier it will be able to manage whether you have achieved them or not.

Getting SMART!
When you are defining objectives or defining project activities a very good way of achieving this is to think SMART! The acronym stands for:

Time bound

This will help you set parameters across the project in logical, realistic time bound chunks!

When defining the project activities try to break down all the activities into smaller chunks, keep going until you have reached the smallest time unit you will be scheduling for example, If you are scheduling in days then you’re smallest activity will be 8hrs duration.

This approach is called a WBS or Work Breakdown Structure – this allows for tasks to be logically broken down, assigned to personnel and importantly to track progress.

Another key point to follow is regarding who estimates the effort? Well, its definitely not the project manager! The teams doing the work should estimate the effort required and these should be treated as estimates only and based on prior experience. Also ensure that all assumptions, caveats etc are called out. Keep on breaking down the activities until you reach the smallest denominator likely to be half or one day in duration.

Many projects fail either because a significant part of the work has been overlooked or because the time and money required to complete it  have been underestimated.

The best way to capture this information is in the form of WBS in project tools such as Microsoft Project or primavera. There are now a number of tools available on the market that allow activity tracking to be done in the cloud such as base camp or similar software as a service or sass.

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