Project Planning 101

Sometimes it is just good to get back to discussing the basics. How we plan out projects and how we get the project kicked off will vary from organization to organization and from project manager to project manager. How we do this very important part of each project can even be influenced by our project customer – depending on how much say they want in how the project is run or planned.
As we step through the project planning process at the start of any project engagement, we are often going through the motions without really stopping to think about each step along the way. Indeed, some of these may never make it into a master project schedule, but they probably should. And some of these steps I’m about to identify are general in nature and may not be applicable to every type of project, every organization and industry, and every size project – but they likely could be. 
Define the need or problem to be solved. 
At the outset of the project we must, of course, define the actual problem to be solved. It is likely the customer will have attempted to do this before coming to us with the project – or they did this with Sales or an account manager. It is still our job as project managers to help them define this further – possibly even get to the REAL problem – after the project is dropped in our hands to work.
Create the mission statement. 
Develop a mission state, followed by statements of major objectives. This is important as it tends to set the project off on the right path and bring cohesion to the project team as they come to a mutual understanding of the path and goals of the project. Be sure the project really satisfies the customer’s needs, rather than being what the team thinks the customer should get.
Develop a project strategy. 
The team must strategize as to how they will work the project with the customer and how they will satisfy the end goals of the project successfully and to the customer’s satisfaction.
Write a scope statement. 
The scope - what will and will not be done on the project - should be part of the project plan. Write a project scope statement which draws some obvious boundaries around what work is to be included on the engagement.
Define the WBS. 
Creating the work breakdown structure detailing all the tasks and sub-tasks that will go into production of the final, implemented solution is a critical piece of the project planning process. Even though it is something which will change somewhat over time, it is the basis for everything going forward – the project schedule, resource planning, task assignments, etc. Using the WBS, estimate activity durations, resource requirements, and costs (as appropriate for your environment). 
Prepare the project schedule and budget. 
Develop – or modify if you already have one from Sales or the account manager – the master project schedule. Include the tasks identified in the work breakdown structure and assign resources or at least resource positions if the actual resource names have not been identified yet. You’ll need to be identifying what project management scheduling tool you’ll be using and who will have collaboration access to the schedule (team? customer? other stakeholders?). The project task information you input at this point will help you to budget the project in more detail.
Decide on the project organization structure. 
Document the proposed project organization structure as part of the project planning process. Identify whether it will be a matrix or hierarchical reporting structure. Set up a repository or collaboration location. Whether you’re using, a shared drive somewhere on the company’s intranet, Facebook, a collaborative project management software tool or some other device, set it up at this point and start populating it with many of the documents and info going into this planning process.
Get final project plan buy-in. 
Finally, put the formal project plan through a formal review process on your project team, possibly senior management if it’s a visible enough project, and definitely the customer. Get a formal approval sign-off from the customer and store the document with all other project materials.
This is a general list meant to basically handle most projects. Again, project planning will – or at least can – vary by project, organization, industry, customer and project manager. What are your key ingredients for project planning 101? What steps do you generally go through to get the project and project schedule planned and the project ready for official kickoff?

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