How does poor project planning lead to potential problems?
We’ve all heard the old adage “Measure twice; cut once.” While it might be a cliché, in the project management world, it takes on a critical meaning: choosing to rush through or ignore the project-planning process can be a formula for failure.
Pick any major event, trip, or undertaking in your life and think about the time, energy, and work put into making sure everything went off without a hitch. Then think about the stress and aggravation you experienced those times when things didn’t go as planned.
As a discipline, project management works the same way, except on a greater scale and involving many stakeholders and a larger pool of resources. It can include external vendors, several other internal and intradepartmental team members (as well as their schedules and input), and additional parameters like cost, quality, timing, constant coordination, communication, and associated risks.
Imagine the consequences of poor project planning if any one of these things is not handled correctly. All of the above factors and many others have an impact on—and are in turn affected by—the project planning aspect of project management.
Lack of strategic alignment
When it comes to planning and initiation, “EPMO participation is critical in company-wide planning sessions in order to transform the traditional PMOs into high-performing teams that deliver significant value. This will also help to establish a shared vision.” According to PMI research, the success rates of higher-performing PMOs also align with a company’s financial performance.
Cost, quality, time-constraint issues, and scope creep
Determining the scope of a project is difficult without spending a considerable amount of up-front time properly planning. Gathering requirements, developing comprehensive project-management plans, and determining and scheduling activities, among other things, require considerable thought and coordination and, yes, a lot of time.
Without planning of activities, these key project elements can lead to lack of stakeholder commitment and resources, because poor planning does not instill confidence or credibility. In turn, this has the potential to discourage stakeholders from proceeding with the project manager or even with a project altogether. Strong project leaders instill confidence by keeping on top of project planning activities and therefore remove the need for costly, time-consuming rework and increase success ratios throughout projects company-wide.
Inefficient use of resources
Estimating costs and activity levels, scheduling resources, and continually monitoring and adjusting them require intense planning to ensure that a project is moving in the right direction. Effective planning identifies the tools and techniques required to accomplish these tasks and reduces the risk of having unclear roles and responsibilities. Resources, whether financial or human, are usually limited these days and of high value to any business, so squandering them unnecessarily has the potential to be disastrous. Given the consequences, this is an area where companies should carefully plan how, when, and where to employ limited resources to best maximize effectiveness.
I previously covered more details around the communication skills of highly effective project leaders. These top communication characteristic and skills are the following:
- Focus and stability
- Objectivity and fairness
- Ability to lead by example
- Energy and motivation
- Consistency and flexibility
These are underscored as essential communication characteristics. It takes considerable thought and careful planning to ensure that communication plans take into account stakeholders needs; without these, there is potential for communication barriers, which can translate into reduced confidence and jeopardize buy-in from team members and stakeholders.
Identifying risks, performing qualitative and quantitative risk analysis, and developing risk management strategies are key to successful project outcomes.
These activities can require a lot of time and considerable coordination to complete, because they can range from simple to sophisticated and complex, depending on the project, scope, size, and a range of other factors. The more risk points or, the greater the consequences, the more planning is required.
Project planning is not a guarantee that projects will go according to plans. In fact, despite all of the planning that may surround a project, uncertainty is always there, lurking in the background and waiting to jump in and disrupt those plans. The key to having great project outcomes is to first recognize from the project’s inception why careful project planning is a critical component to reducing risks and increasing success. It may seem more time-consuming up front, but it will save substantial undue stress, time, and costly rework later.
Project planning with precision can be an iterative process, but it’s worth it to measure twice and cut once when compared to the risks associated with poor planning. The important point here is to remember that planning is vital to reducing project risks, which in turn increases the likelihood of a successful project.
We started with one cliché; we can end with another. As Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
In one of my articles for TechRepublic called “Risks and Rewards of Making Project Decisions Based on Gut Feelings,” I cover the pros and cons of factoring in your gut while making project decisions. I also discuss things to consider, timing, and the role of factual data in combination. While gut feelings are not a science, often thought leaders use it as a check and balance to reaffirm their direction. If used carefully, it can be a powerful aid in conjunction with business-intelligence tools, because of the sheer fact that it’s based on experience, knowledge, intuition, and common sense.
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Moira Alexander, PMP, I.S.P., ITCP/IP3P, is a recognized project management influencer, thought leader, a regular correspondent for PMI’s Projectified podcast, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PMWorld 360 Magazine, Founder of Lead-Her-Ship Group, and author of “LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership”. Moira has over 25 years of experience in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the US and Canada and has been quoted in various publications including Forbes. She writes thought leadership content for top-tier publications and business blogs and oversees or writes sponsored content and software reviews on PMWorld 360 Magazine.