|by Jay Fridkis|
Project Planning for small to mid-sized organizations is often ignored, or relegated to the task of publishing a schedule to communicate timelines and goals, but has little basis in the concepts of project planning. But even for smaller projects (one to six months of duration), non-profit organizations can benefit from incorporating elements of the principles of project management and planning in their activities.
Formally, a Project Management Plan is actually a “plan of plans”. For large projects, a complete project plan includes “sub-plans/documents” which serve to provide the framework for carrying out the project. In larger projects, the Project Plan is a “living” document that can be continually updated throughout the life of a project as the individual plans are constructed and change. Typical elements of a project plan include:
- Project Charter
- Stakeholder List
- Scope Statement
- Human Resources
For smaller projects and organizational tasks, these plans can be scaled down for even the most basic exercise, even if the organization does not produce a formal project plan.
- Project Charter: This document should be issued or signed by the project requester or sponsor. It formerly authorizes the existence of a project and empowers the Project Manager (or Coordinator) to apply organizational resources to project activities. The Project Charter should include a description of the business need, identification of the market need, a simple description of the project scope (high-level requirements), a simplified strategic plan, and identification of primary organizational resources that will be required. Most importantly, a Project Charter formally recognizes a budget or allocation of staff resources to the effort.
- Stakeholder Register: The list of Stakeholders for a project/activity identifies anyone inside or outside of the organization with a vested interest in the project. This includes persons or organizations that will be actively involved in the activity as well as those whose interests will be affected by the project outcomes. All of these Stakeholders can (and will) exert influence over the project and their roles must be identified. Regular communication (see Communication Plan below) with Stakeholders is essential for the success of a project.
- Scope Statement and Requirements: The Scope Statement is critical to project success and builds upon the major deliverables, assumptions, exclusions and constraints that are documented during project initiation (note that completion of the Scope statement does NOT precede the project).
- HR Plan: The Human Resource plan includes the list of staff who will comprise the Project Team (which also may include non-employee staff). The plan will detail estimated time commitments from each member, which may need to be negotiated with department heads or supervisors. The HR plan should note vacation schedules as well as contingency plans for sick absences and whether supplemental staff need to be retained to help the project staff complete their regular work obligations. The HR plan may also include resources for team building activities and project rewards.
- Communications Plan: Keeping in touch with and informing project team members and stakeholders is key to the success of any project or organizational task. Creating a Communications schedule—Defining how often and the format of regular meetings and notices—will help all involved stay in touch, stay involved, and stay informed. The Communications plan will also remind participants and stakeholders of their commitment and obligations to the success of the project.
- Costs/Budget Plan: Very few projects or defined organizational tasks get approved without consideration of cost. The Project Manager or Coordinator should be able to identify and define both hard (purchases of items and external staff/contractors) and soft costs—the true price of existing organizational resources, including staff time allocated to project tasks.
- Risk Register: All projects carry risks that can inflate the cost of the project, introduce delays (incurring both hard and soft costs) or prevent successful conclusion. The Risk Register is a “living” document—key items should be identified in the Project Scope, while others are added as identified throughout the life of the project. A good Risk Register identifies the cause, potential magnitude and potential remedies for each risk; it is also of value to identify how the risk (if realized) will impact the project (schedule, direct cost, change in scope, etc.).
- Schedule: The Project schedule is what many (uninitiated) team members know as the Project Plan itself; those with experience recognize this task as just one key part of the overall Project Plan. When using Project Software, a Gantt chart is the most well-known type of Project Schedule. This format lists the task name, staff resource assigned, time required to complete, and the “dependencies” related to that task (e.g., task 7 cannot start until task 4 is completed). Schedules for smaller projects/tasks can be created and maintained in a basic Excel worksheet.
- Quality Plan: A more obscure, though important, consideration for Projects is an understanding, definition and analysis of quality issues and tests surrounding a project or defined activity. The basic criteria of quality measurement should be included in the Project Scope. The question to be asked is how will the project team know if the completed activity meets the standards defined in the scope? The details of what should be measured, who will perform the measurements, and how that will occur (objective and subjective tests based on defined/agreed-upon standards) are included in a Quality Plan document.
- Procurement Plan: Depending on the size of the project/activity and the organization’s own requirements, a Project Plan may be needed to cover the purchase of goods and supplemental staff resources to complete the project. This plan becomes a subset of the Project Budget.
No matter if your task is small enough to be handled on your own in a day, or it becomes a project that involves a group of people over weeks or months, the elements of good project planning will help to guide you as a leader and ensure a good resolution.
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