Steps in the Project Planning Process
The planning process consists of the following basic tasks:
The plan defines the objectives of the project, the approach to be taken, and the commitment being assumed. The project plan evolves through the early stages and, by the time the project is ready to begin project execution, contains the detail required to successfully complete the project. Then, when implementation begins, the plan is updated as required.
(1) Planning in the Concept Phase
In the project’s concept phase, a need that would result in a product is identified. While only very general information may be known about the project at this time, it is important to capture this information for the planning phase. In this stage, the focus of planning is on the project definition and on getting the project underway. A strategy for deriving a solution to the stated goals is important at this point. The problem being addressed by the project is clearly stated; the project goals and objectives are identified, and success criteria for the project are documented. Also, the assumptions, constraints, and risks that apply to the project are defined. Without a description of this concept information, the completed project plan is difficult to thoroughly understand. Results of the technology assessment also are documented as a precursor to the technical approach that is later defined.
(2) Planning in the Planning Stage
The project plan is completed in the Project Planning and Risk Identification stage of a project. For large projects, this stage may be run as a mini-project, with a team of people dedicated to performing the effort. For very small projects, the plan may be developed by a group of people as a part-time job. Since various skill sets are required to complete a successful project plan, it is a difficult task for one person to develop the entire plan. During this project stage, details of the plan are determined and an approach is defined. The full project plan is then developed. The plan may include the following elements: a brief project summary, a work breakdown structure, a project organization chart, a schedule, an approach, a list of identified risks, an estimated budget and cost, a list of deliverables, a description of planned quality activities, a description of the configuration management process to be used, and a
summary of project requirements.
Even during the planning stage, the development of the project plan is an iterative process. Each element of the plan is regularly revisited for changes and refinements, based upon further analysis and decisions made in developing other plan elements. This refinement also develops .buy-in. from the project team and stakeholders.
It is critical to get buy off on the project plan from the involved parties prior to actually starting the project. Approval of the plan commits the resources needed to perform the work.
(3) Planning in the Project Start-up Stage
To transition a project from the initial conceptualization and planning to execution requires some type of start-up activities. The project start-up stage is typically a short period that transitions a project from the planning to the execution stage. In the start-up stage, the team is assembled and a kickoff meeting is held to familiarize the team with the elements of the plan and the requirements of the system. Specific work packages detail and specify the activities being performed by the teams, as well as the cost and schedule associated with those activities.
Sometimes, particularly in systems that include procurement, there may be a need to update the project plan during this stage to reflect negotiations or refinements in scope that occurred prior to the actual start of the project.
In these cases, the plan is reviewed and updated prior to presentation to the team. Also, in some projects, auxiliary plans (such as the configuration management or quality assurance plans) are detailed in the start-up phase. These plans are developed from strategies defined in the project planning stage.
(4) Planning in the Project Execution Stage
Planning in the project execution stage consists of re-planning when it is determined that the project is not on track with the current plan. This might occur for a variety of reasons. It is very important to know that project plans will change and that re-planning is a natural part of the planning process. Re-planning does not necessarily mean that a project is in trouble. Frequent and extensive re-planning may, however, indicate that there are some serious issues with the project plan. It is better to re-plan than to simply throw away the original plan and operate without a plan.
(5) Planning in the Project Close-Out Stage
A close-out process is performed once the project objectives have been met. Closing a project should be fairly routine. The first step is acceptance of the system by the users. It is important that the user decides when the project is completed. The determination is based upon the success criteria defined in the very early concept and planning stages of the project. This acceptance may be very informal or it may be very formal and depends upon the criteria defined in the plan.