Part of planning is knowing where you are going and how you intend to get there. That’s true for planning in general and is certainly the case for project planning.

A quote attributed to baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra sums up the need for planning in a succinct way: “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

The Project Management Institute (PMI), an organization that supports more than 2.9 million project management professionals worldwide through collaboration, education, and research efforts, defines project planning as a process that’s concerned with deciding in advance what the project will achieve, when it will happen, how it will be accomplished, and who will take the necessary actions to accomplish the established objectives.

Within this context, project planning is a management function that is accomplished by all levels in the project hierarchy, the difference among the various levels being scope, detail, and the magnitude of the effort. Planning establishes the foundation for future actions, using the past as a guide.

The process of project planning involves inductive problem solving. It first focuses on the “what” and “how” aspects, which are closely related. The what aspects include defining what is to be accomplished in the project, and this must be developed at the beginning of the planning process.

Objectives might relate to the development of new product, the acquisition of market share, profit maximization, a combination of these goals or some other desired objective. All subsequent activity in the planning effort should be devoted to the accomplishment of the established goals through planned future time periods. As soon as these goals are achieved, the project is complete.

The how aspect evolves around the selected goals and the nature of the product, the state of technology, the characteristics of the target market, company policy, and available manufacturing or developmental processes.

This is where planners determine what technical and production skills will be needed, so facilities, equipment, supplies, and manpower skills need to be identified and scheduled for purchase or hire. Delivery times need to be set that mesh with factors such as a product’s production schedule and delivery timeframes.

The skills portion of project planning answers the “who” aspects of planning, and the timeline portion answers the “when” aspect.

Organizations can take several approaches to project management, depending on several factors, such as management policy and product attributes. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Regardless of the organizational format, each project manager will be competing with other projects for a share of the organization’s resources.

“Planning facilitates this competition in that detailed plans of high quality with cost and schedule information provide credibility and validation to resource requests,” the Project Management Institute says. Project managers will need to consider as a part of planning the format and procedures characteristic to the specific organizational structure and their impact on the acquisition of resources. Planning is critical to the probable success of the project.

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Purposes and Stages of Project Planning

PMI describes several key purposes for project planning, each of which can contribute to the success of projects:

  • Communication. Project planning is a form of communication and a source of information for members of the project team. Once a project’s overall goals have been formulated and approved, leaders need to communicate them to the project staff.
  • Foundation for Management Action. Project planning provides the foundation for all other management action. Knowing what’s required, who’s responsible for performing certain tasks, how they are to be performed, and when actions should be scheduled lets managers organize their activities more efficiently. Plans provide managers with information as to deadlines and scheduled events.
  • Problem Definition and Solution. Planning is a form of problem solving, and as such promotes problem definition and solution. Identifying goals and problems can help in the formulation and analysis of alternate strategies to meet objectives. Each alternative must be evaluated in terms of schedule and cost and requisite product quality of performance.

Project planning, just like projects themselves, has several stages. Probably the most difficult stage is the beginning; often, there’s a vague or poorly defined objective and getting started presents a problem.

The first stage of successful project planning should be a clear definition of the project objective. Ideally this should be a single sentence. The objective should be clear, attainable, measurable, and specific.

The right software allows companies to synchronize project planning and coordinate work across teams to execute at scale.
The right software allows companies to synchronize project planning and coordinate work across teams to execute at scale.

The next stage is to describe the project, and the better a project can be described the more likely it is to be a success. PMI notes that 10 basic questions should be included in the description:

  • What is to be done?
  • When will it occur?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Who will do it?
  • What product or service will be delivered as a result of the effort?
  • What are the responsibilities of both the developer and the user?
  • What determines task completion?
  • Who is responsible for accepting the product as completed?
  • What mechanics will be employed to deal with formal changes?
  • How will actual progress be measured?

Importance of Planning for Enterprises

Strong project planning is important for any organization, but it’s particularly vital for large global enterprises that by their nature have more complex management structures, business operations, and market considerations.

Parallel Project Training (PPT), a provider of project management training services, notes a number of benefits of planning projects, which apply particularly well to enterprises.

One is documenting a client’s requirements for the project. Project planning enables enterprises to clearly document what a client wants as the result of the project. Planners should be equally diligent about stating what is not included as part of the project. This can help avoid erroneous expectations on the part of the client.

Planning can also promote good communication, both written as well as face-to-face. If project planning is communicated clearly, there is less likelihood for misinterpretation among team members or with the client. Good communication is especially important for project teams that are dispersed through different parts of the country or regions of the world, as is often the case with large enterprises.

Project planning is also necessary for allocating tasks among team members. With proper planning, organizations can avoid allocating a single task to more than one group or team to avoid conflicts, unclear allocation of responsibilities, and mismatched skill sets.

Like good communication, clear allocation of tasks is particularly important when project team members are working in geographically dispersed locations.

Planning also helps set expectations for team members. Making sure people are fully committed to their allocated tasks is a contributing factor in the quality of the work they do and the ultimate project success. Commitment can be established during the planning stages by agreeing on the work that’s required and how long it will take to complete it.

Project plans and schedules are not set in stone, and as projects progress the associated tasks and expectations might change. By allowing the plan to be flexible and building in a time and cost contingency at the beginning, organizations are more likely to have success.

Finally, having a project plan enables an organization to manage risk. Problems will inevitably come up during projects, and how they are monitored and managed can determine how they impact the projects. By planning for potential problems and the best ways to address them, organizations can take a big step toward mitigating project-related risk.

Projects are key components of the business strategies of many organizations. They are what bring products and services to market, market those offerings to prospective customers, support those customers, create new market opportunities, revamp business processes, deploy news systems, and more.

Given the strategic importance of projects, ensuring good project planning should be a high priority for any organization. That way they can clearly identify where they want to go and how they can best get there.