Fact: Project planning is a marginally appreciated process group. It’s true. Furthermore, management does tend to be more focused on results. I assert this because the vast majority of managers I have worked with apprehend results and deliverables synonymously. They treat planning as a periphery process and ignore that outputs of the planning process are results. From my experience, poor planning or no planning is by large responsible for demise of projects. Yet, the lack of planning is not a deterrent for companies as they begin execution.
For Milconn, I was engaged to assist in moving their component tracking and reporting procedures from a paper process to a computerized process. Yes, even in 2015, there exists companies that still record and track on paper. During the initial meetings, which occurred in February, the plan for planning was set to have the project planned out by June with execution to begin in July and project completion by the end of the year. I was assigned to interview several project team members during the first month of planning. I also made requests for specific information needed to plan the project during our initial meetings. Project team member were assigned to provide me that information. Reminders went out by way of e-mail after one week and again after two weeks had passed because no team member had yet made contact with me. The project manager assured me that he would urge the team to provide the requested information, and I was requested to wait another month before attempting to schedule interviews. Delays continued, and extension agreements were made throughout the summer. By October, there was still no plan in the works. Pressure to have the project completed by the end of year was clearly mounting because within the first two weeks of October, I was provided with all the information I requested back in February.
What occurred next is an example of the following systematic bias that predictably dooms projects: escalation of commitment to a failing course of action. Three weeks into October, I concluded that the time constraint for project completion by the end of the year was not realistic, so I declined to pursue the project. My decision to cease working on the project was met by great resistance from the project manager at Milconn. The reason, “It was in the budget and the allocation of funds had to be used.” My reluctance was vetoed by my manager because a high level agreement was made between the two organizations to continue. They decided to reduce the scope of the project to, “whatever we can get done in two months.” Eventually however, other systematic biases, undefined scope, unrealistic time schedule, ineffective leadership, and many other of the known predictors of project failure prevailed.
Quite clearly, planning was not a priority for this project. It’s unfortunate that planning overall has not made it to that list of absolutely essential for all projects. Except for a few project types such as building a home or other large structures, project planning still has low visibility and inadequate appreciation. For projects I manage, my metric is that at least 25% percent of my time should be allocated to planning. Creating a WBS is tedious and laborious and unfortunately lacks the tangibility that demonstrates accomplishment that management likes to see. However, during execution, each work package is easily dispatched if adequately defined. Additionally, a well planned schedule takes the guess work out of the questions of what to do next, who is going to do it, and are we done? It has been my experience that failing to plan properly adds a level of risk that I consider to be a self-inflicted demise.
In addition to having a well thought out guide for even-keeled project execution, you also eliminate, reduce, or mitigate risks with a well developed plan. The guide you produce identifies risks early on, and in some cases there is time to modify your plan to avoid high impact risks. A well developed plan also lays out a framework from which alternatives and options become apparent should a risk event occur. Yes, planning is involved, it is tedious and laborious, but its value does become apparent as you move into execution. Regrettably, your appreciating for planning might not occur in the best of circumstances. In particular, if that appreciation is realized after your project fails from lack of planning.
Next: And Yet More Planning