Effective Project Planning

Sep 26, 2017 | 0 comments

Sep 26, 2017 | Miscellaneous | 0 comments

 

Effective Project Planning

Table of Contents

BACKGROUND OF THE PROBLEM… 2

STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM… 3

EVIDENCE OF THE PROBLEM… 3

THE CHALLLENGE OF PLANNING FOR PROJECTS

ALLOCATING AND SCHEDULING.. 4

The Scheduling Problem.. 5

ENSURING QUALITY IN THE PLAN.. 7

Defining Quality. 7

RIGHT PLANNING FOR THE RIGHT TEAM… 9

Getting The Right Team.. 10

Creating A Shared Vision. 12

Defining Jobs Clearly Within The Plan. 14

MAKING SURE THE JOB GETS DONE: PLANNING FOR RISKS TO THE PROJECT. 15

Risk Assessment 16

Risk Response Planning. 17

CONTINGENCY PLANNING.. 18

PREVENTING SCOPE CREEP. 20

Reason For Scope Creep. 20

Defining The Project Scope. 21

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS. 23

PREPARING THE BUDGET AND WORK PLAN.. 25

REFERENCES. 28

 

 BACKGROUND OF THE PROBLEM

Project plans are used to guide the project from initiation all the way to closure. In the past, more focus was given to the actual implementation of the project. There was little attention is any directed at planning before takeoff. The result is that majority of the projects by organizations were established haphazardly and lacked the proper sustainability. In the end, failure was imminent. Through research and various studies, the importance of project planning was understood.

Today, many NGOs seek professionals to plan their projects. In essence the organizations themselves posses the dream that is what they would like to accomplish through their projects but lack the way to make such dreams a reality. The planners offer a bridge from the dream into reality. They establish the project goals and objectives and translate the same into workable tasks with responsibilities. Though some of the responsibilities of the planner fall into the category of a project manager during the planning stage, they are completely dedicated to planning and reviewing.

It has been noted that despite the importance of the planner, few have the necessary skills to organization, trouble shoot and manage the challenges associated with planning. This can be attributed to the lack of information with regard to proper and quality planning. Most of the information focuses on management of the project and completely neglects planning. Planning information is often in the footnote or hidden among the massive information on management. It is therefore not surprising that planners are unable to produce quality, workable and achievable plans which meet the expectations of the organizations.

STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

Project planning is the backbone of the entire project. Success and failure of the project rely heavily on the plan which must some together properly to deliver quality. Planners are tasked with the responsibility of taking the dream and turning it is not a reality. The process of planning includes the use of various methods and even strategies. However, planners often encounter various challenges that threaten the entire plan. Without addressing these challenges properly and exhaustively, the plan put forward for the project often lacks quality and integrity. Whereas some of the challenges may seem like large obstacles, resolving them is also quite easy and may require only a little more effort.

EVIDENCE OF THE PROBLEM

Recently focus has been drawn to various stagnated projects by NGOs. Though the initial expected outcomes of the project was one that could have led to increased development, more and more projects are failing to meet this objective. After much research, organizations have to the conclusion that majority of the projects fail due to lack of proper planning. Planners are unable to produce quality plans to guide the projects from initiation to closure.

 

THE CHALLLENGE OF PLANNING FOR PROJECTS

ALLOCATING AND SCHEDULING

The most difficult step in planning is the allocation of time and estimation of budgets. Often planners find that time allocated to the project is not sufficient and the budgets are not factual.  There are more proposals and activities than there are resources and time in every project. The ideal situation is one in which a proper balance is achieved between the activities and resources. Planners require a priority system through which they can determine activities with the biggest pay off and therefore focus available resources on the same.  Planners are often dealing with little information on the type and general challenges that the project maybe facing. The tools employed in the early stages of allocation and estimation may therefore fail when tested in the field.

Up to now in the project planning phase, the sequence of activities is based solely on the technical or logical considerations. This means that the sequential activity cannot be completed up to and until the previous activity is completed. The plans at this stage assess that resources such as people and materials are available for the completion of the activities. In many cases however, upon implementation of the plan this is found not to be true, (Lewis 1995).  A project planner may assume that adequate resources are available or will be available for the activities and therefore schedule parallel activities. However these activities hold the possibility of resource conflicts arising. The interrelationships and interactions among the time and resource conflicts are too complex in nature and solution. Often project mangers learn of this difficulty when it is too late and solutions are unavailable. A deficit of resources alters the goals and even the quality of the project. Planners need to be careful to allocate the resources properly to ensure availability in the right quantities and din the right time.

The resource constraints often facing a project planner and for which he must find solutions include:

People:  often called human resources and classified as per the skills and experience that they will bring into the project. The skills need to be exploited and properly utilized to ensure that the project moves on smoothly. Where human resources are not properly utilized losses and stagnation can easily besiege the project.

Materials:  cover a very large spectrum dependent on the nature of the project. A majority of the delays in the project and stagnation of the same have been blamed on the scheduling of material delivery is now becoming a must in the plan.

Equipment:  is usually presented in terms of type, size and quantity. Often planners overlook the availability of equipment as a constraint.   The most common mistake is to assume that the available resource pool will be adequate for the project. However at the time of the project such resource pools maybe occupied.

The Scheduling Problem

Where scheduling is a problem planners are expected to classify the problem into either: time constrained problem and resource constrained problem. Haugan (2002) states that a time constrained project needs to be completed within a specific time and date. Time for this project is critical, failure is deemed as delay and wastage of exact resources. That being said, projects with resource constraints need to ensure that resource usage should be no more than is necessary and sufficient.  A resource constrained project is one that assumes the resources available are completely sufficient for the completion and success of the project. Once the resources are deemed inadequate it becomes necessary to delay the project until when resources shall again be deemed sufficient.   To resolve this problem, planners take into considerations a few basic rules in the planning stage:

Keep allocation and estimation separate:  allocate resources based on the amount of time and money the NGO can reasonably spend to get project results. Estimates however need to come from the project plan. After both the allocations and estimates are prepared, ensure that the project can be affordable. Otherwise return to change the plan.

In estimating, avoid bias: bias means focusing attention in either one way or another. This means that it is easy for the planner to biased in terms of quality and cost of the services required to make the project a success. Instead, it is better to make an honest estimate based on the maret prices without exaggeration, than deal with gaps that arise from biasness.

In estimating, be as accurate as possible: in the planning stage, often the project planner lacks the information required to make a precise estimate. Instead of making an actual, factual singular amount; it is better to use range where time and costs are concerned. Ranges allow for delays in time and increase in cost.

Details:  planners often fail to put as much information as possible in the schedule and budget. According to Melton (2008), it is wise to ensure that the schedule and budget are more than detailed. Each minute and dollar needs to be accounted for so that it is easy to follow through with the plan. Further, a detailed budget and schedule plays a major role in the monitoring of the project progress.

ENSURING QUALITY IN THE PLAN

Many planners focus more on ensuring that the job gets done whichever way it is to be done. Often the quality of the project takes back burner. However, when the job is not done right it is just not done. This leads to the organization losing in terms of money, resources, time and even money. Organizations end up having to re-work the plan or lose to competitor projects that planned right with quality in mind, (Klein 2008). Errors in a project plan are expensive in terms of resources and even the success of the project itself.   If a plan includes quality right from the beginning the expected costs are much lower.  During planning, it is important to note that a good blue print of the project costs much less than a bad blueprint. However, the price of a bad design and plan will definitely be felt in the future.

Many planners ignore the importance of accounting for errors in that plan. Even when considering quality it is important to note that quality does not mean perfect. A quality plan acknowledges the mistakes, makes correction and manages them properly. When managed properly, the errors do not compound and therefore affect the entire plan. The focus is on preventing or removing the mistakes completely.

Quality planning puts the focus on the process that is, improving how the project itself works. When the planner improves the processes it follows therefore that the project will function smarter. In such a plan, the project is completed in less time and money.

Defining Quality

The biggest challenge in defining quality is that majority of the people will tell you that not much time should be spend on planning but rather you should just take off and begin working. Many planners imagine that quality is expensive; however, this is not exactly true. In a project, errors and mistakes cost much more and may weigh heavily on the success of the project. Quality is defined by the value. The planner needs to understand why the project is being undertaken by the organization. Further, quality also goes ahead to define exactly which value is added to the organization by the project. Quality can be defined in one singular statement. Therefore, the project should indeed begin working from the beginning with the quality being the driving concept. According to Raz and Shenhar (2003), to ensure quality, project planners must:

  • Collaborate not just with the organization for which the plan is being made but also the community who are recipients of the project. The plan needs to take the recipient’s view into consideration so that it remains relevant during the duration of the project.
  • Continually remind the different stakeholders to keep focused on quality. There are times when teams are more focused on just completing a particular activity and less focused on how quality is measured for the same. Motivation for quality should be carried on through the different activities included at different stages of the project plan implementation.
  • Plan for ideal communication channels. Most errors and delays in the project implementation can be attributed to poor understanding of the project plan itself. Stage after stage should include proper channels of communication to ensure that the message is well put and received by the recipients.

For some planners quality is an option. Sometimes they are more focused on making their project ideas and proposals the least expensive or doing the fastest jobs within the shortest schedules rather than delivering than actually delivering the best. The key to ensuring quality in a project is connecting the user benefits, that is, the benefits to the recipients to the technical functions that make the project work. Organizations are most likely to gain value and experience high quality when the tools being used are right for the job and every stage runs smoothly from the beginning to the end.  Therefore planners design quality in from the top down, ensuring that they consider what adds value to the project recipients and then making sure that the project runs exactly as it is supposed to.

As each component is being structured and included in the planning of the project, test its features and functionality. As the entire project is coming together in the plan, it is also important to continually test the relationship of the various features, (Platje et al 1994).  This ensures that each of the features continues to be reliable as well as valid in the project plan. The testing is done before the plan is implemented so that minor errors can be caught and dealt with before they become major errors. Without testing, planners increase the chances of letting errors slip through.

RIGHT PLANNING FOR THE RIGHT TEAM

A successful project is often defined as the rightly skilled people doing the right job. From this perspective the job of a project planner is to define the right job clearly, which ensures that organization can therefore reciprocate by finding the right people for the job. Once again the planner has the responsibility of keeping them focused on the job and removing any obstacles from their way. If all aspects of the project plan are under excellent control, people are facilitated to ensure team success which in turn translates to project success. The key for the right team is to combine an excellent team with a focus on proper goals for the project. Burke (1999) stipulates that Good teamwork reduces hassles, errors and keeps the human resource efficient. However, without the proper goals as set on the project plan teamwork is just fun that does not help to progress the project. The project plan provides the ideal focus so that the team proceeds with excellent work that has excellent results.

Getting The Right Team

In project planning, there are situations where the planner has no ability to select the team. In this case, the best that they can do is define the skills required for the completion of the task with as much detail as possible. This ensures that the implementers can therefore select the right people for the job. However, as is the custom today many organizations are opting to have the planners as part of the selection team.  Project planners often play a key role in ensuring and making it possible to develop high performance project teams. They establish a team identity, create a common sense of purpose or shared vision and orchestrate decision making.

The process of selecting and recruiting project members will vary across organizations. The most important factors to consider for the planner are the importance of the project and the management structure of the project itself or the organization running the project. Lester (2003) insists that for high priority projects which critically determine the direction of the organization in the future, the project manager has the final say on whom they would like to be part of the team. For less significant projects, the planner and manager may require to convince the other branches of the organization on the importance of each individual to the success of the project.

In many project matrix structures, functional mangers control who is allowed into the project team. In such a case, it is ideal for the planner to work together with the functional manager in the selection of proper personnel. Experienced project planners often stress in their plans the importance of requesting and making use of volunteers, (Potts 2002). This means that the organizations give a chance to the employees to volunteer for the project. In this way a crucial balance between interest and skills can be reached, employees can be merited and an ideal team created for the project.  When organization employees volunteer for the project, they complete the first step towards personal commitment in ensuring the success of the project. Such commitment as planners point out is essential in maintaining motivation when the project hits some hard times and extra effort from employees is required to pull out of the lag.  For the planner there are less than obvious skills which are required in each step of the project and these include:

  • Problem solving ability: If the project plan is complex and fuzzy, then it requires people who are excellent with creativity and posses the ability to work under uncertainty. This means that they can easily identify problems within the plan and find solutions for the same. They do not require a step by step guide in the plan but rather a general outline which guides the project.
  • Availability: as any project planner indicates, sometime some of the most difficult things to predict in the plan is the availability of the ideal project team. Organizations may choose an ideal team which is overly committed and therefore bring little towards the success of the project. Planners require not just to state the ideal skills for the project but also the amount of time that such individuals require to ensure success of the project.
  • Technological expertise: sometimes planners forget the importance of technological experts. This includes experts who can deal for example particular designs, machineries and other forms of technology. Unfortunately, these individuals may not be as available as imagined. This means that the plan should clearly state the skills required, for what importance and how such expertise will be applied.

In the corporate and NGO environment, the planner can seek audience with the HR managers who in turn fine tune the skills listed in the plan. This also gives the managers an opportunity to review the required skills and identify talent who can fill these positions.

Creating A Shared Vision

Project scope statements include specific costs, completion dates and performance requirements making them easy to define for the planners. On the other hand, the vision involves less tangible aspects of the same project and is much more difficult to draw. The vision provides a common image for the team on how the project will look upon completion. A poor vision has no clear definition of what the project is planning to create. The team therefore lacks a singular structure that brings them together, motivates them to work towards success of the project and highlight aspects of their success.

Majority of the planners often fail when they focus more on what the vision is rather than what it can accomplish. The vision can be captured in a slogan or even an image. Whatever it is does not really matter as much as what it seeks to bring together. A good vision gives members inspiration to give their best towards the project. The team includes various professionals, with different skills and backgrounds brought together by the vision which unites them, (Devaux 1999). Through the vision, project members are able to put down their individual agendas and come together to do what is best for the project. Visions also provide proper focus for the team members, giving them the opportunity to build upon the foundation in the decision making and selection process.

A good vision as generated in the planning of a project must include the following characteristics. First, the essential qualities of the vision should be able to be communicated. This means that the vision in itself should be clear and concise so that communicating to the team and other stake holders is an easy process which does not require any special skills. A vision is completely worthless, if the only person who understands it is the person who created it. Secondly, visions need to be challenging but in the banner of realism. A vision that lacks challenge often kills the motivation of the team at the early stages of implementation. On the other hand, if it is not realistic, it is not achievable and therefore also kills the morale of the team. Finally, a vision should be interesting enough to draw the right skills and talent to the project. People are not willing to put time and resources towards a vision that is boring and lacks interest.

Project planners often act as catalysts for the formation of the shared vision of a project team. The vision is designed to be inherent in the scope and objectives of the project. Even for the most mundane projects, planners face an array of opportunities through which they can create a compelling vision. Many visions evolve reactively in response to the situations on the ground.  In some cases visions can arise informally. The planners take the time to collect the information on what the various stakeholders are interested in with regard to the project. They test bits of their working vision to gauge the level of excitement the early ideas elicit in others. Much has been written with regard to the role played by vision in the success of plans and projects as a whole. Some critics argue that the vision is just a glorified substitute for shared objectives. Others however, argue that it is one of the things that separates a successful project from the others. The key in a vision is to discover what excites the various stakeholders in a project, articulating the same source of excitement in the planning of the project and finally ensuring that this source is protected and nurtured throughout the plan of the project.

Defining Jobs Clearly Within The Plan

If an organization has team members who are willing to do the work, then the bulk of responsibility lies on the planner to ensure that they provide the right information that is the workers know exactly what they are supposed to do. At a minimum each singular worker required in the project should have clearly defined goals for each day they are linked to the project. In some cases, the planner may need to go beyond the goals and define the specific tasks that each worker will be undertaking. The key to making this work is being specific in the definition of tasks and the basic unit of work in the project.  As planners, the task is to set up the job for someone else to complete. Rad and Anantatmula (2005), state that the task of the planner to ensure that all seven components of a task are put in place that is:

  • Input: which are the terms and resources that go into the process and often end up as an output.
  • Process: the actual steps and activities that the worker will do within the project.
  • Output: this defines the product of the process, and includes the deadline and location of delivery.
  • Tools: the planner defines everything that the worker will need to do the job properly.
  • Techniques: here the planner sets forth the practical instructions for the sue process in addition to the skills required by the worker to complete the task successfully.
  • Resources: the time spent and all other requirements which will be used up by the process and will therefore not be recycled.
  • Work environment: this is the place where the project will take place. Dependent on the nature of the project, planners may provide insight into the physical terrain and even cultural dynamics of the setting of the project.

 MAKING SURE THE JOB GETS DONE: PLANNING FOR RISKS TO THE PROJECT

Every planner understands that part of the process of planning is understanding the importance on anticipating and therefore planning for risks. Risk is defined as the inability to deal with, organize for and therefore manage chance events. The planner often has the difficult task of identifying and planning for various chance events that may affect the project. Vargas (2008) has been noted in majority of the cases planners are not equipped r skilled to plan for the unexpected. The process of planning for risks attempts to recognize and manage the potential and unforeseen troubles that may occur when the plan is put into action. The planner needs to identify as many trouble spots as possible (what could possibly go wrong), minimize the impact of the same (what can be done about the event in the plan), provide responses to those events in case they do occur (contingency plans)  and provide for contingency funds to cover the risk events should they materialize.

The chances of a risk event occurring are greatest especially where it concerns an error in timing and cost estimates are greatest in the concept of planning. Conversely, the impact of the risk event can be minimized greatly through proper structuring and planning for the same. Planning for risks is a proactive approach rather than reactive. It is a preventive system that is designed to ensure that risks are reduced and negative effects associated with chance events are minimized. It gives the project better control over the future and can significantly improve the chances of reaching the project objectives and goals on time and within the budget.

The sources of project risks are many and mostly dependent on the nature of project that is being planned for. There are some sources which are from without the organizations such as the national political climate, the inflation rates and new laws set forth by the government. Such external events are vital to be considered in the planning stage before any organization can consider going ahead with the project.

Planning for risks begins by trying to generate a list of all the possible events that could jeopardize the project. Typically, the planner pulls together a risk assurance ad management team consisting of the relevant take holders. The team can help the planner through brainstorming and other problem identification methods to find and identify chance events within the project plan.  One common mistake that planners often make is to focus more on the goals and objectives of the project rather than giving time to events that could in turn produce consequences whether positive or negative. Focusing on actual events ensures that it is possible to identify solutions for the same.

Risk Assessment

The first step in planning for the risk produces a list of potential events. However, not all the events require to be given attention at the planning stage. Providing attention to all the risks given could make the plan bulky, complex and confusing. Planners require to employ various methods to analyze the potential risks, eliminating those that seen inconsequential and organizing the worthy ones in terms of importance. Planners often asses the risks in terms of: probability and impact of the event.  A main problem that faces the planners in this stage is biasness. Often planners are tempted to prioritize the scenarios for which they already have a solution to avoid work or even the probability of failure. The quality and credibility of the risk analysis requires that the planner defines each of the levels of risk and the probabilities of encountering the same, (Carmichael 2006).  The likelihood of an event is completely different from the consequence of the same. Consequence needs to be the focus of risk assessment. Consequence in terms of the effect that may befall the project whether positive or negative from the risk.

Risk Response Planning

Once the risk is on the list, the next step is to determine what can be done to mitigate the risk. The planner commits to keeping the risk on track, and consequently doing something about the risk. The following are some the things that often provide a challenge in planning for a response to the risk:

  • Mitigating the risk the information available to the planner may not be sufficient enough to plan for a proper and substantial response. There are two probable responses that is preventing the event altogether and reducing the impact of the event. In many cases, the planner often opts to reduce the impact of the same. However, even with strategies in place for mitigation it is likely that the risk will still pose a major problem to the project.
  • In most cases in order to completely avoid the risk, the planner needs to alter the plans that have already been set. This means extra work, research, time and resources for the planner. In addition completely avoiding one event often translates to another risk taking its place.
  • There are organizations that insist on avoiding risk through risk transference such as insurance. Unfortunately for the planner this may not be the most ideal of choices. Further, risk transference only covers very specific risks leaving the project open to others.

Planners often engage in planning for risks to compensate for the uncertainty inherent in project planning.  Planning for risks reduces the number and impact of surprises and leads to a better understanding of the negative effects of some of the events. Contingency plans developed from risk analysis and planning often increase the chance that the projects will be completed in good time and within the stipulated budget of the organization, (Tomczyk 2005). Experience in project planning clearly indicates and shows that a formal, structured process to handle possible foreseen and unforeseen risk events will eventually minimize surprises, costs, delays, stress and even conflict. Planning for risk plays a major role in establishing and maintaining proper risk management throughout the project. Ultimately a successful risk identification and analysis in planning requires a culture where planners embrace threats rather than deny their existence; and also identify problems rather than hide them in the plan.

CONTINGENCY PLANNING

Because foreseen risks could easily become realities, planners need to come up with contingency plans. The contingency plan is drawn by the planner to mitigate the impact from the risk. The contingency plan is not part of the implementation plan. The contingency plan only comes to play when the project encounters the risk. When planners ignore the importance of a contingency plan, the project encounters a lot of delay and even risks of early closure before the outputs and products materialize. A contingency plan makes it easy to work around or with the problem so that delays and costs are managed properly.

One of the challenges encountered by planners when addressing contingency plans is the inability to decide the alternative path to be taken. When a risk is recognized as potential, planners come up with various solutions which can be used to address the same. Each of the solutions has its own advantages and disadvantages. The planners need to select the best alternative plan rather than prepare contingency plans for all the possible solutions. They make the decisions even though they may not be on the ground at the time when the project encounters the issue. They are however expected to find a solution that completely addresses the problem, maintains the budget and minimizes any delays.

The contingency plan often lacks the details that the implementation plan possesses.  For this reason, there are organizations that do not see the importance of a contingency plan. Planners are therefore faced with the tough and difficult task of educating such organizations about the contingency plans and ensuring that they accept the contingency plan that they have drawn. According to Burton and Michael (1994), sometimes even when planners have taken the time to educate on the contingency plan, organizations still fail to implement the plan when the risk is encountered. Instead, they opt for trial and error methods of finding solutions. The result is an increase in cost and even time on the project. Where a proper solution is not found continued exposure to unnecessary risks often translates to complete failure of the project. For this reason, contingency plans should be addressed with the same seriousness and professionalism of the implementation plans. The plans should also address the what, why, who and how as in the implementation plans. As much detail should be given in the contingency plan to avoid miscommunication and half

 

PREVENTING SCOPE CREEP

Scope creep is defined as the addition of new pieces, goals and activities to the project after the plan has been completed. This is a major cause of delays, budget increments and ultimately failure of projects. When a project undergoes many changes, they compound and accumulate and in the end translate to scope creep. If a planner does not have a clearly written plan for the organization, it opens doors for anyone and anything to bring about major changes. A weak plan allows anyone who experiences challenges in implementing the plan to make their own changes.  Majority of the reasons for scope creep are as a result of poor planning and communication of the plan to the team and stakeholders of the project.

Reason For Scope Creep

When stakeholders are not included in the planning stage of the project, they are often tempted to make their own additions to the plan and necessitate changes. Planners are often tempted to sit in their office and hammer out what they imagine to be the best plan without seeking the input of other stakeholders. When the plan is presented, however, everyone wants to make their own input which could in turn distort the plan completely.

The input from majority of the stakeholders should be sort not at the late stages or as a by the way, a practice that is common with planners but rather at the beginning of the planning. This ensures that their input is reflected in the plan from an early stage and avoids last minute changes which could translate into a bulk of work.

Sometimes, even with the best effort of the planners there often arises a misunderstanding on exactly what the organization is looking for or is seeking. This means that when such organizations see the plan, the end product of their project could differ greatly with what they wanted. The result is that major changes are required on the plan to meet the organization goals and demands, (Gaynor and Evanson 1992).

Finally, planners often ignore the importance of evaluating the situation on the ground before starting to plan. This ensures that the plan reflects current conditions and events surrounding the project. For example, the culture of the people may necessitate major changes in a project plan is the same is in conflict to ensure success. However, if the planner was aware of the situation and updated with the right information; the plan will reflect such culture and will not require a major overhaul. Regular evaluations and open communication channels are necessary to bring forth the right and best results in the project plan.

The project scope is the keystone that ensures all elements of the project plan come together in the most ideal way.

Defining The Project Scope

Project objectives:  the first step in defining the scope of the project is for the planner to come up with a general guiding objective. It is from this general objective that more specific objectives which guide the activities and the plan will be drawn. The project objectives help the planner to define the what, when and how of the project. Without a clear general objective, it is possible to lose focus and be steered in any direction.

Deliverables: many times the planners ignore the outcomes or expected outcomes of the project until when the plan is completed. However, the outcomes should be defined at the beginning because they make it possible to make the plan as specific and the activities as directed as possible.

Milestones: when planning, it is important to highlight events that are significant and that mark progress in a project. The deliverables often act as the right foundation from which the milestone schedule can be established and drawn. They occur naturally even during the planning stage and are easy for planners to recognize. Milestones often motivate those working on the plan and project because they establish growth and progress.

Limitations: few planners understand the importance of limitations in defining the scope of the project. Limitations define the exclusions that the project will not be addressing. It may seem like an obvious aspect; however, without limitations stakeholders may not understand the boundaries of the project. When planners fail to define limitations, they open up the plan to false expectations and the [probability of expending resources on the wrong issues, (Bond 1996).

It is clear that scope creep can be reduced through a carefully structured scope statement. Although in a few cases, scope creep can have positive results; in majority of the situations scope creep results in added costs and possible delays in completion of the project.  While planners are preparing to begin addressing the plan per se, it is important to be open about it so that stakeholders can bring in their contributions. Further, planners are tasked with the responsibility of investigating the situation that the project will be addressing thoroughly. From this investigation, they should draw a list of assumptions and address them in the plan. The result is that there will be very few surprises and/or reasons for change and demand for change.

 

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

Planers often face the challenge that they may actually define the project correctly, prepare an exemplary plan with all the right information, and provide factual estimates and still end up with a plan which is a disaster. This is because the plan itself may not meet the expectations of the stakeholders and even the organization running the project. Organizations my not communicate their expectations openly or even in some cases communicate poorly. The result is that the planner may lack an understanding of the exact expectations of the organization. Though they labor continuously to work on a diligent project plan, the same is probably going to fail because it is not in line with the expectations of the organization.

Some of the problems in addressing expectations arise from simple miscommunications and misunderstanding.  Still some from because planners do not take the time to understand and discuss expectations with the organization. It is important to discuss with the organizations, defining terms carefully and precisely to avoid simple misunderstandings. The communication channels with the planner remain open so that expectations can continuously be defined and specifications made clear.

A common error among planners is the simple lack of documentation. Sometimes, the planner has not misunderstood the expectations but because they did not document the same, they maybe unsure of what is expected. When people agree to sit down, agree and document what they have discussed, they give authority to the written documents. In any business and project, written documents should automatically be used in place of memory, (Dawson and Dawson 1998). Even those who claim to have the best memories can often forget small details at the most inopportune moments.

When planners fail to carefully manage the expectations of the organization, there is likely to arise major conflicts in the implementation of the plan. The organization could demand changes to a tirelessly and diligently prepared plan. On the other hand the planner may feel that the demands of the organization and changes requested are not realistic. All in all, there is a general dissatisfaction because the plan did not address the expectations of the organization. Zwikael and Globerson (2004), state that in other cases, the planner may focus s o much on addressing the expectations of the organization which may be unrealistic. Because they are striving to make unrealistic goals realistic, chances are that they will be frustrated and in the end develop a plan that has less about quality and integrity. Where the organization goals are deemed to be unrealistic, it is much wiser for the planner to politely and with the use of facts highlight how such expectations cannot be met. In the end, the expectations agreed upon should be not just realistic but also achievable through the plan to be set forth.

It is important for the planner to note that the expectations he addresses in the plan will be the responsibility of the project team and manager. If such expectations were below par, the project team may become frustrated, expecting larger results but only being able to make small milestones. On the other hand if they were unrealistic and not achievable, the team is likely to lose motivation as the purse goals that are unrealistic, (Richman 2002). In the end the frustration and exhaustion of the project managers and teams will translate to complete failure of the project. It is not surprising to find stalled projects and unsuccessful ventures which stand out to organizations and communities as sore thumbs and which began with the simple poor addressing of expectations by the planner. Most in fact become stalled at the first stages when the stakeholders realize that expectations are far from achievable.

 

PREPARING THE BUDGET AND WORK PLAN

Often planners work under tight schedules, with managers and their teams determined to begin working almost immediately. With this in mind, it is common for planners to avoid the hustle of estimating costs and time. This is the most costly mistake for planners as it reflects on the process of project control. Stakeholders expect accurate costs and time estimations. Poor cost and time estimations are likely to lead t false expectations and uncertainty. In order to provide enlightened estimates, planners can be guided by the following aspects:

Responsibility: when planning for costs and time, it is best for planners to work with people who understand the specific tasks. These individuals are enlightened on the situation at the ground in addition to possessing internal knowledge on how such things work. Of course such individuals should be independent of the organization and the project to avoid biasness in the cost tracking. Once the planner has arrived on particular costs they can liaise with the stakeholders to ensure that they agree and accept responsibility for the budget and work plan, (Leus and Herroelen 2004).

Use several different sources of information:  a common error with planners is to collect information such as the costs from one source rather than several sources which could be more beneficial. Several sources provide varying ranges of time and costs, the average of which reflects best the situation on the ground. One source of information may prove to be less than reliable.

Use independent tasks: when preparing the work plan and budget, planners are often tempted to inter-relate all the activities. This leads to unrealistic plans and estimates. Each task should be treated independently to ensure that it receives the right attention in terms of resources, cost and time to ensure success. Only when each individual task has been tackled independently should the planner combine and rationalize what is now the cost and time for the tasks.

Add risk assessment to the plan: planners need to understand that some tasks carry a much greater risk in terms of cost, resources and even time. Such risk assessment should be included in the budget and contingencies made for the same. Adding the risk assessment allows the stakeholders to be aware of and plan for the contingencies. Without this, there is risk of going beyond the budget or even experiencing delays as solutions are sought when the risk comes into play.

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