This post is a continuation of Keys to Project Success - Part 3
Use the Plan and Keep It Alive
Failing to plan is planning to fail. And failing to use the plan after it is developed is just as bad as no planning at all. It never fails to surprise me when I see a project manager move into a ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ approach part way through a project, no longer using their plan. A typical conversation might go as follows:
Me: “So where are we on the project?”
Project Manager: “Um, good, I think…”
Me: “You think? I don’t understand. How are we tracking to schedule and budget?”
PM: “It’s a bit hard to say. I think we’re roughly on schedule.”
Me: “I’m confused. I assume you have been tracking task completion and effort involved, haven’t you?”
PM: “Well, we’re not doing the project exactly as it’s laid out on the schedule, so I’m not really following that anymore.”
Me: (Eyebrows raised.) “What do you mean you’re not following the plan anymore? Why?”
PM: “Well, some things took a bit longer than we thought, so we changed around how we were going to approach this other piece here, but now things aren’t really going according to the schedule, so… but I’m sure we’ll be back on track by next week.”
Me: “Did you invoke the project change management plan?”
PM: “Oh, um… no.”
At this point, these conversations always get a bit uncomfortable for the project manager. So often I’ve encountered project managers who have either physically or mentally shelved their plan, somehow thinking that it was only applicable in the planning phase, and once it was signed-off by the various stakeholders, it was meant to go into a bookshelf never to be seen or heard of again. That is a kiss-of-death to any project. Instead, what should happen is the project manager should be living every aspect of that plan every day.
What does that mean? It means at least the following on a daily or bi-daily basis, depending on the allocation of the project manager:
- Tracking the time spent on and estimated time-to-complete for all tasks.
- Leveraging tools like Microsoft Project to do the ‘heavy lifting’ by inputting that tracking data into the plan and letting Project forecast estimated completion date and cost (this means, of course, that the schedule must have been developed properly with dependencies, correct nature of task, etc.). These updated forecast milestone dates and budget amounts ought to be compared to the established baseline, and where there are material differences, the project’s change management plan must be invoked. I’ll cover change management plans in more detail later, but they usually result in changes to any combination of schedule, budget, functionality, and quality, after appropriate approvals.
- Talking with all team members of the team to be sure the project is progressing according to the schedule in terms of order of tasks, who is doing them, etc.
- When there is a deviation discovered, determining why, and whether or not the deviation is material enough to warrant invoking the project’s change management plan.
- Being vigilant in identifying and quantifying project risks, and where the risk assessment warrants, creating and invoking a risk management plan (which thus likely causes the project change management plan to be invoked).
- Reviewing quality metrics, and determining if there are issues / risks there, and if so and material, creating and invoking a risk management plan (again, which will likely result in project change, and thus require the project change management plan to be invoked).
- Following the project’s communications plan, ensuring stakeholders are kept up to date and engaged in the progress of the project.
In other words, every day, doing exactly what their plan says they will do.