Planning Bloody Planning

Congratulations! Your company won the proposal. The boss has made you the PM to deliver the project, now the fun begins.Related image


Making a plan, and building a schedule is not, and should never be seen, as some onetime event to get past at the beginning but it should be considered a living thing that should grow, at times literally with the weather. But like the weather, at some point, every project will have some degree of uncertainty or events that it must adapt to.

Planning makes all the difference in where you apply your margin of error so that you can deal with the risk of uncertainties, and still have confidence that your schedule has cushion time available in it to jump on opportunities as they arise.


4 Pointers for Planning to Plan

Here are some simple pointers to help you take that first step right to get your project up and running:

1.   Failing to plan, is planning to fail


Jumping straight in, without a schedule or even a plan, is a false economy for fools that have yet to learn luck strikes both ways.  Often that first step is imagined as more difficult than it needs to be and is skipped, resulting in a failure later.

We have all heard this truism, but very few PM’s think to apply this to planning itself. It is easy to say the customer did not ask for any formal documents or perhaps you are your own boss with no one to answer to but yourself. But at some point, you’d also like to finish that project and maybe even get paid for it.


Within PMP the outputs of the Planning processes are:

• Plan Schedule Management: The only output of this process is the Schedule Management Plan. This plan states the activities involved in developing and monitoring the schedule.

• Define Activities: The outputs to this process are the Activity List, Activity Attributes, and Milestone List. In this process, work packages are broken down into activities. This is then useful for estimating and scheduling. Rolling Wave Planning is used in the process.

• Sequence Activities: The outputs to this process are Project Schedule Network Diagrams and updates to the Project Documents. Precedence Diagrams are used in this process.

• Estimate Activity Resources: Apart from updates to the Project Documents, the outputs to this process are Activity Resource Requirements and Resource Breakdown Structure.

• Estimate Activity Durations: The outputs to this process are Activity Duration Estimates and updates to the Project Documents. Three-point estimating, which takes three estimates most likely, Optimistic, and Pessimistic, is one of the estimation techniques used.

• Develop a Schedule: Apart from updates to the Project Documents and the Project Management Plan, the outputs to this process are the Schedule Baseline, Project Schedule, Schedule Data, and Project Calendars. The Critical Path Method (CPM) is used in this process.

Deadlines, invoicing, resource constraints or even just your own personal time all impact your project and should be considered. Maybe your project is small enough, and those few thoughts are all you really need. It will take time work through all the unknowns. Asking questions about project scale is the start of your planning to plan, just that easy. Start a list of the major deliverables and what order you need them.


Image result for major deliverables list

Dividing complex projects to simpler and manageable tasks is the process identified as Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

Usually, the project managers use this method for simplifying the project execution. In WBS, much larger tasks are broken down to manageable chunks of work. These chunks can be easily supervised and estimated.

WBS is not restricted to a specific field when it comes to application. This methodology can be used for any type of project management.

Following are a few reasons for creating a WBS in a project:

·        Accurate and readable project organization.

·        Accurate assignment of responsibilities to the project team.

·        Indicates the project milestones and control points.

·        Helps to estimate the cost, time and risk.

You can now illustrate the project scope, so the stakeholders can have a better understanding of the same.

Identifying the main deliverable’s of a project is the starting point for deriving a work breakdown structure.

This important step is usually done by the project managers and the subject matter experts (SMEs) involved in the project. Once this step is completed, the subject matter experts start breaking down the high-level tasks into smaller chunks of work.

Electrical sub- systems expanded

In the process of breaking down the tasks, one can break them down into different levels of detail. One can detail a high-level task into ten sub-tasks while another can detail the same high-level task into 20 sub-tasks.

Therefore, there is no hard and fast rule on how you should breakdown a task in WBS. Rather, the level of breakdown is a matter of the project type and the management style followed for the project.

In general, there are a few “rules” used for determining the smallest task chunk. In “two weeks” rule, nothing is broken down smaller than two weeks’ worth of work.

This means, the smallest task of the WBS is at least two-week long. 8/80 is another rule used when creating a WBS. This rule implies that no task should be smaller than 8 hours of work and should not be larger than 80 hours of work.

One can use many forms to display their WBS. Some use tree structure to illustrate the WBS, while others use lists and tables. Outlining is one of the easiest ways of representing a WBS.

Following example is an outlined WBS:

·        There are many design goals for WBS. Some important goals are as follows:

·        Giving visibility to important work efforts.

·        Giving visibility to risky work efforts.

·        Illustrate the correlation between the activities and deliverables.

·        Show clear ownership by task leaders.

TIP: It is easier to dial back on the level of detail in your record keeping than it is to go back and try to piece information when things begin to go wrong.

 2.   Rolling wave planning

Rolling Wave Planning is a technique that enables you to plan for a project as it unfolds. This technique, then, requires you to plan iteratively. The planning technique is very similar to those used in SCRUM or other Agile Methodologies. Essentially, when you use Rolling Wave Planning, plan until you have visibility and full understanding, implement, and then re-plan.

For example, suppose you expect to complete the project in eight months, but only have clarity for the first three months: You would plan only for the firs three months. As the project progresses and you gain more clarity, you would then plan for the remaining months. The Rolling Wave Planning technique uses progressive elaboration, which is the act of elaborating the work packages in greater detail as the project unfolds.

This method for planning does not exempt you from creating a list of milestones and assumptions for the entire project. As a matter of fact, it is necessary to provide key milestones and assumptions as they will help stakeholders see why you are using Rolling Wave Planning and what to expect as the project progresses.

The dirty secret is not trying to plan every detail from the beginning, but rather to plan for when you need to know and how you plan to get those details.

For example if you are going build a deck at the weekend and need to hammer, hundreds of nails and have never touched a hammer, you might want to update your schedule after you hit one, and maybe again after you hit your thumb a few times. In fact, if anyone ever tells you they are done with planning because they did it all at the beginning, then they are lying to you and probably themselves. Planning is never done until the end of the project.

Does the project have a major milestones? Do shipments only arrive on Wednesdays? Do you have invoices to raise or payroll to factor in? Make it your planning plan to use these natural rhythms to give a few moments to look back at how well reality agreed with your schedule and use what you learned to add those details into the path ahead.Are you still going to deliver the projects benefits?

For example, in product development it is common practice to prototype before going into the actual product development. Therefore, in such an environment you would use Rolling Wave Planning to plan the prototype and then make a decision to proceed to implementation. Post the Prototype phase, you would plan once again.

TIP: It may sound redundant, but date your schedule. Change the file name and save it as a new file. If it impacts a deadline or an external commitment, then print the new parts they need and ask the stakeholders to sign and date it.


3.   No plan survives past first contact

The analogies between combat and project management eventually come up when talking about the other. Putting debates on who your “enemy” is aside, expect the unexpected.

Plans are just that, plans. Do not get attached to them. Deliveries get lost, trucks have flats, team members get sick… every schedule needs a little float if it has any chance of making it against the challenge / “enemy.”

TIP: Things happening ahead of schedule can be just as bad a delay. (Concrete sets and cakes burn) Be mindful and have a plan for both possibilities.

4.   Risk and Margin of Error

You have your schedule detailed as far out as the eye can see. You added the float, by doubling the time and cost of everything, so you will always come out looking good with the boss (maybe less so with the customer).

You can see victory just past that dark cloud ahead, that new oddball task that you just do not know enough about to know how to guesstimate how to plan for it. At some point, every project will have a degree of risk and uncertainty, adjust your plan accordingly. Maybe instead of doubling everything, tighten up where you can with the tasks you have done before, and apply more in areas of less certainty to mitigate damage.

TIP: Spreading your scheduling margin of error throughout all the tasks is fine for a best guess case. But consider consolidating it in one place and treating it like a management reserve account. This will allow you to look at best and worst cases and use that reserve wisely on the biggest risks and opportunities.

To Conclude for Now…

Planning makes all the difference in where you apply your margin of error so that you can deal with the risk of uncertainties, and still have confidence that your schedule has cushion time available in it to jump on opportunities as they arise.

Great things in life are rarely easy, but with the right tools, the impossible can be done, like ‘eating the elephant one bite at a time’.

If you need templates and further advice on planning take a look at:



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