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A project management plan is what holds the key to success in any project. It is a document that not only defines your project, but guides the project’s progress through completion.
I like to think of the project management plan as an encyclopedia that tells me what will go on in a project, providing insight into the strategy and execution of the project.
Planning is the Key in Project Management
The key word is “plan”, and you may have probably heard earlier that planning solves half the problem, while execution takes care of the rest. This statement is an axiom, and a major portion of the effort in the initial stages goes into planning a project. And, as you would expect, it is the responsibility of a project manager.
When a project manager sits down to draft a project management plan, he pretty much will have to visualize the project in motion. It’s a lot like a movie director envisioning the movie in his head before it pans out on the theatre screen.
Timing: When Do You Plan?
Planning is done in the initial stages of a project. The project management plan is most definitely drafted in the nascent stages, and agreed upon with the stakeholders before the first brick is laid in realizing the project.
To give you an idea of the sequence of events before a project starts executing, a project manager is chosen first, and the initial document that he is entrusted to prepare is a project charter. The project charter is similar to a project management plan, but just scans the surface and gives a very brief idea of what will go on in this project. It’s a lot like a movie trailer; an agreed project charter gives way to the creation of project management plan.
Contents of a Project Management Plan
As I mentioned earlier, the project management plan consists of anything and everything that the project encompasses. You think of an element in a project, and voila! You can find it in the project management plan.
The following are some key elements of a project management plan
• Project Schedule
The key milestones in a project definitely finds mention in a project management plan. These milestones are important to track the progress, and for the client to expect part deliverables and the final one of course.
• Cost Plan
Those in business know that money plays a major part in any project. Project cost estimates are a part of a project management plan, along with the degree of variation from plan to reality.
Human resources who are involved in the project and the material resources that are needed during the project is planned in. For the human resources, the general practice is to name the roles and the responsibilities they are entrusted with.
No project is free from risks. Assessing risks before the project kicks off is an art of experience, and risk management specialists are generally employed for inputs for this section.
For a client to accept a deliverable, the output of a project should be in compliance with certain quality requirements. The required quality is agreed with the client during the initial stages and is put in writing in the plan. A classic example of quality in the software industry is the number of defects that are injected into the system.
Experts believe that communication consists of 70% of a project in general. A specific plan is needed to address the various communications that will go out on a regular basis, and the medium is generally planned in as well. An example could be a progress report that goes to the client every Friday by email and a monthly status call done via video conference on the first business day of every month. It could be drilled further by stating that the email will be sent to XYZ and project sponsor, project stakeholder ABCD, quality expert and project management office will be copied in.
A project management plan once created will not stay in the locker until completion. It goes through changes as and when new risks crop up, and due to unexpected turn of events. There has to be a plan to address a change in the project, for a simple reason that any change in the project will alter the entire characteristic of a project, the quadruple constraints mainly. Two cents – If a project manager can control changes effectively, a project will succeed more often than not.
Sample Project Management Plan
Here’s a sample project management plan, thanks to Washington State transport department for sharing it on the net.
It starts with a brief project description which defines the purpose of the project. Milestones come in next followed by the roles and responsibilities of people resources. Another vital section in a plan is the compliances, which is covered in the example document. Compliances generally draw a boundary line to make the delivery acceptable in lieu of government guidelines and ISO certifications.
Every project management plan is different as the nature is highly subjective, and a common template might not fit every project under the sun. However, this project management plan template by PM Docs covers most of the sections that an average plan consists of. Using it as a base will help you avoid reinventing the wheel for the most part.
Schedule is NOT a Plan
MS Project is a tool developed by Microsoft that is used widely to create a project management schedule. As I mentioned earlier, the schedule consists of all the major milestones and the list of activities against the project timelines of completion.
Many project resources and junior project managers (and leads likewise) I have interacted with, point to a project schedule and call it a project management plan. It is a common slip-up in the IT industry especially.
To reiterate, a project schedule is not a project management plan, but a subset of it. Generally a project management plan is a word or a PDF document with plenty of attachments embedded in it, along with myriad of information.
A Project without a Project Management Plan is NOT a Project
Sure, you can have projects without a plan, but it won’t be considered a project in the most common sense, and no client will shell out a single dollar without seeing a plan of action.
My last comparison of the day, as one would need a roadmap to reach a destination in an unknown land, a project needs a project management plan to realize its existence.