Plan for the New Year – Understanding Project Planning

Understanding Project Planning & Management

At the heart of every project planning and management system is a scheduling algorithm. An algorithm is a mathematical or logical equation that solves a complex problem by breaking down the problem into simple steps. When scheduling resources and parameters are entered into it, the scheduling algorithm produces a project schedule that would be impossible for you to produce manually. This Input/Output model is displayed below.

Project Input Project OutputThe Input/Output Model

In Microsoft Project, however complex your project may be, you can vary only information regarding tasks or resources. The information you provide is fed into the “Black Box” or algorithm, to provide you with a schedule in the form of a Gantt chart, Network Diagram (alternatively known as PERT Chart), or Resource Graph. In summary, the seven or eight parameters that you enter result in output that is a schedule displayed on various views and forms.

Project Planning

Project: – ‘A planned undertaking’

The skills of project planning are gathered from a wide range of experiences.  Consciously or sub consciously we all apply these skills in the daily administration of our work.

Where a major undertaking has to be completed, these skills are not only brought into focus but must be applied in a much more structured format.

We must take on the jargon and techniques of the Project Manager as well as become familiar with the “Tools of the trade”.

To review the skills that are relevant to project management

  • The ability to define the Goal, Objective, Specifications and Limitations of a project.
  • The ability to define the individual tasks in sufficient detail and sequence to meet the objective with the minimum of problems, and within the defined time scale.

Task attributes should include some or all of the following:

Objectives Time constraints
Milestones Task(s) on which this Task is Dependant
Estimated Duration: – Task(s) that are dependent on this task
   (Optimistic estimate) Itemised task Budget
   (Pessimistic estimate) Resources required to complete the Task.
  • The ability to manage the progression of the tasks in terms of their resources, start times and finish times.
  • The production of appropriate progress reports.

As the complexities of these undertakings increase so the importance of discipline and structure increase and the Project Manager must look to the tools that can help which is where Microsoft Project comes into the picture.

The Stages of Project Management

The process of project management is divided into specific stages which can be defined as follows: –

Define the Project

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Plan the project

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Implementation

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Monitoring and Adjusting

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Evaluation

Defining the Project

Setting out the Goal and the Objectives together with the Specification and Limitations within which the undertaking must be completed.

Plan the Project

Planning of all the activities, resources, and estimation of materials and time scales. Some of this planning may have to be done at an appropriate level for cost estimation before the project can be agreed.  Once the decision to go ahead has been taken the skills of the Project Manager are used to define the details of the planning stage.  When this has been completed and agreed it will become the “Plan” or the base line against which progress can be measured.

Implementation

Handover, support and report on the benefits delivered.

Notes: A poorly planned project will take three times longer that the original plan. A well-planned project will only take twice as long.
  A project that will be completed without changes, on time and within budget has never been known in the past and will never happen in the future.

Monitoring and Adjusting

Recording Actual Progress

Once the project is under way, the progress of each activity is recorded. This information can then be compared against the Plan and the differences highlighted.

Revising the Schedule

The process of minimising the effect of problems and delays on meeting project deadlines is achieved by adjusting and updating the Schedule to meet the changed circumstances.

Evaluation

As the project progresses and when it has been completed the process of evaluation should be used to learn the lessons for the next time.


 Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

In project management, a work breakdown structure (WBS) is a method for analyzing a project’s activities. Many organizations apply a WBS numbering standard to define projects, because it’s an important planning tool that serves as a basis for project scheduling, reporting, staffing, and budgeting. It can also help establish clear project goals.

With Microsoft Project, you can easily incorporate a WBS for your project.

What is a work breakdown structure?

A WBS is a top-down planning method that defines the desired end result of a project and is made up of related elements, often called work packages, work elements, work phases, or tasks (summary tasks and subtasks). WBS descriptions define how the result will be accomplished. They also help you identify logical groupings of tasks and establish the focus of the project to prevent unintended future changes.

Useful for a quick, high-level view of the parts of your project, a WBS is often shown as a block diagram.Project WBS

As a deliverable-oriented grouping of project elements, a WBS chart organizes and defines the total scope of the project. Each descending level represents an increasingly detailed description of a project component.

WBS representation is described in more detail in our Intermediate and Advanced Microsoft Project training courses.

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