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Project Plan

Key Question: Does the project plan exist?

"Without a doubt, the most important tool for managing a project is the project plan. The plan is the blueprint by which all project activities and tasks are performed. It's alarming that many multimillion-dollar projects are allowed to sail along without the benefit of a formal, documented project plan. Those projects are later known as multimillion-dollar failures and career enders."

Key Question: Are all the tasks accounted for in the plan?

"The primary goal is to have a plan that includes all activities and tasks, including their dependencies and estimated effort that are needed to produce the deliverables described in the project charter. The plan should not only include the technical tasks, but it should also include the tasks associated with project management and quality management approaches in their respective sections of the project charter. As mentioned earlier, the primary reason projects get into trouble is team members don't adhere to the Management Approach, especially change control. The most prevalent root cause of excessive change is missing tasks."

Key Question: Are the task estimates based upon a known history or are they just guesses?

"The next most prevalent root cause of excessive change is aggressive or even far-fetched estimates. Having a proven development methodology or a set of proven project plan templates with experience-based work effort estimates is the best way to avoid those two diabolical causes of catastrophe."

Key Question: Is each team member working only on the tasks specifically assigned in the plan?

"Once you have a valid project plan, the project team members should be doing work according to that plan. This may sound like the most obvious statement one could make, but project team members very often work on other tasks, even those outside the scope of the project without informing the project manager. This especially happens with project team members who have responsibilities outside the project (for example, break-fix response for a production system). Having team members who are working on tasks other than those in the project plan is a sure sign that the project is not being managed properly and is headed for major problems - if it's not already there."

Key Question: Is the plan current with respect to the work effort and time to complete the project?

"Another crucial point related to the project plan, even more so than the project charter, is currency. The project plan should be updated weekly. Updates include the following:

  • Reestimating the effort to complete all open tasks.
  • Reviewing the validity of the estimates for future tasks. For example, if you have future code reviews scheduled for 30 minutes each and the past review sessions have lasted an hour, you should plan on future review sessions lasting an hour each and adjust the plan appropriately.
  • Tracking all variances (positive and negative) to determine if they are temporary anomalies or emerging trends. Every project has plenty of variances. In fact, some project managers believe managing variances is the key technique for managing a project.
  • Rescheduling the project plan. Whatever project management tool you are using, it is a good idea to reschedule the plan on a weekly basis to help keep an eye on the estimated project end date."

"A project plan that is nonexistent or is not up-to-date is a definite sign that a project is (or will become) out of control. If the plan is created because of a funding requirement and then put on the shelf to collect dust along with the project charter, you can be assured the project is being 'managed' by opinions instead of facts."

"As you can see, the project plan and the project charter are inextricably connected. You cannot expect to successfully complete a substantial project unless these two essentials are in sync. In the 'building a house' analogy that is often associated with IT projects, the project charter is the architectural renderings and plan while the project plan is the blueprint specifications. You need both the achieve the intended results."

The above is an excerpt from a book written by Sanjiv Purba and Joseph Zucchero, published by McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2100 Powell Street, 10th Floor, Emeryville, California 94608 U.S.A. Sanjiv has over 20 years of experience managing large projects, many of those engaged in rescuing ailing projects.