The Project Plan

Writing the project plan provides a structured framework for thinking about how the project will be conducted, and for considering the project risks. Ultimately you cannot write a plan until you have a plan. Having a comprehensive plan may require the involvement of a range of functional experts, and it often requires the involvement of decision-makers.

A significant value of writing a project plan is the process rather than the outcome. It forces the players to think through their approach and make decisions about how to proceed. A project plan may require making commitments, and so it can be both a difficult and important part of establishing the project.

The project plan provides a vehicle to facilitate executive and customer review. It should make major assumptions explicit and provide a forum for communicating the planned approach and for obtaining appropriate approvals.

If the project team includes diverse organizations or ambiguous lines of authority and communication, it may be useful to write a Project Management Plan to describe the roles and responsibilities of the various organizational entities. It can also be used to communicate management systems and procedures to be used throughout the project.

The requirements definition and specifications tell us what the project needs to accomplish. The Project Plan should tell us how, when, by whom, and for how much.

If the project will be challenging, it is important to define and control the scope, schedule and cost so they can be used as baselines for tracking progress and managing change. Defining the project management triangle is the essence of a useful project plan.

There should be some version of the project plan written with wide scope, at a level of detail appropriate for executive review. There should be top-level discussion of all the aspects of the project that one would want to communicate to the senior customer or sponsor managers. The project plan should address implementation, training, and support plans as well as plans for future growth and expandability.

The project plan should demonstrate that all aspects of the project have received careful thought and that clearly defined plans for project execution and control have been formulated. The generation of plans at the beginning of a project can be useful if they are concise and are used to set policy and procedures for the conduct of different aspects of the project.

A large complex project may have many separate plans such as: Business Plan, Project Plan, Test Plan, Acquisition Plan, Quality Assurance Plan, Integrated Logistics Support Plan, Public Relations Plan, Training Plan, Software Development Plan, Project Management Plan, Marketing Plan, Risk Management Plan, Process Development Plan, Systems Engineering Management Plan, Staffing Plan, Communications Plan, Configuration Management Plan, Data Management Plan, Implementation Plan, Customer Service Plan, and so on.

Of course, many small or straightforward projects will have very little formal planning documentation, and devoping a plan with extensive narrative would be pointless. The challenge is always to assess project risks and apply project management practices only as needed to the risks of your specific project environment. The Scalable Methodolgy Guide provides practical assistance in tailoring best practices project management techniques for the specific needs of smaller projects.

© Copyright 1997, James R. Chapman, All rights reserved.
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