South East Training - The Project Management Toolkit

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The Planning Sequence

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As we move from the Definition to the Planning phase, it is useful to consider the sequence in which you are going to carry out the planning activities.  Although there are many different way for doing this, depending on the circumstances, the sequence below has a rationale.

The Planning Sequence

The planning sequence may be illustrated by the following:


You should be noted that this is an iterative process and it is frequently necessary to go back to a previous step to recalculate. For example, when developing the schedule, it may become clear that some activities need to be re-allocated, which in turn may have implications for their duration and a consequent influence over the schedule. Similar iterations are likely once the risks have been assessed and it is decided that actions to mitigate risk need to be incorporated into the schedule.

Identify the Products

The products refer to anything that is created as part of the project. These will include the final deliverables but may also refer to intermediate products. So, in creating a software programme, the intermediate products are likely to include the functional and test specifications as well as the pre-launch versions of the software. Similarly, in procuring a venue for a conference, an intermediate product might be the contract that you establish with the venue provider.

Determining the products we need to create throughout the project as a first step provides us with a clearer understanding of the scale of the task in hand. This helps us not only in scheduling, as we will see below, but in developing work packages for allocation to team members and establishing milestones.

Determine Product Quality

Specifying product quality is an important step. By quality we don’t mean ‘degree of excellence’ but instead the standards to which the products should conform. If our product is a report, we might specify the quality attributes in terms of the word count, the format, the use of plain English and so on. If we are acquiring a venue for a conference we might define the quality attributes in terms of capacity, available facilities and location.

Determine Product Dependencies

Establishing the product dependencies is essential for creating the schedule. Using the example of the conference above, we can see that we would first need a specification for the venue before we could evaluate those available and make a selection, and we would need to have selected a venue before we could agree a contract. The dependencies for this project would therefore be: venue specification - venue selection - venue contract.

Determining product dependencies also shows us where we have mutually independent products, which means we have more freedom in the way we schedule the associated tasks. Again, using the conference example, recruiting speakers can be done independently of the venue acquisition. The typical products of: call for papers - selection of papers - speaker agreements, would be represented as a parallel sequence, independent of the venue.

Identify the Activities

One advantage of specifying the products rather than the tasks involved in a project is that there are generally fewer products than tasks, so the process of scheduling is simplified if only the products are included. However, there may be times when we need to plan down to activity level. This might be the case if the ‘doer’ needs to be told how to create the product or if there are activity dependencies.

Determine the Activity Dependencies

Where task dependency is important, this should be specified. However, where the ‘doer’ has flexibility in the order in which they carry out activities, specifying a dependency may introduce an artificial constraint.

Consider the project of renovating a house. One of the deliverables might be a new kitchen. The products, in sequence, might be defined as: floor - utilities - units - equipment - inspection - decoration.

If we look at the activities associated with decoration we might define these as: preparation - painting - wall-papering - finishing. Whist this might seem a sensible sequence, we would only need to specify this level of detail if we want to inspect the work after each stage, if something else needs to be started or finished in between activities, or if we want different people to be involved in the different tasks. If we are allocating the entire process to an experienced decorator, it might be sufficient to leave the planning at the product level.

Allocate Activities

Now it might be argued that you should estimate the time and resources next and, in fact, that is precisely what happens. However, there is a good argument for looking at who might carry out the work before arriving at an estimate. The time it takes to complete a sequence of tasks will depend on many factors, including both the experience of the doer and what other work they have on. This will be true whether the work is conducted in-house or outsourced.

Estimate Time and Resources

Once you have identified a resource, the next step is to estimate time and cost. Of course, this is likely to be an iterative process as mentioned above. Your chosen resource may not be able to meet your time schedule or might be too expensive, in which case you may have to source an alternative. The process of estimating is covered later in the toolkit.

Develop a Schedule

Having defined the products, their dependencies, the resources required and the time needed, we have all we need to create a schedule. Traditional project management techniques involve critical path analysis (CPA), which helps us define the overall duration of the project and identifies those activities that have to be completed on schedule to avoid the project over-running. More recent methods use critical chain project management (CCPM) that relies on resource flexibility to keep the project on schedule. Both methods are explored later in the toolkit.

Determine the Risks

Once we have our schedule, we are in good shape for looking at any risks that we might have introduced as a result of our choice of resources or by the way we have scheduled activities. These risks should be evaluated and appropriate mitigating actions identified. All managed risks should be added to the risk register.

Determine the Monitoring Points

Finally, with our risks identified, we can start to consider where we might want to take special care to ensure the project is unfolding as we expect it to. This might include adding in additional inspections, seeking approvals before moving to the next stage or keeping a constant eye on the costs associated with delivery of particular parts of the project.