A project manager’s roadmap and guiding document is called a project management plan. It puts all the pieces of project management together into one coherent place. Rather than holding all the pieces of the project in your head (like alot of project managers I know) it’s incredibly helpful to organize them on paper and to have a plan. To be a rock star project manager, you should know how to create one.
Unfortunately there is no standard template. Project management plans come in many forms, because the foremost criteria is that they contain any information of relevance to managing the project.
That being said, there are standard parts, as well as procedures involved in creating those parts.
It can also be a personal resource for the project manager or shared by the project team and other stakeholders.
The following is my recommendation for the sections of a project management plan:
- Critical Success Factors. This is the foundation of the project and should be located near the front, if not right at the front. These represent a written definition of project success.
- Scope Statement. This is also pretty foundational. It defines the project and attempts to delineate its boundaries. It states what the project is attempting to accomplish and what tasks are part of the project and what are not (on a high level).
- Budget. I usually put this in an appendix since they’re in spreadsheet form, but it is a much referenced item. During status meetings, invoicing, etc. it’s a great place to have it handy.
- Schedule. You can have any level of detail here. From one end of the scale, where you simply identify milestone dates for the project, to the other where you have a full software based schedule, the project management plan isn’t complete without a schedule.
- Quality. Most projects have standards they must adhere to or strive for, such as ISO, ASTM, or IEEE. Often the owner/client has standards for projects they run.
- Communication. It may seem like you simply need to communicate with the right people at the right time. But almost all projects have some sort of standard communication requirements which can be defined and planned for, like monthly progress updates, technical briefs, investor circulars, etc. Maybe you intend to take a project sponsor for lunch monthly until the project is complete. If that’s what it takes to get the project done right, why not define it in a communications plan?
- Risk. In this section risks to the project’s critical success factors are listed and prioritized, and contingency plans are drawn up for those risks that are considered important enough to warrant it.
- Project Control. Project management plans can be relegated to the bookshelf if you don’t put a priority on opening it and using it. It’s good to have a section for identifying how the project will be controlled to ensure it doesn’t drift out of its scope, budget, or any other factor. Because this is so important, I will go into greater detail on this one.
There are other parts that can be included too, but these are the ones I consider to be the most important.
A project management plan that sits on the shelf isn’t useless. It did serve the purpose of planning the project. But if it is not used to keep the project in line with its original objectives, it’s value is basically wasted.
I am a big believer in the ability of project management plans to control projects and keep them on the straight and narrow. At the firm I used to work, many projects would go idle with little work done on them for months. When the client called, it was suddenly a scramble. It’s not that nobody cared, but there are always other projects, tasks, and important events.
My suggestion is to have a weekly progress meeting between the important project participants and either fill out a standard progress form or have a standard agenda. Now I know what you might be thinking – That’s alot of meeting time which could be used to work on the project. Meetings are expensive and this would be just one more thing in people’s schedules which causes them to lose productivity. But I insist that a weekly progress meeting is worth it, because it will drastically increase the odds of finishing the project a success. How much is it worth to be fairly certain that the project would finish on time, under budget, and satisfy all the stakeholders?
I don’t believe in outlawing all meetings, but I think most people are holding the wrong ones. Technical meetings should be done in someone’s office. Project progress meetings should be the only time everyone gets together, generally speaking.
I suggest a weekly timeframe because I believe this seems to work for almost all projects. Small projects who don’t even utilize full time workers can use a weekly recap to keep things moving forward. And even large multimillion dollar projects could benefit from a weekly meeting where reports are presented and project status reviewed. But that being said, the frequency is up to the individual project manager.
At the engineering firm I own, we have a weekly progress report that I get every monday morning. The report contains the following sections:
- Schedule Variance
- Cost Variance
- Work accomplished last week
- Tasks for this week
- Review to end of project
The first two are simple numbers and the last three are written paragraphs.
As you can see, everybody knows if the project is behind schedule, or over budget. The schedule and cost variance are there for all project members (or the most important ones) to see. In my experience, this alone will cause projects to either get back on track, or the key information to come out as to why the project is behind.
The third to fifth items ensure that the project is not lost in no man’s land. It forces the project manager to take a big picture look at the project and consider the tasks that need to be completed this week. If this is done weekly throughout the project, can you see how the project will continue to move forward?
Today’s task is to create a project management plan. But the great thing is that everything has already been done.
Start a new MS Word (or any other word processor) document, and copy into it the following items from the previous days in this blog series:
- Critical success factors (day 1)
- Scope statement (day 2)
- Work Breakdown Structure table, complete with start and end dates and cost (days 3-5)
- Stakeholder list (day 7)
- Risk register (day 8).
Do you feel like a rock star now? Feel free to add anything you figure will help your project turn out better. I’m excited you got this far. You now have a great foundation in project management and all it took was 10 minutes per day for 9 days. I can’t wait to see you tomorrow when we’ll finish up by talking about the project team.