It is a central truth that if the plan isn’t believable, or believed in, then it will be very hard to deliver to the project or to manage expectations for delivery. The support for, and belief in, the plan comes from a number of groups:
- The project team delivering the change.
- The customer(s) receiving the deliverables.
- The programme or senior team funding and supporting the project.
- The wider stakeholder community.
For all groups, a summary “Plan on a Page” view of the detailed plan is an important tool as it presents the whole project in a clear and easy-to-read graphical format. It is worth noting that the level of detail each audience needs may be different, and hence multiple POAPs should be produced to avoid a “one size fits no one” problem.
The detailed plan must always be the only source of data for any reporting, such as POAPs or lists of key milestones etc.
The team needs to own the plan, both as a whole and their own tasks or sections. This can only be done if they feel ownership of the tasks and understand the wider plan and how their activities fit into it.
The best way to ensure that they own their tasks is for them to have dictated what they are, how long they will take and what they need to deliver them. There obviously needs to be a bit of creative tension between the need to deliver quickly and the desire to spend time crafting the ideal output or taking their time over the task. This is where the understanding of the wider plan and the impact of their estimates of time come is.
It is important that the plan contains everything needed to deliver the entire scope of the plan. All the tasks need to be connected to other tasks in the plan (predecessors and successors). This allows the impact of changes to task timescale and dependencies to be understood.
Everyone who owns an aspect of the scope must be involved in the planning of the project. It is equally important that they are involved in updating the plan. This involvement at the start and during the delivery of the project avoids assumptions and “no one ever asked me…” type conversations. Every line in the plan must have involved the people delivering it.
The involvement can be enhanced by planning workshops, one-to-one planning sessions or workstream-specific sessions.
The customer needs to own the scope and agrees that the project plan delivers the entire scope. The acid test is “if everything in the plan is done, is the project complete?”
There must be a dependable change control process in place so that the team and customer are able to understand the impact of any change before it is agreed upon.
The Customer needs to understand what it takes to deliver the scope and believe the estimates that have been used. This doesn’t mean that they need to review and sign off every task in the plan! However, it does require that they trust the information and timeline that is presented. The level of “justification” needed to engender this trust will vary from project to project; it is an important part of the PM’s communication task.
Sponsor / programme / senior team
As with the customer, this group will need to understand and believe the basis for the plan. The justification is likely to be higher level and based on understanding the assumptions that have been made and tested.
A walk-through of the scope, high-level plan and underpinning assumptions is often a useful technique. Can you explain the project in two slides - one for the project definition and one for the plan?
Regular and informative communication as delivery is executed will also drive increased confidence in the plan and the team’s ability to deliver it. It is worth noting that the communication doesn’t have to be all good news; the way that the project handles the inevitable challenges, changes and potential delays can also build trust in the team and the process.
Wider stakeholder communication
Communication with the wider stakeholders is the key to building belief in the plan. Does the project have a clear and understandable scope and set of deliverables? Do people know what is going on and when things will be delivered? Is it clear how this project fits into the bigger picture?