How do you find success with your project plan?
Here’s a hint: A successful project plan is more than what’s on the page (or the screen for that matter).
A successful project plan starts with relationships and conversation. You’ll need to have a conversation with the people involved in your project.
Good project plans are clear, complete and carefully planned.
Amazing project plans are amazing because they’re followed. What gets everyone on the team to follow your project plan? Ownership and buy-in.
How To Get Buy-In On Your Project Plan
This means good negotiation is a necessary part of a successful project plan. You’ll need to do a few things before you even start your plan.
Fulfillment. Teammates need to be heard. Like it or not, emotions play a powerful role in successful projects. Teammates are willing to move heaven and earth for you when they know you have their back completely.
Ownership. When teammates contribute their ideas to the project plan, everyone has ownership. Teammates should be responsible for their own parts and advocate for themselves. This will decrease your stress level and workload.
Harmonization. Developers may not agree with marketing or management. Their desires may create a conflict. Some of those desires may be mutually exclusive. Great project managers work with all sides to create harmony and minimize resistance.
Support. Good project plans outline what support looks like. When problems appear (and they always do), everyone should know who and when to approach for help. This will promote a culture of openness. No one will feel the need to hide or cover up their mistakes.
Adapatability. Experienced project managers know change is an inevitable part of project management. Things never seem to go the way we planned. The best project plans flow, accepting the changes reality brings as they come. Project plans give teammates the tools they need to go with the flow.
An open conversation with teammates gives you the ability to lay the foundation. That foundation gives you what you need to create an amazing project plan.
Amazing project plans write themselves.
Effective plans answer important questions, giving us the peace of mind to focus on the work. Here are the questions that need to answer.
- What’s our goal?
- What’s our budget?
- How do we complete this project?
- When will it be finished?
- What happens if we have to change something?
- How do we change something?
- What happens if teammates aren’t available?
- How do we track our progress?
These questions will help you understand the schedule, scope, budget and project requirements. And you will know who is responsible for what. The details will emerge from collaboration. You’re not imposing or forcing your will on teammates.
But…there’s a problem.
Good projects fail when (A) expectations are generic, (B) when timelines are horizontal (and slow), and (C) accountability and ownership is centralized. Amazing project plans outperform good or even great project plans because they do a few things differently.
What are the characteristics of a good project plan?
Good project plans focus on results. Good project plans rely on generic expectations like “increase content production.” Amazing project plans are results oriented and specific: “Increase content from 40 articles per day to 80 per day, within 6 weeks.”
Good project plans are vertical not horizontal. The timeline in many project plans tends to be horizontal. First A, then B, then finally C. Amazing project plans rely on a vertical timeline, that is, horizontal tasks done in tandem. You guys work on A + B + C While we work on D + E + F simultaneously.
Good project plans are dramatically faster. The longer a project drags on the more fatigue becomes a problem. Performance becomes an issue as fatigue, exhaustion, and loss of motivation sets in. It becomes difficult for teammates to perform as expected. In contrast, rapid response project plans are typically limited to 100 days or less. With the right foundation, a focus on results and vertical planning makes these dramatic increases possible.
Good project plans make people accountable. Project teams are responsible for on-time/in-budget delivery. Managers and executives are responsible for the success of the project. This puts the team at odds with each other. There’s a better way. Give teams responsibility for achieving specific results. Teams figure out how to hit those results, and this creates even more ownership, buy-in and commitment.
Now you’re ready. We’ve laid our foundation, our preliminary concerns are in place. We’re ready to add the standard details in our plan.
It’s Time To Write the Project Plan
Take the details from requirements documents, conversations and meetings and put them into a project. Your project plan will cover these following categories:
Goals. List the purpose for your project, expected outcomes, a high level view of how you’ll achieve your goals, and more. Include feedback from each team on how they’ll achieve the results.
Scope. It’s a mistake to rely on an informal, poorly defined scope. Inexperienced teams fight against scope creep. Seasoned pros know scope creep is inevitable. Your project plan should outline what’s in and out of scope and how you’ll handle items out of scope. Again buy-in is key. Chaos is a likely problem when everyone comes up with their own response to scope creep.
To-dos/work packages. Group related tasks or to-dos together. Give people a high level view of the work that needs to be done. Make your project plan results focused and centered on outcomes.
Interdependence. List the instances where work packages, to-dos, or projects as a whole are dependent on other teams, events, outcomes or items.
Scheduling. Create a project schedule that lists the products, resources, efforts and costs and time scales for each project. Your schedule baseline (ideal) and project schedule (reality) shouldn’t create conflicts. A good project management tool accounts for both, giving project managers a good idea of whether a project is on track (or not). Again, buy-in is key here. If clients or management demand an unrealistic timeline, conflict and overruns are inevitable.
Vertical milestones. Outline concurrent and non-concurrent events that signal the change or transition in a project. Build your milestones using the feedback you’ve received from teammates, stakeholders and managers.
Deliverables. List the tangible outcome that’s produced by the project and defined in your project brief. Outline when and how deliverables will be presented and who is ultimately responsible for delivery.
Evaluation. Outline key checkpoints where performance, deliverables, quality and results are analyzed or evaluated. Outline the metrics and key performance indicators that will be used to measure the overall outcome.
Budgets. Starting with a budget derails your project almost immediately. Rather than determining the goals and outcomes for a project, executives often shoehorn a disproportionate amount of work into a tiny budget, which can doom the project. A better idea would be to focus on what needs to be done first, then when you have a clear idea of what’s needed, set a budget. This gives you the ability to restructure your project so you get the most bang for your buck. Worst case scenario you have what you need to make a compelling case for increasing the budget.
This is what makes amazing project plans so different. Teammates treat their project plan as a living breathing object.
Here’s The Secret To Project Plan Success
Mediocre project managers demand teammates control the future, exceptional managers flow with reality.
Treat your project plan like a living breathing object. That means relinquishing control. Give your teammates the freedom and permission to say “No.”
Why would should you give teammates that ability? You need to get the work done.
Experienced project managers know better. They know projects are dysfunctional, and are aware of their tendency towards chaos.
Experienced project managers see these stages in attitudes:
- Panic and hysteria,
- Hunt for the guilty,
- Punishment of the innocent, and
- Reward for the uninvolved.
Miserable, right? This doesn’t have to be the outcome of your project. An effective project plan starts with a complete understanding of the goal or outcome.
What are the results we want?
Mediocre project plans operate in a vacuum, and impose minority desires on the majority. Effective project plans, rely on collaboration. They create safety, giving teammates the ability to say “no” to a particular aspect of the plan. Project plans take on a life of their own, changing, growing, morphing as teammates work together.
Teams should consider creating their project plans on project management software. This enables better collaboration, feedback and performance. It’s far too complex for individuals or even teams to manage on their own. Project management software keeps everyone on track and gives visibility into the status of each task.