Project Management

Even if planning is the most critical activity in Project Management it seems to be also one of the most misunderstood concepts. Planning is critical because it charters the road ahead in terms of what, when, why and who, being used as a basis for action, communication, for determining the current status in respect to the initial plan, as well the critical activities ahead.

The misunderstandings derive maybe also from the fact that each methodology introduces its own approach to planning. PMI as traditional approach talks about baseline planning with respect to scope schedule and costs, about management plans, which besides the theme covered in the baseline, focus also on quality, human resources, risks, communication and procurement, and separate plans can be developed for requirements, change and configuration management, respectively process improvement. To them one can consider also action and contingency planning.

In Prince2 the product-based planning is done at three levels — at project, stage, respectively team level — while separate plans are done for exceptions in case of deviations from any of these plans; in addition there are plans for communication, quality and risk management. Scrum uses an agile approach looking at the product and sprint backlog, the progress being reviewed in stand-up meetings with the help of a burn-down chart. There are also other favors of planning like rapid application planning considered in Extreme Programming (XP), with an open, elastic and undeterministic approach. In Lean planning the focus is on maximizing the value while minimizing the waste, this being done by focusing on the value stream, the complete list of activities involved in delivering the end-product, value stream’s flow being mapped with the help of visualization techniques such as Kanban, flowcharts or spaghetti diagrams.

With so many types of planning nothing can go wrong, isn’t it? However, just imagine customers’ confusion when dealing with a change of methodology, especially when the concepts sound fuzzy and cryptic! Unfortunately, also the programmers and consultants seem to be bewildered by the various approaches and the philosophies supporting the methodologies used, their insecurity bringing no service for the project and customers’ peace of mind. A military strategist will more likely look puzzled at the whole unnecessary plethora of techniques. On the field an army has to act with the utmost concentration and speed, to which add principles like directedness, maneuver, unity, economy of effort, collaboration, flexibility, simplicity and sustainability. It’s what Project Management fails to deliver.

Similarly to projects, the plan made before the battle seldom matches the reality in the field. Planning is an exercise needed to divide the strategy in steps, echelon and prioritize them, evaluate the needed resources and coordinate them, understand the possible outcomes and risks, evaluate solutions and devise actions for them. With a good training, planning and coordination, each combatant knows his role in the battle, has a rough idea about difficulties, targets and possible ways to achieve them; while a good combatant knows always the next action. At the same time, the leader must have visibility over fight’s unfold, know the situation in the field and how much it diverged from the initial plan, thus when the variation is considerable he must change the plan by changing the priorities and make better use the resources available.

Even if there are multiple differences between the two battlefields, the projects follow the same patterns of engagement at different scales. Probably, Project Managers can learn quite of a deal by studying the classical combat strategists, and hopefully the management of projects would be more effective and efficient if the imperatives of planning, respectively management, were better understood and addressed.

® Originally published on sql-troubles