Project management is a diverse and dynamic field, and project managers need a diverse set of skills and core competencies to be successful. We have covered a few core project management skills in the past, ranging from leadership to improvisation and everything in between. Sometimes, the simplest and most basic skills are the ones that get overlooked: the most elemental skill for a project manager is project planning.
Project Planning: End to End and Back Again
Project planning is the bread and butter of a project manager. The project plan is the blueprint of the entire project, but it isn’t just a visual schedule. Proper project planning means ensuring things run on time, and are set up to succeed. Delivery is always predicated on a plan! Planning is the preparation for execution.
Planning begins with the goal in mind – the best plans walk backwards from delivery to today, putting everything in place with the end in mind. A good example of this is a GPS system – first, you choose a destination. Then, the different options for routes are finalized. You finally choose which route you want to take, and voila. (Remember this example, we are going to come back to it!)
Good project managers work backwards, scheduling from delivery to the project kickoff, and then from kickoff to delivery, validating each stage and milestone. This approach allows for catching scheduling bottlenecks, resource smoothing, buffering, and realistic deadline setting.
Project Planning: Foresight
Project planning is a bit like setting the table for a meal. You need to know what the menu is, and you need to provide what is necessary. “We’re serving soup, make sure soup spoons are out, but we aren’t serving meat, so no need for steak knives…” When it comes to the project timeline, you are doing the same thing with resources and team members.
Having the proper resources set up from the beginning is important. But it doesn’t end there. Continuing our example, you know there is a chance that some of your guests may be allergic to some menu items, or simply dislike them. What can you do in that eventuality? Foresight has a predictive element to it. When planning projects, you need to have these prediction in hand, too.
Remember the GPS example earlier? There are always multiple paths to the same goal. When project planning, you want to keep multiple paths forward, too. After your plan’s broad outline takes shape, you know where the risk areas lie. What are your backup plans? Your contingencies? If something goes wrong, what will be the path forward? Project plans built right contain detours and options within. “OK, we’re pushing off task X due to vendor delays, so we can jump on tasks Y and Z in the meantime without missing a beat.”
Project planning is the bread and butter of project manager skill sets. Planning skills revolve around foresight and prediction. Working backwards from delivery as your starting point in project planning can help with creating ironclad efficient project plans that set up success.