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How to Manage A Project: Planning a Project

In this new series from Replicon, we cover every step in project management from A to Z. In our second segment, we discuss step number two: planning a project. 

Once the project has been approved and funding is secured, you can begin phase two of the project management life cycle: planning. With the scope, objectives, timelines, resources, and deliverables already laid out, you have all the pieces you need to create a blueprint for project success. 

Delineate Each Task With A Work Breakdown Structure
Projects have a lot of moving parts, and determining each part’s place on the path to completion can be daunting without a clear picture of everything in one place. This is where a work breakdown structure (WBS) comes in handy. A WBS subdivides large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks to be completed.  It can be depicted using a variety of formats, including graphical, textual, or tabular – but most importantly, it helps project managers and other stakeholders define the most important deliverables one by one. Based on the project charter and scope statement, the WBS is a fundamental component in project management, and, as a result, plays an essential role in informing other project management processes and deliverables.  

A work breakdown structure subdivides large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks.

Develop A Schedule
So you’ve figured out the What – but how about When? When can you expect to complete each task? How are they connected?  Do any tasks require you to start and finish them at the same time? What are the milestones? The answers lie in creating a visual timeline for each deliverable; an indispensable step in your project’s action plan. To realistically manage expectations, establish start and end dates (including some padding for any potential hiccups) by working backwards from non-negotiable deadlines, and go from there. The more similarly-themed projects you work on, the more reliably you can estimate the time needed for each task by referencing historical data and tracked time. All that remains is selecting the type of timeline that best helps you visualize your project – such as vertical or horizontal, interactive or static, Gantt charts, and so on. 

Identify Available Resources
You’re all set with the What and the When, but a crucial component still remains: Who. It is important to maintain a skills database, reference past work, and more when in the process of determining who might be best-suited for your project. Considering a potential candidate’s location, cost, and time off will play an equally important role – while you may have already considered which resources possess the most relevant skills, if they’re busy working on something else, it won’t do you much good. Assigning the right resources at the right time can be a major challenge without an effective resource management process in place. Ensure your resources are available to support project goals, and clearly identify team members to help set expectations. Roles and responsibilities should be detailed and built into the schedule. 

Proper resource management helps you schedule the right people at the right time.

Calculate Project Costs
When it comes to completing a successful project, an accurate cost estimate is second to none. Every organization has a budget, and a cost estimate provides an informed prediction of how much time and money is needed to complete a project. Again your work breakdown structure comes in handy – with each task neatly separated into a deliverable, it’s much easier to allocate estimates to each section. Data from previous projects will further illuminate costs, revealing the rates each resource receives – meaning total cost can increase or decrease depending on who joins the project. Generally costs are divided into two categories: direct cost, and indirect cost. Direct costs can be defined as those incurred by one specific project; necessary for its completion, while indirect costs fall under more generalized costs and overheads that several projects and departments might use, ie., rent, office supplies, and so on. 

Evaluate Potential Risks
Considering all the “what ifs” is just smart practice before starting a project. No matter how scrupulously you’ve planned every detail, you should still be aware of all the ways your project can run into trouble. Applying risk assessment allows teams to identify potential problems that could arise, analyze their likelihood of occurring, take action to prevent avoidable risks, and minimize the ones that you can’t. Creating a checklist, matrix, or register can help project teams stay prepared and keep cool under pressure when the inevitable comes to pass. The Project Management Institute recommends multiple methods of assessing risk here.  

Gone are the days of single-minded focus on delivery — how has project management evolved over the years? Read Project Management, All Grown Up to learn more.

Prepare for Sales-to-Delivery Handoff
Last, but certainly not least: sales might make the promises, but your project team is the one actually delivering the final results. From the beginning, a conscious collaboration between the sales and delivery teams is vital to ensure that what was promised matches what is delivered. Sales should be well aware of the timeline’s viability, what resources are unavailable, and what kind of costs can fit the budget – as informed by the delivery team. Without that handshake, you risk damaged credibility, mismanaged clients, and lost revenue from the start.  

Frankly put, a project is doomed to fail without comprehensive planning as a key step in your process. It’s the closest you can get to telling the future without a crystal ball – and developing the skills and knowledge to understand your project’s goals and plan effectively is a superpower in itself. Always be sure to carefully define your deliverables, create a timeline, assemble your team, estimate project costs, and assess your risks before diving in; this way, you can position yourself and your team for project success. 

Stay tuned for future posts in our series: How to Manage a Project. Next up: Executing A Project.  

Working with a remote project team? Join our webinar to learn how Replicon’s cloud-based, mobile-first project time tracking suite can empower your team, wherever they are:

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