Good planning is often crucial to the success of a project. But it’s not always as simple as making a schedule, typing up some bullet points, or sending out an email.
In reality, the project planning process can be almost as much work as the project itself for a large project. So the question is: How do you improve project planning for your next project?
A large project has many moving parts, from the people on all sides who will be involved, to the goals, objectives, and outcomes you wish to achieve, to the work required to make it all happen.
But by following the right steps, you can ensure your next project is a complete success. Here are 9 simple steps to improve project planning for your next project.
Breaking Down Your Project Into Steps to Improve Your Process
A new project can seem overwhelming when you are looking at it as one giant colossus.
But the things you need to do to end up with a successful project become much more manageable when you start breaking them down into steps.
Once you break it down, project management isn’t as hard as it seems. Here are 9 steps that will help you improve project planning for your next project.
1. Start by Identifying Stakeholders
In a project, a stakeholder is a person or group with an interest in how the project turns out. Directly or indirectly, stakeholders can be key to a project’s success, so it’s crucial to make sure you know who they are.
The tricky part about identifying stakeholders is that you’ll find them on all sides of a project.
You will have active internal stakeholders, such as:
- Your organization
- Its leadership
- Your team members
You’ll also have stakeholders outside your organization who aren’t actively involved in doing the project work, including:
- Community members
And you may have other stakeholders that play an active role but aren’t inside your organization, such as:
Focus on identifying everyone who will affect or be affected by the project and things are likely to be much smoother during your planning process.
2. Decide on Roles and Responsibilities
Deciding how stakeholders will contribute to a project is another key step in the project planning process.
To improve your chances of success, it helps to keep a few things in mind:
- A role is not necessarily the same thing as a person.
- A person can often play more than one role in a project.
- A role can be shared by multiple people divvying up the work.
To avoid problems, make sure stakeholders are a good fit for the role (or roles) you decide to assign them and double-check that no important roles are left unfilled.
Be sure to think about the skills required and the competencies available so you’ll have the right people in the right roles and cover key areas of responsibility. This will greatly improve your process.
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3. Plan to Hold a Kickoff Meeting
The first meeting with all the key project stakeholders is usually known as the “kickoff” meeting. A kickoff isn’t just a chance to be social, it also serves several important purposes.
Kickoffs are meant to be an opportunity for you to:
- Bring all the stakeholders together.
- Share your vision for a successful project.
- Meet and establish good working relationships.
Try to go into the kickoff with a plan:
- Let everyone get acquainted.
- Go over the project’s background.
- Discuss the purpose of the project.
- Touch on scope, methods and processes.
- Cover the roles for all the stakeholders.
- Open the floor for questions.
- Wrap things up.
It sounds simple enough, but a great kickoff meeting really sets you up for success. Doing kickoffs right is a great way to improve project planning for your current and future projects.
4. Consider Scope, Budget and Timing
While it’s important to approach the project planning process early on without getting too caught up on the details, eventually the specifics of scope, budget and timing need to be thoroughly considered.
- For the project scope, define not only what will be part of the project but also what will not be part of it. Scope is about limiting the project to achievable and realistic objectives.
- For the project budget, determine what resources are needed and available to meet the specific objectives of the project and what the total cost of the project will be.
- For the project timeline, think about what phases of the project it will be necessary to go through and start making some estimates about how long each of these phases can be expected to last.
A project’s scope, budget and timeline are major project planning elements that you are likely to spend a lot of time working on. Don’t be afraid to give it the time it takes to get it right. It will greatly improve your project planning process.
5. Set Goals and Prioritize Tasks
Setting goals and prioritizing tasks will feel like a natural next step when you are taking the time to break down your project planning process into the correct stages.
It’s as simple as adding the next level of detail to your overall plan.
Determine all the in-between tasks and goals that will lead you to project success.
- Start by breaking down the project into distinct phases.
- Define individual goals you need to achieve for each phase.
- Make sure your goals are S.M.A.R.T. and/or C.L.E.A.R.
- Work out the tasks needed to reach each goal.
- Prioritize tasks in order of importance for the project.
- Consider the dependencies that exist between the tasks.
- Have contingencies to adjust if/when goals aren’t met on time.
Well-defined goals and prioritized tasks will definitely help improve your project planning.
At this point, you should have a good understanding of the purpose of the project, a vision for what success will look like and the steps needed to make it all happen.
6. Determine the Project Deliverables
A deliverable is something that is able to be delivered, but the term has a more specific meaning for the planning process in project management.
The Project Management Institute defines a deliverable as a unique and verifiable product, result or capability to perform a service that is produced in order to complete a project, project phase or process.
This means that a wide range of deliverables are possible, but it all depends on your project.
- For an auto manufacturer project, a deliverable might be a new car rolling off the assembly line.
- For an advertising firm marketing project, a deliverable might be a new ad appearing on a billboard.
- For a customer service center project, a deliverable might be the capability to receive a customer call.
The deliverables you determine for your project should be tied to the project’s central objectives.
A project can have one final deliverable, or several that are produced in different phases of the project.
A deliverable may be something tangible, but it doesn’t have to be.
The more clearly you are able to determine your deliverables, the better your chance of project success.
7. Create a Detailed Project Schedule
A good project schedule always includes three important things:
- A detailed timeline for the whole project.
- A description of the resources allotted for each task.
- Any instructions or info needed to complete the tasks.
Creating a project schedule is sometimes tricky because you have to strike a balance between adding enough detail and still giving instructions that are easy to understand.
But the same project planning processes as before can help. Just continue to focus on breaking things down into smaller and smaller steps and then look at how the pieces fit together.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:
- What activities make up tasks and project phases?
- What items are dependent on other items in the schedule?
- What sequence of activities is the most logical and efficient?
- What resources and time will each task consume?
As you work, don’t be afraid to revisit previous steps and make adjustments. If a task will require additional resources or extra time, it’s better to plan for it now than be caught by surprise later.
8. Do a Risk Assessment
Careful attention to risks is another good way for improving project planning for all your projects. The best way to do this is with a risk assessment, where you take a realistic look at what might go wrong during a project and take proactive steps to minimize those dangers.
While almost anything could go wrong during a project, some risks are more likely than others and prioritizing these is helpful. Common project risks include:
- Project delays
- Resource shortages
- Scope creep
- Technological failures
- Communication problems
Risk assessments are also a good opportunity for collaboration with your other stakeholders, who may have different insights into risks affecting the project.
With a plan in place, you will be able to take care of any problems that do happen quickly, if needed.
9. Plan Out Your Communication
As you wrap up your project planning process, there’s one more step you can take to improve your project’s chance for success: plan out your communications.
A project plan involves a lot of people and a lot of information. A good plan will address how everyone stays on the same page.
You’ll need a plan to:
- Communicate detailed info to everyone involved in the project as a stakeholder.
- Explain how you want stakeholders to communicate with you and each other.
- Decide on preferred communication channels to use when communicating.
- Set expectations for when and how to share updates and ask questions.
Good communications will help improve your project planning and ensure your project is a complete success.
More Tips to Improve Project Planning
Project planning can be a complex undertaking, but there are lots of tips and tools available to help make your projects more successful.
One place to start is our Step-by-Step Guide to the Project Planning Process. It contains these and other tips to improve project planning from start to finish.
Another tip for improving your project planning is to use a tool like Folio to plan and execute your projects.
Folio is an email add-on for Gmail and Outlook that saves time and makes you look like a project planning pro.
Folio uses smart, AI-powered algorithms to organize your inbox, with features to manage all your project contacts, files, tasks, deadlines and updates automatically.
Try Folio for free today and make your project planning even easier.
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