A Project Plan defines what is to be done, by whom, when, where, how, why and for how much
A project plan is the guiding document for a particular new effort by a work group. It is not an operational manual. A project is a new effort to create something that hasn't been done before. It can be similar to an earlier creation but each instance is new. If a company makes toasters on a production line, each new toaster is not a project, it is a normal operation. Changing the production line to build red toasters is an example of a project.
Obviously there are many different types of projects. They can build something like a building. They can change something like a production line. They can move something like a business or a household. Whatever is required, there has to be a Project plan. This is just a document that declares the overall project purpose, who is going to do it, when it will be done and how much it all will cost.
The project must balance the "Triple Constraints", scope, resources and time. The scope is the work to be done. The resources are the staff and materials that are used to accomplish the scope. The time is the schedule from the beginning of the project to its final closure. The project plan explains each of these in the required amount of detail.
Here is an example of a trivial project plan for a small construction project:
Scope planning section
- determine size of building in square feet
- obtain construction plans
- review necessary permits
- get approval to build
Resource planning section
- obtain cost estimates for materials
- obtain labor estimates for construction
- obtain cost estimates for fees, permits
- create a budget document
- obtain budget approval and funding
- obtain estimates for construction staff
- review schedule impacts such as vacation, holidays, staff availability
- add time estimates for all involved staff
- create a schedule document establishing completion date
- obtain approval for schedule
The project plan is the main guide for the manager. It must specify all of the work to be done, and by whom. It covers the details, as described above. A fully defined task list is included, with estimated durations. These allow the manager to calculate an end date. When all tasks are completed, the combined total time needed will define the end. In the beginning, this is an estimate. As tasks conclude, the estimates are exchanged with actual values.
When the document is completed, and the project is successfully finished, the knowledge should be saved for future reference. In many cases, the organization will perform a similar job in the future. It would be extremely helpful if the information learned from earlier jobs was easily available to future managers. That way, they can review what went wrong, or right, and apply adjustments to their own efforts. This is particularly helpful for estimating. Too many organizations do not adequately refer to the past history of their efforts. This dooms many to make the same mistakes on similar jobs.
When the task list is fully completed, it will show who is assigned to which tasks. For example, In a given week, Mary and Bob may have task work assigned to them. If Mary has five tasks of one day each, and Bob only has three, the list will show that Mary will be busier longer. The manager may have the opportunity to take some work from Mary and give it to Bob, say one day in duration. That way, both Mary and Bob will have four days of tasks. Alternatively, Bob would be idle for two days while Mary completes her work. The assignment of a single day of work to Bob can keep both fully busy, and shorten a day from the overall completion effort.
For advanced planning, costs can be added to each task. This allows the manager to summarize the estimated costs for the entire job. This feature works well in ProjectLibre when the unit costs are known and added to the system. For example, if a worker costs $20 per hour, that fact can be added in. Similarly, if a rented conference room costs $500 per day, that can be entered as well. Later, ProjectLibre can calculate that a presentation day at the conference room, by the employee, would be a cost of $160 labor and $500 for the room, or $660 in total. The running total of such costs is available as a cost report.
Critical Path Analysis
The working plan will show the manager the Critical Path of the work. This is the longest duration of the work effort and it directly displays the end date. It is comprised of the sum or the longest duration tasks. In many systems, such as ProjectLibre, the Critical Path is shown in a color, (red), for ease of review. This path is also adjusted dynamically. If a task on the path is changed, (shortened, for example), the entire Critical Path will be shortened. This might even have the effect of replacing one task with a longer, parallel task as the system re-balances. The adjusted red line is displayed for the information of the manager.
Comparison of ProjectLibre to Spreadsheet
Some workers use a spreadsheet to keep their tasks organized. This severely limits management, compared to ProjectLibre. The spreadsheet is a very general purpose application. It is very hard to establish hard dependencies between tasks in a sheet. The end of one is difficult to relate to another task. ProjectLibre provides several options in this regard. Tasks can be defined in order. That would prevent one from starting until another has ended. For example, the painting of a house cannot start until the walls are constructed. With ProjectLibre, if the walls take longer than expected, the painting task will automatically adjust the start date to compensate. With a spreadsheet, such and adjustment would be an entirely manual operation.