Project Plans Define What Gets Done, By Whom

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 new creation effort, it is a normal operation. Changing the production line to build red toasters is an example of a temporary effort to make something new.

Obviously there are many different types of work processes. 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 work plan. This is just a document that declares the overall purpose, who is going to do it, when it will be done and how much it all will cost.

The work plan 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 exercise to its final closure. The document explains each of these in the required amount of detail.

Here is an example of a trivial work exercise document for a small construction job:

Project Plan

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

Schedule section

- 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

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK(R) Guide
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This is the definitive work planning manual. Packed with all of the process phases and tasks that projects should be documenting. It is the standard reference on which the PMP exam is largely based.

Planning is Essential

Plans are useless

Planning is essential because it shows an organization what can be done. The resultant plan, however, is often out of date quickly. Conditions change all the time. The plan is fixed. It has to be adjusted to take into account new realities.

Plans are often rendered less valuable, but planning is very worthwhile. Even if the plan has problems, the processes that generated the document can be very helpful. Take, for example, risk evaluation. A team can review the possible risks that may occur. If they don't happen, the effort may seem to be wasted, but the exercise is not. Despite particular risks not happening, other risks may come up. The actions defined for one set of problems could be applicable for others. The time spent determining the risk mitigation procedures would then be very helpful for the organization. This trait is typical of dynamic organizations which tend to be able to react better to unexpected problems.

The military typically understands that planning is vital. They spend a lot of time analyzing scenarios that might affect the organization in battle, and even in peace. The run simulations to expose weaknesses. They try different mitigating strategies. They understand that the process of working the possibilities is the key to long term success. Because there are often lives at risk, the military is keenly aware of the need to document work processes. This translates into a better organization, and may even save lives.

Communications Documents

One component may be a communications document. This shows how the organization can broadcast information during the working term. It would contain specifics like how often news is released. Things like status reports, and other management reports, would be defined. The specific team members that have responsibility for the communications would be identified. Sample formats of the reports to be produced would be included. 

Risk Documents

Another valuable component is the risk document, or the risk mitigation document. This serves to identify possible risks to the work team, and the ways to counter the problem. Each of the potential problems is documented. The likelihood of the problem happening is examined. The impact is also reviewed. Would the issue be serious, extremely serious, or other? How the organization should react to a problem would also be included. This document would be a great head start for the team if any of the imaged problems were to happen. If they didn't, but other ones did, the work on the risk report might be helpful when combating the issues actually encountered.

ProjectLibre User Guide Reference Manual
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ProjectLibre is the free, open source task tracking application that can help organizations. It allows tasks to be cataloged and assigned to team members. Priorities and schedules can be defined. It can be customized to establish workplace realities. Things like vacation days, holidays, and work schedules can be recorded. It also allows task notes to be entered.
This application is available for Windows, Mac, and other computers. It gives users a lot of features and rivals the capabilities of applications that cost hundreds of dollars per workstation installation.

PMP Certification

Professional managers should consider the PMI PMP certification. This establishes the holder as a capable manager who is fully qualified to determine work team tasks, assignments, and risk mitigation. A comprehensive knowledge exam is administered that tests for full abilities in a wide range of real life work situations. A successful mark ensures that the certification holder has accomplished a large amount of training, and experience, in the task management area.