Staying On Track

Having a clear documented goal is the way to go. Many projects change in direction or deviate some point in the process. This is due to many reasons such as finding a better solution or a better way to accomplish the project’s goal. If that’s the case, then that’s a plus given to the team. However, if the direction changes or deviation is caused by an unclear or blurry goal, then the project will yield different results.

A clear documented goal and the way to accomplish it could be reached by creating four documents. The four documents are as following:

  • Charter: The document outlining the project’s Scope & Objectives, Impact, Deliverables, Interfaces and Risk & Constraint Management.
  • Project Plan: The steps that should be taken to accomplish the project’s desired outcomes. It could be shown at a higher level breakdown of major activities and tasks and broken down further to show individual tasks assigned to project members.
  • Team Roster: The document containing information about the project team and external people involved in the project. It provides names, roles, email addresses, organizations they belong to, and their Full Time Equivalence (FTE) in the project.
  • Reporting Template: Where progress of the project gets reported in periodic basis. In this document the project team could report their % completion on the project, % completion on each milestone, issues and risks being faced, a mitigation plan, current focus area and changes required on the project team.

By having such documents “under the same name of different names”, the project team could always go back and recheck the progress and direction to ensure movement in right direction. The Charter is the document to be checked at the completion of the project. It has what needs to be done and accomplished. The project plan is the path towards completion and accomplishment. The team roster is who is on board and what contribution and role is played by each. Finally, the reporting template is the health check and prescription to any issue.

Without having this set of documentation, the project might deviate from the original path and give different results because there was no written and clear direction and requirements guiding the team. From personnel experience, people act differently and commit more to documented process and requirements. Many projects have failed in organizations due to blurry paths and not having the book to go back to and validate what they are doing. Moreover, ending up with the wrong results might cause a restart from point zero and having to spend more time, money and energy to accomplish what was supposed to be accomplished.

The key element is to stay focused, and to do so, a project needs a clear documented goals and way to accomplish them.

The Importance of Project Planning

Project planning is one of the most important activities in the project cycle, if not the most important. Many underestimate the importance of this stage and the return it will yield if done appropriately.

This stage contains a roadmap which guides the project team to the right direction and prevents missing important points on the way to completion. It starts with a brain storming of the activities required to accomplish and complete the project, which then could be easily and logically grouped and put in order. The set of activities listed and grouped could be further classified into tiers depending on the depth of the activities and required information about each activates. The aim is to get clear and well-defined stages and milestones, which will allow the project team to define progress and have tangible deliverables moving forward.

Part of the planning stage as well, is to define the stakeholders and interfaces throughout the project. This activity is very important as it lays out who is going to be effected as a result of the project and what should stakeholders and interfaces know beforehand. Not going through this activity will lead to future obstacles and potential delays if not a big shift in the project’s direction and end results.

A simple example showing the benefits and importance of the planning activities is one of the first projects I have worked on. The project was to structure a live performance dashboard for several projects, which also functions as a portal to navigate through detailed information about each project. The reason I choose this project is because it made me realize how important planning is.

The planning stage started with brainstorming the activities required to accomplish the intended results. After that, they were put in a logical order and milestones were extracted to form a project plan. I was satisfied with the plan until I met with the IT department which had a different route to accomplish the project.   This is when I come to realize that the IT department should have been involved in the project planning from the beginning and taken into consideration while putting the list in order since they will be the ones responsible for implementing the dashboard. The project plan and scope of work were agreed on with the IT department and we went forward. A milestone of presenting the dashboard to senior management was reached, and unfortunately shifted the direction of the project. The proposal was not introduced to the management team before implementation as a result of not being considered in the project plan in the first stages.

This experience shows how important planning stage is in the project cycle. For me now, it is the basis of any project, and therefore it should be well thought of and invested in. more time planning will save a lot of time in implementation and give a clear direction.