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Project Planning – What is the best approach?

At Pledge Consulting, we work with many different types of project delivery organisation. We work with companies that by necessity, are very linear (or waterfall) in their delivery approach and governance structures. Other businesses, often in the technology space are more agile and are driven by an iterative approach, and the need to get products to market fast.

One element that is (or should be!) common to all delivery environments is planning. The projects typically delivered by our clients are usually complex beasts, with many moving parts and often with multiple vendors and stakeholders. In order to make sure that scope is delivered on time and to the right specification, project managers always need a plan.

The topic of project planning can be controversial, with some agile organisations rejecting the need for the traditional Gantt Chart and Work Break Down structure method of project planning in favour of ‘epics’ and ‘user stories’. Some organisations simply reject the concept of project planning altogether until somewhere down the track when things start to go astray.

Common Planning Types

As consultants who spend every day in the trenches of project delivery, often with a responsibility to help improve project outcomes, it matters less to us what kind of planning is done and more about:

  1. is planning done in a consistent way across the project team(s)? and;
  2. are both the project and the product being planned?

One of the most common areas of disconnect we find is where the product is broken down into epics and stories by the technical teams and the project is broken down as a WBS by the Project Manager. This scenario can actually work very well as long as both parties have an understanding of what is being delivered (scope or MVP), when it’s required (schedule or sprint plan) and any project dependencies. However, when teams are talking apples and oranges rather than apples and apples planning can become dysfunctional and unproductive.

Apples & Oranges

Many technology or development teams work better/are more comfortable using an agile lexicon, but the concepts at work here needn’t be mutually exclusive. The tasks that are identified as part of an epic can easily be included into a WBS and subsequently a project schedule. If the concepts of traditional project management are seen as ‘old fashioned’ or ‘outdated’ then let us consider some of the basic components of planning any project. Which are:

  • Breakdown the work into manageable and logical chunks (User Stories & Epics or WBS)
  • Understand who is doing what (resources) and when (scheduling)
  • Do some analysis on what the priority tasks are (Kanban or Critical Path)
  • Call out dependent activities (internal or external to your project)

Using a hybrid method of project planning from the outset will provide much better outcomes than trying to fight your corner for whichever method you think is the right one. The truth is, there are multiple planning methods (and planning tools!) that can be used successfully to deliver great outcomes. There is no one right way, choose the blend of techniques that work for you and stick to them. That way achieving your project objectives is becomes a much more likely outcome.

By Louise Gardner, Managing Director, Pledge Consulting

Microsoft Project can be a great tool to facilitate a hybrid approach. It is intuitive to use and relatively inexpensive (compared to other professional tools). If you are new to Microsoft Project, you can now take advantage of our online training program (The Essentials of Microsoft Project).  The course covers the basics for new and inexperienced users. Use the code Launch20 to receive 20% of the course price for a limited time. Click here for more information.

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