The Basics of Project Planning

By Michael Carrillo

In the words of writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “a goal without a plan is just a wish.”

We all have a myriad list of tasks and goals to accomplish, and our schedules can become unwieldy. We might forget what we are responsible for or lose sight of our original goals and be forced to become reactive “firefighters.”

Planning is essential for efficient and effective action, so here are six aspects for efficiency in developing a viable and flexible plan:

1. Goal-Setting. With goal-setting, less is not more. The more coherent the goals, the less likely we are to introduce “scope creep” (the natural desire to grow the scope of a project without budget).

A number of years ago, I was introduced to the concept of SMART goals. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. For example: “I want to lose 10 pounds within three months and fit into my size 32 jeans. I will work out a minimum of two times a week at Gainesville Health & Fitness and focus on abs. I can achieve this because I have lost weight with this approach before.”

2. Work Breakdown. This is breaking the project into component parts: major tasks, sub-tasks and deliverables. This can be one of the more daunting activities of building a plan. I have met very few people who can do this naturally, but don’t worry; if you can identify the type of project you are planning (from planning a vacation to coordinating a donation drive), then you can find a starting point template or method that outlines the project’s activities.

3. Timeline. Ben Franklin said that “lost time is never found again.” Establishing a realistic timeline will help you focus and navigate each step of your project. Make a document that visibly depicts your timeline schedule—it’s a great way to review the viability of any plan and communicate the progress.

4. Accountability. Assign responsibilities so that project participants can assume and acknowledge their responsibility for activities and deliverables prescribed in the project plan. It’s key to set expectations, have SMART goals and a transparent way to communicate project progress. This gets easier if a performance incentive is tied to a project’s deliverables – for example, “You get paid at this date when I get X.’”

5. Budget. Rarely is a project considered successful if it has achieved its goals but is over-budget. Use references from your work breakdown to identify cost estimates. At the same time, be careful not to pad your timelines and budgets too much. Budgets have to be monitored and forecasted to minimize the effects of scope creep.

6. Communicate. The Dalai Lama reportedly said that “a lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” Each of the five previous points requires some form of communication. I use Microsoft PowerPoint slides to cover each point in either a table or a work breakdown timeline chart. Active communication of each aspect of a project is important to ensure a project is in scope, on time and within budget.

Michael Carrillo is the enablement director for the Infor Partner Network, a software company that specializes in industry-specific applications and suites. He is the director for global training, readiness and enablement within Infor’s global alliances and channels program. He has more than 20 years of sales, presales and consulting experience, and leads a global team of enablement managers who support more than 700 Infor partners and more than 20 solutions. He has master’s degrees in physics and electrical engineering as well as an MBA from the Georgia Institute of Technology.


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