The following article is in line with my series of articles on project management where I intend to pen down the journey of a project manager from initiating the project to its closure.
In this article, I am embarking on a writing journey to help my readers with the aspects of starting off the planning phase with setting and reaching milestones. Identifying and breaking down tasks into their minute details to be assigned to the respective owners. Finally, ends with developing the grand project plan to be used as a living artifact throughout the project execution.
Content of the article
Before the project planning phase, the following needs to be taken care of;
The project manager gets assigned
Project goals, scope, and deliverables have to be approved
Team members get assigned
Importance of project planning
Why is project planning so important, following points illustrate the necessity of it;
Understand the work needed to achieve the goals
Coordinate efforts and timelines with other teams, contractors, and vendors
Identify and prepare for risks
Get "buy-in" from key members of the project team
Demonstrated to stakeholders that the team is taking care to start the project with a detailed plan
The following are the essential ingredients of project planning;
Risk Management Plan
A project kick-off meeting is a formal start to project planning. It is the first meeting in which a project team comes together to establish a shared vision, align on the project's goals and scope, and understand each person's individual roles within the team.
Who to invite
Agenda (with an effective time duration to be followed)
Introductions (approx. 5 min)
Team member names
Background (approx. 5 min)
How the project came to be
Why the project matters
Set a shared vision
Goals and scope (approx. 10 min)
Target launch dates
Roles and responsibilities (approx. 10 min)
Collaboration (approx. 10 min)
Shared project tools and documents
What comes next (approx. 10 min)
Set expectations and action items
Questions and discussion (approx. 15 min)
Gain clarity on meeting topics
Ensure the project benefits from the diversity of thoughts, experiences, and ideas
Importance of Kickoff meeting
Establish a shared vision
Align on scope
Build team rapport
Ask questions and offer insights
Kick-off meeting best practices
Set the right time
Set the right length (no more than an hour)
Invite the right people
Designate a notetaker
Set the agenda
Share the agenda
Stick to the agenda
Follow up after the meeting
Tasks and Milestones
A project task is an activity that needs to be accomplished within a set period of time and is assigned to one or more individuals for completion. The work of a project is broken down into many different project tasks.
A project milestone is an important point within the project schedule that usually signifies the completion of a major deliverable. Milestones are significant checkpoints in the project, and keeping track of them helps ensure that the project is on schedule to meet its goals.
Milestones and project tasks are interconnected
This is the journey of work
Deliverables > Milestones > Project Task
Importance of Milestone
Why defining, setting, and sharing the milestones with all & everyone in the project is important, the following points state the relevance of;
Setting milestones gives you a clear understanding of the amount of work your project will require.
Milestones can help keep your project on track.
Reaching milestones can seriously motivate your team.
Milestones also serve as a great check-in point to highlight your progress to stakeholders.
Milestones must be completed on time and in sequential order.
If the team misses the mark to complete a deliverable tied to a specific milestone, it could set back your project schedule
How to set Milestone
Setting milestones is a very important step and needs to be developed with care, the following points reveal the procedure for it;
The first step to setting a milestone is to evaluate your project as a whole.
Once you've determined your milestones, the next step is to assign each one a deadline.
To get a good sense of timing, you can connect with teammates to discuss the tasks required to reach each milestone and get their estimates for how long these tasks will take.
When you set deadlines for milestones, you will also want to consider the needs of your stakeholders.
Set tasks to identify milestones
Setting tasks can help you clearly define milestones. You can do this in two ways:
In this approach, the project manager lays out the higher-level milestones and then works to break down the effort into project tasks. The project manager works with their team to ensure that all tasks are captured.
In this approach, the project manager looks at all of the individual tasks that need to be completed and then rolls those tasks into manageable chunks that lead to a milestone.
Milestone settings Pitfalls
Don’t set too many milestones.
Don’t mistake tasks for milestones.
Don’t list your milestones and tasks separately.
Work Breakdown Structure
A WBS is a deliverable-oriented breakdown of a project into smaller components.
It’s a tool that sorts the milestones and tasks of a project into a hierarchy, in the order they need to be completed.
Steps to build a WBS
Start with the high-level, overarching project picture.
Brainstorm with the team to list the major deliverables and milestones.
Identify the tasks that need to be performed in order to meet those milestones.
Examine those tasks and break them down further into sub-tasks
After completing WBS, the project manager should have;
A set of discrete project tasks that ladder up to each of the milestones
Assign those tasks to members of the project team.
Tasks are typically assigned according to a person's role in the project. To assign tasks between two or more team members with the same roles, the project manager might take into consideration each person's familiarity with the tasks at hand with the consideration of each teammate's workload.
One less obvious benefit of assigning tasks is that it creates a sense of personal responsibility for team members.
The Grand Project Plan
We further our discussion on developing the grand project plan which is a living artifact for the entire project journey, referred to and updated as required.
The project Schedule is the anchor for the project plan.
The following states the major components of the project plan;
In addition to the above-stated components, project managers should also include the following in the project plan:
Scope and goals
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
Management plans consists of the change management plan, risk management plan, and communication plan.
Time estimation is the most important aspect of the project plan and is quite different than effort estimation;
Time estimation is a prediction of the total amount of time required to complete a task.
Effort estimation is a prediction of the amount and difficulty of active work required to complete a task.
An unrealistic effort estimate can negatively impact a project schedule when you underestimate the amount of time it will take to complete a task. Whereas too much optimism can lead you to overlook potential risks that could set your plans behind schedule.
Your teammates will have the most realistic understanding of the amount of work required to complete a task and should be able to provide you with the best estimate.
Sub-tasks refer to smaller tasks that are required to complete a larger task. Asking the teammate assigned to the task for their estimate is likely to yield a more accurate estimation.
A buffer is an extra time added to the end of a task or a project to account for unexpected slowdowns or delays in work progress.
Task buffers refer to extra time tacked on to a specific task.
Task buffers should be used primarily for tasks that are out of the project team's control.
Task buffers should be used more sparingly for tasks within the project team's control.
Adding a buffer to every task could lengthen your project schedule unnecessarily.
Project buffers differ from task buffers in that they provide extra time to the overall project schedule.
Be realistic when estimating time and effort for a project. Take the time to carefully evaluate potential risks and their impact on the work, and talk to your team members about these challenges.
Don’t be afraid to escalate potential concerns to management. Optimism is a trait of a great project manager and leader, but it can adversely affect your projects when it comes to time estimation.
The planning fallacy and optimism bias
The planning fallacy describes our tendency to underestimate the amount of time it will take to complete a task, as well as the costs and risks associated with that task, due to optimism bias.
Optimism bias is when a person believes that they are less likely to experience a negative event.
As a project manager, you should aim to balance being aware of the planning fallacy with keeping an optimistic attitude about the project, even as things change.
Being on the lookout for “what-ifs” is a key project management skill.
Considering situations that could affect whether or not the project is completed on time can help you overcome the planning fallacy.
Capacity refers to the amount of work that the people or resources assigned to the project can reasonably complete in a set period of time.
Capacity planning refers to the act of allocating people, and resources to project tasks. And determining whether or not you have the necessary resources required to complete the work on time.
The critical path refers to the list of project milestones that you must reach in order to meet the project goal on schedule. As well as the mandatory tasks that contribute to the completion of each milestone.
The critical path includes the bare minimum number of tasks and milestones you need to reach your project goal.
The following steps help determine the critical path;
Identify which tasks can happen in parallel vs. which tasks can happen sequentially
Determine which project tasks have a fixed start date
Determine which project tasks have the earliest start date
Identify if a task has float (also called slack)
Float refers to the amount of time you can wait to begin a task before it impacts the project schedule, and threatens the project outcome.
Tasks on the critical path should have zero floats.
How to create a critical path
The following list the steps towards capturing the critical path;
Step 1: Capture all tasks - The project manager can use WBS
Step 2: Set dependencies
Which task needs to take place before this task?
Which task can be finished at the same time as this task?
Which task needs to happen right after this task?
Step 3: Create a network diagram
Step 4: Make time estimates
Step 5: Find the critical path
The below diagram illustrates the steps toward constructing a house with all the major work and time duration. With the visualization available critical path can be decided as per the requirement and understanding.
We can also calculate the critical path using two common approaches:
The forward pass
The backward pass.
These techniques are useful if you are asked to identify the earliest and latest start dates (the earliest and latest dates on which you can begin working on a task) or the slack (the amount of time that task can be delayed past its earliest start date without delaying the project).
The forward pass
Refers to when you start at the beginning of your project task list and add up the duration of the tasks on the critical path to the end of your project. When using this approach, start with the first task you have identified that needs to be completed before anything else can start.
The backward pass
It is the opposite of forward pass—start with the final task or milestone and move backward through your schedule to determine the shortest path to completion. When there is a hard deadline, working backward can help you determine which tasks are actually critical. You may be able to cut some tasks—or complete them later—in order to meet the deadline.
Discussion in project management without a note of soft skills would be a cold drink without ice.
Soft skills are personal characteristics that help people work effectively with others. The following points in mind will effectively help in leveraging soft skills;
Asking the right questions
Open Ended Question - One that can't be answered with yes or no
Project Plan Best Practices
The following list of the best practices will be developing a project plan;
Careful review of project deliverables, milestones, and tasks
Giving yourself time to plan
Recognizing and planning for the inevitable (things will go wrong)
Championing your plan
To keep the project running smoothly, it's also important to understand the expectations, priorities, risk assessments, and communication styles of your stakeholders and vendors.
Project plans are critical because they are used to capture the scope and time it takes to complete a project. As a general rule, it is best to use a spreadsheet for a simple project and project management software for a more complex project. Regardless of what tool you use, be sure to include this key information:
Task ID numbers or task names
Start and finish dates
Who is responsible for what
An anchor of a good project plan is a clear schedule containing all the tasks of a project, their owners, and when they need to be completed.
A Gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart that maps out a project schedule. Gantt charts display a highly visual representation of project tasks, who is responsible for what work, and when tasks are due.
Kanban boards are useful for all kinds of projects, they are typically most suitable for project teams working in an Agile project management approach.
Kanban boards are used to:
Give a quick visual understanding of work details and provide critical task information.
Facilitate handoffs between stakeholders, such as between development and testing resources or between team members who work on related tasks.
Help with capturing metrics and improving workflows.
The following provides a short glance at creating practical cards to manage the tasks with two sides, used for putting up information as required;
Title and unique identifier
Description of work
Estimation of effort
Who is assigned to the task
This is the end of the first part of project planning, further will write on the final part of project planning which will consider budgeting, risk management, documentation, and effective communication strategy.
To further read related articles please check the links below;