There is a reason for taking the journey, a start and an end to that journey and various objectives to achieve. In fact, every journey you take in life will have an associated reason for it, with one or more objectives to achieve. The journeys we take come in many forms, with various reasons and related objectives.

Even typical journey's all require planning

Going on Holiday - Reason: You need a break. Objective: Have fun and relax.

Going Shopping - Reason: You’re running low on food. Objective: To buy enough food for the week.

A walk to the end of your driveway - Reason: to put out your recycling bin for collection. Objective: Dispose of unwanted recyclable materials in a way that will help reduce pollution.

A walk to the pub - .Reason: Your friends have invited you out. Objective: Socialise over a few drinks and of course talk about the friends who chose not to come!

Crossing the road - Reason: You need to get to the other side. Objective: To reach the other side safely!

And of course, a project...

Reason: A change is required due to a problem, or need. Objective: Create required products and then use them to achieve desired changes and subsequent benefits.

All these and other ‘journeys’ require some form of planning, some forethought, in order to successfully fulfil the objectives.

Do exactly the same for projects… ‘plan’ them!

Within a business, projects are undertaken to introduce required business change, perhaps due to a problem that needs to be resolved. 

Problem: New company website needs to be created due to it being so old that it doesn’t contain an online ordering and payment function, losing precious business and sales revenue.

Objective: From the successful creation of a new website, the business will be looking for outcomes (changes), e.g. people placing orders and making payments via the new website. That’s why projects are undertaken; to introduce business changes, which addresses business problems/needs/opportunities and in turn generates benefits for that business, consequently helping that business to survive into the future. Until the next business change is required!

Change is inevitable

A business cannot stick to the ‘status quo’ forever. It needs to adapt to the ever-changing world and technology around it. Things change; technology; processes, procedures, rules and regulations. In turn, people adapt and change their perceptions and habits; and so in response, businesses also need to adapt and apply change. For business changes to be successful, they need to be planned for.

A pre-requisite to planning involves understanding what the reasons are for doing the project (e.g. the problem/need/opportunity) and what the objectives are. I.e. What ‘overall’ product you intend to create. The planning should involve identifying and defining all the related products you intend to create (the use of the products will help create the desired changes and expected benefits for the business).

Risk assumption is fundamental to planning!

Consider the risks (uncertainties), prerequisites, constraints and any assumptions made whilst planning your journey. This planning needs to be done in order to successfully achieve your objectives.

Typical planning steps

Identify and clearly describe the products you intend to produce (particularly each product’s purpose and the quality requirements/specification that will make the product fit for purpose) and the logic sequence and any dependencies between the products. You can’t build walls until the foundations have been built.

Identify activities and dependencies required to produce the products. Consider the ‘internal’ dependencies: dependencies between your planned activities which are ’within the scope of’ your plan that are being performed by your project team and within your control. ‘External’ dependencies: Activities ‘outside of’ your plan that are 'not' being performed by someone on your project team, but will influence one or more of your internal activities.

Identify resources (numbers and types of people and equipment) required to build the products/carry out the activities.

Estimate the effort (time and cost) of creating the products, based on the resource types/amounts required. Different resource (amounts and types) will affect time and cost estimates. I.e. to dig a hole using one person and one spade may take 1 day’s effort. A person and a JCB digger may be 1 hour’s effort. The cost estimate will also be different.

Create a schedule to show ‘when’ the activities will be carried out and assign the resources to their respective activities. You may also need to move the activities about in the schedule to suit resource availability.

Other considerations

Whilst going through the above steps, you should think about any related ‘risks’ (i.e. uncertain situations) that might cause you problems/hinder progress of the work when underway, or uncertain situations that might create opportunities for you which would help with work progression. You should also note down what ‘assumptions’ you’ve had to make whilst planning. I.e. our completion timescales are based on the assumption that all resources will be made available when required.

Also consider ‘prerequisites’ related to the work you’ve planned to carry out (e.g. you can’t start any of the planned work until you’ve had the requisite approval to do so) and any ‘constraints’ on the work (e.g. having to follow rules/regulations, or perhaps certain resources only being available at certain times, on certain days).

Details of such risks, assumptions, prerequisites and constraints should be included in your plan. This will ensure the plan will be properly understood. In addition to setting project objectives, you and others will want to know 'why' you are trying to achieve the objectives…because that ‘why’ will be the ‘reason’ for your project’s journey.

The reason for carrying out the project should be documented in some form of ‘business case’, along with other important information such as the estimated costs and timescales of making the journey and the expected benefits to be gained from taking that journey.

Documenting this information

Documenting this information will enable everyone to have the same common understanding as to 'why' we are going on that journey, as well as what we are aiming to achieve (i.e. the business changes and resulting benefits to be gained from successfully completing that journey within an agreed timescale and cost). Without this detail, there’s 'no' focus. 

From that plan, we can then add the estimated project timescale and cost to the business case and establish whether the project looks like a sound investment proposition. That the estimated cost of completing the project doesn’t outweigh the expected benefits.

The detail in your plan depends on how far in advance it is 

The further ahead you plan, the more the unknowns will increase and so will the assumptions you’ll have to make. You can probably say in detail and with fair accuracy what you’ll be doing this time tomorrow, but what about in 6 months time?  Because of this, you shouldn’t try to plan in too much detail, too far ahead in time. Create a ‘high-level’ plan for the entire journey, break that overall journey up into logical sections (stages) and then create a more detailed plan for each stage closer in time to when that stage is due to commence. You will need to say what assumptions you have made when planning, as the assumptions will often help you to identify additional risks to your journey.

Issues and the managing of them will often lead to the need to change your original plan, such as changes to the products, activities, resources, timescale, cost and the expected benefits.

It’s tempting to simply ‘get on with it’, by ‘not wasting precious time with planning’, but that very often causes the time and cost to be greater than if you had just spent some effort planning up front. So be successful with your projects by ‘planning’ your ‘journey’.

As the quote made by the historical character Benjamin Franklin goes…

”if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”!

Richard is the lead PRINCE2 trainer at SPOCE Project Management and runs many of our classroom and virtual classroom courses. If you are interested in finding out more about project sucess and the fundamentals of planning then why not contact us on...

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