Keep the Train on the Tracks with Project Planning
January 29, 2018
How do you manage projects while also doing everything else? With project planning, of course.
When you think about project management, you probably think about:
- Large projects that take a long time to complete and require plenty of resources and money
- Detailed processes, with far too many steps to even remember and implement
The reality is that project management applies to both large and small projects. As a small business owner, these small projects are usually your currency.
Think of that website you need to design for a client, that house rebuild requiring subcontractors, or even a writing project that requires website copy, email newsletters, and regular blog posts from one month to the next.
In this post, we show you exactly what project planning is, highlight why it’s important, and share the essential elements of effective project planning for your small business. Focus on these factors and managing projects will become a breeze.
What Is Project Planning?
To understand what project planning is we need to understand the project management cycle. The cycle consists of four distinct phases: initiation, planning, execution and closure.
But Why Is Project Planning Important?
There are several reasons:
- Project helps projects run smoothly
- It ensures that your project team -clients, employees and subcontractors- have a mutual understanding of the objectives and their roles in achieving those objectives
- You can better manage time, cost, risk, change, employees and subcontractors so that you can deliver projects on time and on budget
- By having a plan, you get all the details of the project on paper, making it more manageable and, in the process prevent overwhelm
- Plans act as an early warning system. If you execute projects based on a plan and track progress against that plan, you can easily see where you’re deviating and make adjustments.
While project planning contributes toward success, it can be a struggle because it often involves making educated guesses at the start:
- How much staff will I need?
- The length of time the project will take?
- How much money do I need to cover costs?
- Will I need subcontractors?
And so it goes. Miscommunication and increased stress can quickly become the order of the day.
And for you – the small business owner – who’s often the project planner and project manager, it can be even more challenging.
But it doesn’t have to be a struggle and you certainly don’t need to follow those comprehensive project management guides. You know those that have so much detail and so many steps, that just looking at them gives you a headache?
You just need a process and basic steps that will give you a solid footing. To help you succeed follow these critical elements of effective project planning.
The Key Elements of Project Planning
Here are 8 critical elements:
1. Stakeholders Needs
Stakeholders will include anyone affected by your project – employees, clients, and project sponsors. Identify these stakeholders, meet with them, and prioritize their needs based on urgency and importance. Make sure you keep it on point and focus on only that which is important for the project.
2. Project Objectives
Create the project objectives from the stakeholder’s needs. These objectives should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. For example, create an objective of “get two more clients each month” instead of “get more clients.”
3. Deliverables and Due Dates
Your deliverables are the products or services you need to deliver. Each deliverable should include a timeline. For example, a deliverable for the above objective may be to cold call 100 clients each month.
4. Project Schedule
Projects schedules specify the deliverables, tasks for each deliverable, the time frames for completing the tasks and who will complete them.
Having tasks makes the project more manageable, specifying due dates prevents delays, and assigning responsibility ensures people understand their roles.
To help create these schedules, brainstorm on a whiteboard or use modern methods such as collaboration apps. For example, use Trello to manage and organize projects via lists, cards and boards.
5. Roles and Responsibilities
Specify who oversees the projects, handles each deliverable and what client roles are. Defining roles ensures everyone understands what’s expected of them and also that they remain accountable.
6. Project Costs
Understanding project costs helps you allocate budgets and aids in identifying shortfalls early on in the project. You should also supplement initial cost projections with regular meetings to assess progress.
7. Communication Plan
Your communication plan should detail how often you communicate with stakeholders, what type of communication they want and mention any project checkpoints that require client approval before proceeding.
8. Tracking and Management Tools
How will you communicate with stakeholders? How will you deliver what your client wants? Online project management software will help. FreshBooks, for example, lets you invite employees, contractors, and clients to a central chat interface to talk about existing projects.
Managing projects can be challenging: you have limited resources and time and also wear many hats. You may also find yourself managing many projects out of necessity rather than choice.
Thankfully, managing projects is a breeze with the proper project planning. It ensures that your projects run smoothly, everyone is on the same page and that you better manage time, resources and employees.
But to realize these benefits you should follow the 8 key elements of project planning:
- Identify stakeholder’s needs
- List the project objectives
- Define the deliverables and due dates
- Create a detailed project schedule
- Define roles and responsibilities
- Specify costs
- Craft a communication plan
- Track and manage projects
Do that and never worry about managing projects again. Do you have anything to add? How do you plan your projects?