The 7 Tips for Successful Project Planning

Project planning is the backbone of any successful project. As the famous saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. But as projects become increasingly complex, building strong project plans that are both robust and flexible is becoming even more challenging. 

While there are plenty of blogs online that will give you outlines of the steps you need to make a project plan, we want to remind you of some critical points and concepts in project planning that can often get overlooked. Here are our top seven tips to make sure you have all your bases covered and you can build your best project plans!

1. Be prepared for change

No matter how perfect a plan you have, there are always bound to be changes and challenges that emerge along the way. Change is inevitable in projects and those who prepare for it are the ones that succeed. Making sure your project has a robust risk management system that identifies, prioritises and mitigates risks is critical for providing teams with the necessary visibility, flexibility and control over their project.

Preparing for change is more than merely identifying risks, it also involves implementing the right cultures and practices that encourage teams to proactively identify problems, openly brainstorm solutions and quickly resolve issues. Take some time to re-evaluate your current practices and whether they enable the level of flexibility and agility you need in your projects.

2. Keep your eye on the project scope

Scope creep is one of the most pressing challenges of modern project management, particularly in the IT field with McKinsey research showing that one in six IT projects exceed their budgets by over 200% as a result of scope creep. PMBOK defines scope creep as the ‘adding features and functionality (project scope) without addressing the effects on time, costs, and resources, or without customer approval’. 

Keeping your projects focused and aligned with the intended objectives is a key way to ensuring your projects attain the most value. Too often client demands stack up and expand the project far beyond its initial scope, leading to significant budget overruns and delays that are costly for the organisation and fails to deliver true value to both the client and organisation. 

A Statement of Work document is a particularly handy tool that makes sure all key project stakeholders agree on the predefined scope of the project to prevent scope creep. Make sure to download our free Statement of Work template so you can get started on managing your project scope.

3. Do not forget stakeholder engagement and management

A common problem in effective project planning is that project managers fail to properly engage with their stakeholders and manage their expectations. Typically, stakeholders like the client are only consulted during critical points of the project, the beginning or when something catastrophic has occurred, meaning the project has progressed too far and gives little to no room for impactful change.

Ineffective stakeholder engagement and management not only runs the risk of disappointing customers by failing to manage their expectations with realistic project progress, but it can also lead to a completely unsatisfactory product that costs a lot of money and does not address any of the key objectives it set out to achieve.

Make sure to properly make room within your project plan to actively engage with your stakeholders as well as ways to manage expectations and resolve potential conflicts that may occur. 

4. Documentation and data is vital

Historic data is one of the key sources of information that inform project plans as it ensures that estimations can be made are realistic and as accurate as possible. Having the right documentation and data allows teams to learn from past mistakes and adapt their plans to their current project’s context. While excessive documentation can sound daunting, it does not need to be a pain with the right PPM solution. An effective PPM solution is able to store all your relevant data and documentation without any significant added effort from team members. 

Make sure to check that you have the right data gathering practices in place that will enable your team to pull from past projects with ease.

5. Make the most out of your tools

No matter what methodology you use, be it Waterfall or Agile or everything in between, every project uses a different set of tools. Whether that be a Gantt chart, a Work Breakdown Structure or a Kanban board, make sure your current PPM solution allows you to make the most out of your tools.

For example, make sure that your Gantt chart tool allows you to actively update, edit and rearrange tasks and their dependencies with ease. An often overlooked aspect of a WBS tool is to make sure they can be integrated and carried through to different software and tools under the same code so valuable project data is not lost. Make sure to take time to evaluate your tools and find out if there are ways you can improve how you use them or if there are other options on the market that will enable your team to do so.

6. Considering work-life balance when allocating team members

Surveys from Limeade reveals that nearly one in three Australian-based employees cited burnout as the primary reason for resignation and are valuing work-life balance more than ever. Often, team members are simply allocated to tasks based on cold numbers that describe their available work hours and capacity. While this makes planning easy, it fails to grasp the real workload and expertise of team members.

Allocating team members based on static figures fail to acknowledge that different team members may not be able to deliver the same consistent output without the right cultures and environments in place. This can lead to a more unproductive allocation of resources while also running the risk of overburdening your team – leading to burnout. 

Make sure that your resource allocation plan actively considers the unique skill set, experience and capacities of team members. Some seemingly excessive costs, like introducing quality mental healthcare service, have shown to improve employee satisfaction and productivity while achieving an average double in returns for every $1 invested, according to PwC research. Though these are often implemented on an organisational level, these practices and cultures should be considered in everyday project implementation to truly make an impact.

7. Always evaluate and refine your processes

Project planning is not a one-and-done activity. The best plans are built off the backs of hundreds of projects. Make sure that you have the right practices and cultures in place that encourage people to be open to evaluating themselves, receiving criticism and refining their processes as they go. Implement project evaluation meetings and lesson learnt documents to help keep track of your organisation’s knowledge and experience to tap into for future planning activities.

Success is a journey, so it is best to imbed the culture of learning and growing into your project planning journey as well!

Get started on your project planning journey with pmo365!

You might have picked up that a lot of successful project planning depends on having a proper PPM solution in your hands. pmo365 is a project portfolio management solution that consolidates all your project management needs and activities onto a single platform so you have complete visibility and control over your portfolio.

But pmo365 does so much more than just help you plan and manage projects. It aims to constantly improve, optimize and elevate your project management activities with better applications and tools to make sure you are always making the most out of your PPM solution.
If you want to know more about how we can help you, make sure to check out our how it works page or start a free trial to see our PPM solution in action!

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