Plan to Succeed and Make Every Project a Cause for Celebration
Many projects start well but end up overrunning in terms of time and cost. Top down planning is key to keeping every project on track.
The idea is simple enough. Scope out a project, agree the costs and deadlines, complete each stage and finish it ahead of time and under budget. Yet present this scenario to most project managers, and they will say you are living in a fantasy world and tell you that the reality is quite different.
Completion more often results in a post mortem to work out where it all went wrong, and a few days leave to get over the 14-hour days and panic of damage limitation as it limped over the line, over budget and severely delayed.
Typically, the root cause lies in the way projects are approached at the outset, and this is where top down planning using the latest resource manager software can make all the difference.
Defining the scope
Sometimes, stakeholders are so keen to get started on a project that it is underway before the scope has been clearly communicated and agreed. All this results in is constant tweaking and refinement. Under these circumstances, it is inevitable that resource needs, costs and deadlines will become a moving target.
Take time to understand what the project is aiming to achieve and why. The more detail you can get into at the initial stage, the better you will understand the resource needs, and the more accurate the costings will become.
A phased approach
As the overall scope and the ultimate deliverables become clearer, the phases that subdivide the project will naturally emerge. This is a crucial point – too often, project managers do this the other way round, predefining each phase and then attempting to bolt them together into a whole.
Each phase can then be further broken down into individual tasks. This process is known as the project’s work breakdown structure (WBS). The point is that it naturally defines every task as a natural component of the overriding project, and when taken together, the sum of the packages results in the deliverables that the client is expecting.
This process is known as top down planning, not because it involves senior oversight but because it takes one project and from it, it creates multiple tasks, instead of taking multiple tasks and from these, attempting to build a successful project.
There are some circumstances in which the top down approach might not seem applicable. For example, in a multi phase project, the deliverables for Phase 2 might only be fully understood on completion of Phase 1. Even here, though, Phase 1 can be treated as a subproject in its own right, and the WBS approach can still be used.
Managing a project takes time and energy, often for a period of months or even years. Completion should be a time for cracking open the champagne and celebrating, not drowning sorrows or collapsing in relief that it is somehow all over.
Effective top down planning significantly improves the chances of meeting or even exceeding time and budget expectations, allowing every project manager to look back on a job well done and to move on to the next one with enthusiasm and anticipation.