Army Planning for Civilian Projects
Prior to serving as a project manager (PM) in the civilian world, I spent 23 years in the US Army. I served the majority of those years in Special Forces, and was involved in the planning and managing of numerous operations.
The military uses a deliberate planning process for every action it takes. No matter how dangerous or mundane, planning is done before any action is authorized. Launching a raid on an enemy encampment? There’s a plan for that. Holding a graduation ceremony for a military course? There’s a plan for that, too.
When I started my first civilian job as a project manager, I believed that my projects would be planned the same way. Boy, was I wrong! It didn’t take me long to realize that projects were started with a meeting where key leaders reached consensus on what needed to be produced, and left with a vague idea of what timeframe they wanted it to be done.
This was a rude awakening for me, and I questioned whether I could work in an environment where planning wasn’t priority one. To understand my dilemma, remember that the Army engrained in me the concept that planning is nothing more than understanding the current situation, determining what we desire to accomplish, and establishing ways to reach the desired end-state. At all command levels, this simple concept is carried out by the preparation of very detailed plans that focus on all aspects of an operation or mission.
How Does This Relate to the Business World?
You may be asking yourself why this matters. This isn’t the Army, and we don’t need to plan like that. Well, it matters. A lot. Lack of planning can have a major impact on a project, your company’s brand, and bottom-line.
If we go back to the Army definition of planning, we see that the first step of planning is to understand your current situation. This is critical for your business regardless of the product or service you offer.
A clear understanding of your situation gives you the ability to determine what needs or should be done. It is the impetus for launching a new project. For example, maybe your third quarter earnings are lower than expected, so you are looking for ways to increase revenue. Your situation justifies the desire to launch a new project.
Knowing that your earnings are lower than expected, and concluding that you need to take some sort of action to right the ship, you must now think about what you want to do. This is an area where many organizations fall short. They fail to clearly define what they want to accomplish and how to go about it. The earnings example clearly points out the need to increase earnings and reach your end of year goal. Any project you launch must meet that objective.
After deliberation, maybe your stakeholders decide that creating a new app is the perfect way to meet the revenue goals. While that sounds great, the second part of the definition demands that we determine how to reach that end state? Did the accepted course of action result from deliberate planning? If so, it should have included development of a business case for the app; the scope of the project; timeline required to get the app to market; required resources, and many other factors. When you consider each, it is easy to see where so many poorly planned projects go wrong.
Plan for Success
Project planning is success planning. You wouldn’t go on a road trip without knowing the way, right? Consider the project plan your roadmap. It tells you where you are going, how you are going to get there, and gives you the information needed to estimate how long it will take you to get there and the resources needed along the way.
Your project plan, at a minimum, should identify the following factors:
-Scope. The scope of a project should clearly outline what you want to produce (in specific detail), and the work necessary to complete the project.
-Required resources. Project resources include budget/money, personnel, materials and time. Yes, time is a resource, and can be very scarce. Manage it wisely!
-Project timeline. Your timeline should take into consideration all of the required tasks (including sub-tasks) and the time it takes to complete each. You also need to consider task sequencing (dependencies).
-Quality assurance and control. How do you ensure that your efforts are producing the required results? What do you do if they aren’t?
-Communication. How will your team communicate? This includes internal and external communication. The accurate and timely flow of information is critical to project success.
-Risk management. We all know the adage ‘what can go wrong, will go wrong’. Unfortunately, this is an integral part of project management. You need to clearly define the risks to your project; determine the likelihood of their occurrence; and the consequence of their occurrence. Once defined, you need to ask yourself whether you can accept each risk, and if you can’t, identify and implement mitigation strategies.
This is by no means a comprehensive look at project planning. For additional information on project management, visit The Project Management Institute (PMI) website. PMI is considered the premier organization for project management training and certification.
This Sounds Like A TON Of Work!
Project planning requires a lot of effort to be successful. It is also time consuming, and these factors are why so many organizations are loath use their resources on planning. However, when you consider the risk of project failure due to a lack of planning, it becomes clear that the benefits of project planning greatly outweigh any expenditure of time and effort it requires.
So, why doesn’t your company perform deliberate planning as a matter of routine? It may be that your leadership doesn’t want to take the time to put a comprehensive plan together. It may be that they don’t want to expend the effort it requires. Or, as is often the case, they may not have the knowledge and skills to do it.
That’s where you come in as a PM. You have the tools to show them the benefits of project planning. Just don’t try to change everything at once. I did, and I was met with serious resistance. Pick a few areas where you see planning will greatly help your current situation, and implement them.
Once your stakeholders see the results of these smaller changes, you can add a few more. Soon enough, you will be launching projects with fully developed plans and a reasonable assurance that your project will be completed on-time, under-budget and within scope. You may even meet your end of year earnings target.
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