To most people, the proverb ‘measure twice, cut once', may sound cliché. However, in project management, it happens to be an unofficial but important rule.
These days, projects seem to be getting more complex and deadlines increasingly shorter. The pressure to hit these deadlines causes many project managers to rush and kick off projects as soon as possible. So much so that some people even consider any time spent planning up-front as wasted time. In reality, however, this couldn't be further from the truth.
If a project lead chooses to start a project and ignore the planning phase, it's a recipe for failure. Poor planning is constantly identified as one of the top reasons for project failure. If you examine the root cause of most of these cases, a lack of planning is usually to blame.
Let's stick with the all-too-familiar process that is scope creep, and use it to briefly illustrate the importance of planning. Without developing a project plan at the very beginning, determining the scope of a project becomes practically impossible. The project just seems to get bigger and bigger, and runs on for longer and longer. And unfortunately, projects that land on the slippery slope of scope creep can be difficult to recover from, and most times end up being scrapped.
Poor planning also leads to the rapid depletion of resources; without a plan, how do you keep track of the tools and techniques required to accomplish your tasks? Or how does a project manager even know which team member is responsible for which task? With only a limited amount of resources available, squandering resources is simply not an option.
The benefits of planning a project
Knowing what you plan to achieve greatly increases the likelihood that you will actually do it. But without a clear objective from the onset, the project will be plagued by scope creep. If the team isn't clear on what they are working on, how will they know when the project is completed? Planning helps the team focus on the objectives and the end goal.
Better chances of hitting milestones
One of the best ways to track the progress of a project is to schedule milestones into the project plan. Without these milestones (or a clear plan), it becomes difficult to prioritise your tasks or even know if you are headed in the right direction.
Don't let your team members flounder when they hit stumbling blocks and are not sure how to proceed. Having a project plan helps the manager (and the team) plan milestones, determine how much time they require, and schedule their tasks accordingly.
Thorough project planning includes performing a full assessment of all the potential risk factors. There's no doubt that problems will arise in the course of a project, but with a prior risk assessment, these risks can be monitored and managed.
Knowing them beforehand allows you to develop a contingency plan that can be used to avoid issues like resource shortages, reallocation of budget, and scope creep.
More efficient resource allocation
Having a project planned out shows the team exactly which resources will be required to complete the project. A plan also allows project managers to keep tabs on which resources have been allocated and thus avoid over-allocation.
Over-allocation leads to projects running out of resources before completion. With resources depleted, most projects stall and are eventually discontinued. Avoid bringing your project to a halt by planning ahead of time and making sure the resources you need are available when you need them.
Identifying task dependencies
A project plan shows project managers which tasks have dependencies, and allows them to be scheduled accordingly. Kicking off a project without identifying dependencies will lead to tasks being done in the wrong order, resulting in project failure. A clear project plan allows you to know which team member is in charge of which task.
Planning facilitates communication, which will help your team know what exactly is required of them. A written plan will help you communicate key details, making it easier for you and your team to complete certain tasks. Listening to their input and ideas is also a way to achieve buy-in and foster commitment of team members.
The truth is that, even with a plan, unforeseen events, risks, and deviations can still occur. This means there is still a high degree of uncertainty in every project. So why plan?
Having a project plan simply puts you in a better position than having no plan at all. Smart project managers focus on working smarter, not harder. By recognising the need for planning from the project's inception, you can make it easier (for both yourself and your team) to reach your project goals while avoiding stress, wasted time, and costly rework in the future.
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