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Project Planning, Part 1 – Use a Formal Framework to Plan Your Projects

The planning process produces the detailed project management plan.  In some cases, especially where the customer is internal, initiation and planning may overlap.  If the proposal contained a great deal of detail, the project planning effort may entail minor additions or corrections to the proposal.  For a project that is similar to others you have performed, planning might require 10 percent of the labor resources that are later consumed by execution, control, and closeout.  For a brand new type of project, expect to commit additional resources to planning.

Major Components of Project Planning

  • Clarify responsibilities and authorities of the project manager, any task managers, and the quality assurance team.
  • Communications plan.
  • Resources must be available.
  • Schedules and budgets for tasks, subtasks.
  • Contingencies, safety, regulations, etc.
  • Project reviews and comparisons against scope, new conditions.
  • Involve technical experts:
    • To improve the plan, cost estimate, proposed schedule;
    • To obtain “buy in” from your team.


The Project Management Plan (How Deliverables Will Be Accomplished)

I recommend a “graded approach” to these documents.  Their length and level of complexity will vary with the project’s size; duration; location; complexity; and consequences if failure occurs.  The project management plan should contain enough detail that if the project manager leaves the company or has extended illness, the remaining members of the project team could perform with no adverse impact to the project.

Your company might maintain a library of project management plans that can be used to begin plans for new projects, and you might group them by category:  simple, normal, complex.

The project management plan should contain paragraphs, augmented by figures, tables, and spreadsheets (possibly output from planning software) to address the following outline of issues.

1.         Re-state scope and statement of work.

2.         Organizational structure (with org chart), authorities.

3.         Formally establish lines of communication

Stated above, but important enough for a reminder:

The customer and the supplier(s) should each have a designated project manager, through whom all information flows, unless expressly delegated otherwise.  Only in this manner can the customer and supplier project managers ensure out of scope work is not performed without a formal change order being issued.  These 2 project managers do not often have signature authority for contracts or change orders, but they must be the focal points for flow of information.

4.         Work breakdown structure (tasks and subtasks)

The “elements” of a work breakdown structure (WBS) are tasks and subtasks.  In most cases, the WBS should follow the same structure as the proposal used.  More on this topic in a future article.

5.         Availability of technical experts, other required resources

Subcontractors and your department managers promised you resources during the proposal phase.  Now it is time to remind them when you’ll be needing specific individuals and equipment.  E-mail is a good method; ask for them to reply and save their responses.

6.         Schedule for tasks and subtasks

Gantt charts (example in a future article) produce nice pictures for a variety of people to review, and they are produced for you if you use project software.  Spreadsheets can easily produce schedules with linked relationships (in a table format), but then you must “draw” the Gantt chart (spreadsheets do this fairly well) if anyone really wants to see it.  If you don’t care about showing the schedule in a Gantt format, or if you could draw the Gantt quickly, you might not want to bother with project software.  Your company accounting system should be able to help you manage your budget during the execution and control phases.

7.         Budget by task and subtask; procurement considerations

In most cases, the task and subtask budgets should follow the same structure and use the same values as the proposal used.  If procurement activities will occur during the project, this section reminds everyone what process will be used, by whom, and when.  If there are any unknowns related to what contract, subcontract, or vendor services will be required, lay out a decision tree showing what is authorized, and what would constitute a change order.

8.         Project controls (peer reviews, project reviews, quality assurance, status reports)

These items will be discussed in detail in future project controls articles.  Now is the time to specify, in the project management plan, what your project controls will be for this specific project.

9.         Areas of risk and methods for dealing with risk

Already discussed under “project initiation considerations – from the perspective of the provider.”  You also addressed this topic during the proposal phase, so this section of the project management plan should be easy to write.  If new risks are now being discovered, discuss with the customer and other stakeholders immediately.

Next Article in This Series:  Develop your communications plan.


About the Author

An engineer by training, Randy Klein has 30 years of consulting experience, 20 of which have included project management duties.  His project management curriculum has been used by a variety of university continuing education departments and private resellers.  He invites your questions and comments related to project management, quality assurance, and organizational improvement.  Contact Randy at (801) 451-7872 or

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