Project Planning FAQs – Everything you ever wanted to know about project planning.
It’s simply a question of how you package up the work that you do. All work can be defined as a project, or a series of projects. A project is basically a time-bound piece of work with clear outcomes at the end. Even though it seems you are doing the same work year in, year out, you will inevitably be adapting, changing and improving your work as time goes on. If you package this up as a project, for example, over 3 years, you could have a Project Plan that shows clearly how you will carry out the work year-on-year and what outcomes you intend to achieve at the end of each year.
If I wanted to buy a new washing machine, for example, I wouldn’t be very happy if I paid my money then I had to wait to find out what washing machine the supplier fancied giving me and when it would arrive, if ever. Similarly, funders want to know exactly what they are buying and when it will be delivered. Hence they want to fund projects: time-bound pieces of work with clear outcomes.
From a funder’s point of view, the time-period can be anything from, say, 6 months to 5 years so you can package up your ‘ongoing’ work accordingly.
Project Management is how you implement your plan and get things moving on the ground. The Project Plan will be used to direct activities and to monitor progress whilst you are managing the project delivery.
In the context of the Project Management Life Cycle:
Project Planning = the Thinking and Planning stages
Project Management = the Doing, Closing and Benefits Realisation stages
Funders will usually ask you for a Project Plan as part of the bidding process. If you don’t have one, you won’t get the money. A plan reassures the funder that you know what you are doing and that you are professional in your approach.
Your project is more likely to succeed if you have a plan! Otherwise, how will you know what you are supposed to be doing and when?
You will have created a useful template that you can use for future projects so you are not re-inventing the wheel each time.
- Your funding bids risk sounding loose and woolly so you are much less likely to get the money. Even if the funder doesn’t ask for a Project Plan, having one in the background means that you will have done some clear thinking that will be reflected in your funding bid. Your bid is therefore more likely to be successful.
- You may not achieve the outcomes that you intended. If you don’t know how you are going to travel on the journey, how will you know when you get there?
- Your project risks losing focus, going out of scope, doing all sorts of things that were not originally intended, wasting time and effort, and costing more than you had hoped.
- Targets for the outcomes and outputs to be achieved at each stage – What & When
- The activities to be delivered at each stage (to achieve the outcomes and outputs) – How & Where
- Key milestones – see separate question on Milestones
- Who is responsible for delivering each activity and who else needs to be involved – Who
- The resources required to deliver the project, including staffing and other resources
- A progress rating system to identify what has been achieved so far and what is / is not on target to be achieved
Alongside the Project Plan, you will also need other tools, such as, a Project Budget (based on the Resources needed), a Communications and Marketing Plan, a Stakeholder Map and Engagement Plan, a Risk Log and a Monitoring and Evaluation Framework.
Key Milestones should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound. Many large-scale projects, for example, involve recruiting staff, such as, a Project Co-ordinator, a part-time Administrator and say, two Mentors. Given recruitment timescales, it may be two to three months after the official start of your project when the staff are all in post. If you do not have the staff in post, you cannot run the project.
Recruiting project staff, as in the example above, is a Key Milestone related to a project activity and associated outputs. The Key Milestone could be stated as follows:
- 4 project staff (1 x full-time Project Co-ordinator, 1 x part-time Administrator and 2 x full-time Mentors) in post by the end of March 2018
Key Milestones can also be related to outcomes, which are the positive differences or changes your project will make. An example of a Key Milestone related to outcomes might be:
- 80 young people have improved their self-confidence by the end of December 2018.
As you can see, Key Milestones are clearly related to detailed project planning.
In my experience, the PRINCE2© course is intensive. It is also expensive and possibly beyond the reach of smaller charities or other Not-for-Profit organisations. It is not essential to be PRINCE2© qualified to be able to deliver successful projects.
I have taken the PRINCE2© principles plus years of my own experience and put together two tailor-made workshops giving you tools, techniques and resources to enable you to deliver successful projects in the Not-for-Profit sector. The workshops can be adapted to suit your organisation’s needs.