Three faces of your plan

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29 Feb
23 Mar

Anyone who works on projects applies project management (PM). Any PM life-cycle in one way or another is based on planning. If you want your project to successfully meet its deadlines you need a schedule. However, before the launch you have to do some groundwork — interview your clients, get information about users, conduct competitive analysis, gather materials, make a mood board and all that jazz. On this stage it’s extremely important to be proactive and engage your clients into the process. After all they’re the final decision makers. When the initiative part is over we go forward.

I. Planning or pre-planning

All great things are done by a series of small things brought together. So the first face of your plan reveals when you take the stack of labour and deconstruct it on stages and tasks considering timing and resources. It’s really worth to document everything. For instance, you can form a Kanban in Asana with backlog for the whole list of steps, allocate duties and responsibilities for a week and a month and make columns for approval and done. Determine genuine success criteria of your project — be honest and objective.

And no matter what application or method you use to manage the project, you face the first great obstacle for sure — not so many people really can set tasks and share roles correctly. In the long run, it always twists your plan in an unpredictable and nasty way. Then let’s go back to basics to avoid the trouble.

Setting tasks: actors

Obviously, we form any task for two groups of one team — individual contributors and managers — so that:

  • individual contributors could do what they should do efficiently, without extra efforts, without standing by and with clear deadlines;
  • and managers could manage the process, timing, productivity, risks and client’s expectations.

Setting tasks incorrectly you force your individual contributors to work slowly and spontaneously while managers can’t distinguish the problem. Tasks are for deep comprehension of the process inside the team, not just for fun. Any task answers the question “What should each participant actually do right now?”

Setting tasks: words

Words are extremely important in this story. Try to start your titles with verbs. “Feedback form” is a bad task. “Design the feedback form” is a good task. The final goal of any task is a result, not a process. If you have identical tasks, form them identically for easier parsing. It’s also efficient to form a task as a clear sequence — a type of work, a name of work, timing.

Setting tasks: time

How much time should it take to complete a task? It’s a complicated question and mostly depends on three things:

  • quality of anticipated result,
  • quantity of proposed work,
  • quickness of definite implementer.

Keep in mind, the more you decompose a task, the more you control it. On the other side, avoid setting potty tasks. If one task is a collection of small tasks, set them as subtasks. Find out the approximate timing from one who will accomplish the task, estimate risks, calculate the best, the worst and the most probable scenarios and build buffers of time around tasks in the schedule to ensure the project meets its deadline.

Setting tasks: priorities

In traditional sequential methodologies of PM, when one task must be completed before the next begins, your priorities laid out in the proper sequence. In the Agile family of PM approaches your priorities respond changes of a current iterative cycle. In the change management methodologies, you extra focus on potential risks, so you prioritize your tasks at the moment of massive changes to get them under control. To make a long story short, just remember that the end justifies the means.

Finally, taking in consideration all these points, you’ll get a flawless plan. But what is next?

II. Implementing or re-planning

Reality is the second face of your plan, and it can be rather cruel. “No Battle Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy” is a famous quote by the German Field Marshal, Helmuth von Moltke, who was an innovative military strategist in the 19th century.

He meant that the most thought-out, best-laid plans should be thrown out completely because the enemy is often unpredictable. The enemy doesn’t conform to your desires and beliefs. The enemy does what he wants, and it’s on you to adapt or die. Slightly modifying the Marshal’s piece of wisdom, we get a new truth — “No plan survives contact with the reality.”

He meant that the most thought-out, best-laid plans should be thrown out completely because the enemy is often unpredictable. The enemy doesn’t conform to your desires and beliefs. The enemy does what he wants, and it’s on you to adapt or die. Slightly modifying the Marshal’s piece of wisdom, we get a new truth — “No plan survives contact with the reality.”

Here is a popular chain of statements and conclusions:

Planning is strategy making. All strategies are hypotheses. Hypotheses must be tested with experiments. Experiments provide actual data to adjust the hypothesis, which in turn adjusts the strategies, represented in the plan.

For some reason people tend to explain it in a weird way. Definitely, you’ve dealt with an opinion — we don’t need a plan because we’re not doing it anyway. In fact, it’s absolutely incorrect understanding of what a plan is.

We need a plan to know what we are responsible for and how our responsibilities will be impacted to reach the goals of the project. Otherwise, our backlog is just a pile of ideas that have no chance to become a product some day. Of course, since the future is uncertain we have to be ready for changes and always estimate their impact upon the project. So allocate proper time to control checkpoints, use color coding to make results more evident, for example:

  • green: everything goes according to the plan,
  • yellow: delayed stuff (waiting for feedback, payment, etc.),
  • red: problems,
  • grey: a project isn’t launched yet.

While managing the project in real time, always make sure that your goals aren’t critically affected under new circumstances and your results are still actual.

III. Evaluating or post-planning

Experience is the third face of your plan. It’s the stage to turn back and analyze fails and wins. Evaluation is an important phase to assess the plan as it was and whether it ran in an efficient manner. The outcome evaluation focuses on results and if the goal was met, and the process evaluation focuses on ways the plan was implementing.

Utilizing the results of the analysis in the decision-making, you transform a usual work process into deep practice. With new knowledge and corrective actions, you’re ready to set new goals and ensure delivery of the intended results.

Herding cats

Any plan is like legendary Proteus who can change his look, but not sense. So keep it on track, and you won’t get into an open loop control system. Or you really want to be whipped around by negative influences, create extra work and generally mismanage the project? Your life — your choice.

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