The degree of project planning necessary for a successful outcome depends on the project and the associated circumstances. A small, uncomplicated project may not require a formalized planning process and project management tools. When a project is large or is one of many assignments, however, formalized structure in the planning phases may help.
The structured approach to successful project planning consists of (Larson and Gray, 2014):
- Defining the Project Scope
- Establishing Project Priorities
- Creating a Work Breakdown Structure
- Integrating the WBS with the Organization
- Coding the WBS for the Information System
This approach to planning is necessary to develop a clear and accurate foundation for the project. As you begin, use a Project Scope Checklist to clearly define deliverables expected and establish rough estimates of time, cost, and resources. When approved by the customer, this creates an agreement to guard against scope creep (the tendency to add or change deliverables after the project begins) as the project proceeds.
The Work Breakdown Structure is developed by subdividing the project tasks into successively smaller work elements. The WBS provides a visual of the project and allows one to identify cost, time, and performance expectations at various levels of the organization. Integrating the WBS with the organization involves linking the tasks identified in the WBS with specific areas of the organization. The Organizational Breakdown Structure is the result of these linkages. By tying work packages to specific organizational units, you establish cost accounts for the various tasks.
A good communication plan is critical in the project environment. If vital information is not provided to the right people at the right time, even well-defined projects will likely have problems. The project manager and project team should carefully consider who the key stakeholders are and how and when they should receive important information. The typical communication plan should identify the information needed, target audience, when the information is needed, method of communication, and who should provide the information.
The five basic steps for project planning, along with the related tools presented here, provide an excellent foundation for defining and beginning a project. Understanding and mastering this process can make the difference between failure and success.
Neal Callahan, Ph.D., is a professor and head of the Department of Technology and Construction Management in the College of Business at Missouri State University. His specialties include project management, manufacturing systems, and quality control.