How Do You Plan With Your Team?
How do you plan your project? How do you create, gather, compile, organize, and record your project plan and schedule (remember these are two different things…)? Do you or your company have a procedure or is it ad hoc (“fashioned from whatever is immediately available…”)? I’ve seen a range of planning, from:
1) the PM slapping together a Gantt chart, then handing out the schedule with a few names here and there (think of this as resource planning), to
2) kickoff meetings where key items are discussed and recorded, to my favorite-
3) a full two and a half day planning session.
Each method above has its advantages and disadvantages. I’ll touch briefly on the first two then describe why I believe the third choice is superior for medium to large projects.
In order of appearance above…
1) In the first method little upfront time is invested (low cost), resources begin work immediately (hitting the schedule hard!), while true cost of the project ($$$) is determined later (and several times over) when all the project SCRAP is continually changing. (SCRAP- Strategy, Constraints, Risks, Assumptions, Parking Lot (unresolved questions)). Comment: while the good news is they at least have a schedule my comment is this is a thinly disguised state of continuous confusion. The PM and or management thinks they will meet the schedule because someone created one. Meanwhile all the issues that plague projects will appear (they always do) and the schedule will be done over and over again until someone (PM, stakeholder, or business) runs out of money or time.
2) In the second method time is invested in determining or agreeing on Goals, Objectives, and Scope, perhaps at a project kickoff meeting. Additional meetings are required to determine SCRAP one or more component at a time over the course of several days, if not weeks, maybe, maybe not. My experience with this method is that teams tire of the additional meetings very quickly. Getting team members to attend multiple planning meetings may be difficult especially if they are already attending the project meetings. Key inputs may or may not be determined in advance. In some cases they are dictated and not agreed upon by team members. The good news is this method recognizes the need to obtain inputs from and communicate high value aspects of the project to team members. Key decisions may be captured in a PM plan or at least captured in meeting minutes. Discussions will evolve around typical project issues. Time is limited to discuss full breadth or depth of project related matters.
3) As is the case in all these methods the purpose is to improve project definition, boundaries, understanding & strategy. The multi-day planning session typically has higher up front time related costs. 8-10 core team members participate @ $50/hr for 20 hours = $10,000. Plus meeting expenses, e.g. large meeting/conference room, food, projector, easels, etc. Team members are introduced (team forming/storming/norming) and become focused on the project over the course of 2.5 days. In addition to Goals, Objectives, and Scope the team defines and begins to understand project SCRAP. Figure 1 below shows the agenda for this multiday exercise.
You should be familiar with many of the items listed on the Agenda. Some of them are less traditional. The slide titled “Where are we?” is intended to capture what is currently known and perceived about the project. Also the slide asks the additional questions “What do we know we don’t know?”, “What should we know that we don’t?” and “What don’t we know that we don’t know?”. Also, when was the last time (or first time) you ever did a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) on a project? Some of this may be covered during Risk Analysis. The idea here is to immerse the core team/key player or stakeholders into the thought process for this project to uncover many of the discoverable issues as soon as possible in order to address them.
Scheduling multiple meetings and handing out multiple agendas (method 2) does not typically allow for the depth and breadth of discussion required of key projects. In the multiday session many of the discussions are done as exercises using flip charts. These notes are hung as they are completed around the conference room and stimulate discussion in other areas. Also, as the meeting progresses and decisions are made, new insights are gained then a finger goes up “That’s not on the list” and someone goes over to capture the new insight on the appropriate flip chart. The immersion and visual notes (flip charts) capture more information quickly allowing for deeper, broader, and focused discussions.
Once the meeting is completed all information is gathered, captured and placed into what becomes the initial Project Management Plan. It doesn’t take but one day to type up the notes, place them into an outline and publish it to the team, stakeholders, and management for feedback. There are typically unanswered “Parking Lot” issues/questions that require resolving. The Project Management Plan will be modified based on the responses to those questions/issues.
I’ve both facilitated and been on teams using this approach. The PM plans that results from this method are outstanding with higher quality inputs and less surprises during execution. While this method may be used at anytime it is not for every project. With a high upfront cost it should be used for efforts that are of strategic importance, high cost, or high risk.
I have a slide deck of 40 slides I created to prepare and facilitate this multiday planning methodology. It includes the slides and speaker notes to facilitate the meeting and what is needed to prepare for and execute the meeting. Send me a request and I’ll forward the slide set to you free no questions asked. This is another tool I’ve found to be extremely valuable therefore the desire to share it and see it used by others. I hope it does for you what it has done for me….execution of projects with fewer bumps and surprises and improved outcomes.