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Do You Need A Project Plan?

Have you ever gotten to the end of the project only to discover the project did not have the anticipated outcome? I am sure we have all encountered this at one time or another in either home or business. One way to avoid issues during projects is to use a Project Plan or Statement of Work. These documents outline what is to be done, who is going to do it, when it is to be completed, and what the expected outcome should be.

Like most of my blog posts, this one is also based on a recent issue a client had with a project. The implementation required the various parties to complete their specific tasks before another task could be started. Tasks included; server implementation, network configuration, software installation, testing and training. In hindsight, I think all the parties involved assumed someone else would provide a project plan. Some participants were left out of discussions; key decisions were not approved by all parties etc. In the end, the completed project did not meet all of the required outcomes. At this point, all of the participants have had to come back to the table to determine where the project is failing and how to resolve it. The problems could have been avoided if a Project Plan or Statement of Work had been implemented at the beginning of the project.

I have never had any formal project management training outside of my college courses. There are guidelines for creating and managing a project plan, and there are hundreds of websites detailing how to do this. I have been a project lead for several projects, and have participated in several hundred projects. My focus here is more on why and when I like use a project plan, instead of how to create one. I tend to use a project plan when one or more of the following criteria is met:

  • Three or more companies need to participate
  • Several participants from each company need to be involved
  • When a specific task must be completed before another task can be started
  • Complex designs are required
  • Participants are involved remotely
  • Participants are in different time zones
  • You have a “gut” feeling things may not turn out as expected, previous dealings with certain people, lack of communication, strict guidelines etc.
  • A high number of tasks are required to complete the project

After heading up many projects, I can determine when a project plan will be needed and how detailed it will need to be in order to ensure the project runs smoothly. Some people reading this think “you need a project plan for every project”, I don’t believe this is true. I feel some project plans are made for the sake of making a project plan and can make a small project into a monster project. (I have worked on these types of over-detailed projects; it takes more time and resources than are necessary to complete.) In some cases, a detailed email to all the participating parties and acknowledgement from each party is all that is needed.

If you are unsure that project plan is needed, error on the side of caution and create one.  If you are a participant in the project, ask the project lead to create a Project Plan (even if it’s an only an email).

With every project I lead, I have the participants sign off on each task as being completed or document the reasons for the delay.  The sign off must be in documented (not verbal) and acknowledged in the project plan. This ensures all tasks have been completed and all participants are aware of the timelines.

Remember that a bad, over detailed, mind-numbing project plan can be as harmful to a project as not having one at all.

A good project plan will keep all the participants on schedule and aware of where the project currently is and where it is going. With a little planning, thought and sometimes a little luck, your projects should run smoothly with a properly executed, scope appropriate project plan in place.

Categories: Small Business IT
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