Plan a Project with Basic Tools of Project Management

Two project team members planning the work
••• GettyImages/Henrik Sorensen

Our world of work is increasingly a world of projects. Projects are how we develop new products, execute strategic initiatives, and do everything that is new in an organization. 

By definition, projects are temporary and unique initiatives, in contrast with regular operations activities. While many firms rely upon trained, certified project managers to lead their initiatives, project skills are increasingly required for all professionals. This article offers an introduction to planning a project for any professional interested in adopting the practices that work so well for professional project managers. 

Take the Time to Truly Define and Plan Your Project

Project managers understand that a hefty portion of the total project duration is spent in planning. Many of us have a tendency to rush to start the work, which in the world of projects is similar to skipping reading the instructions on that new piece of furniture you purchased from one of those "assemble it yourself" retailers. Chances are, the rush to do the work without reading the instructions will create some serious problems at some point in your endeavor. 

Instead of rushing straight into the work, it is important to nail down a few critical issues:

  1. What exactly are you creating? Be as specific as possible.
  2. When must it be completed by? 
  3. What resources (people, equipment, and budget) do you have access to, to complete the project? 

The above three items are the fundamental components of a scope statement. Every project manager works to clarify the scope in advance of beginning the work.

Scoping the Company Holiday Party Initiative

A sample scope statement for the company holiday party might read as follows:

Our goal is to plan and deliver a company holiday party for 100 employees and their significant others before the end of December, at a cost not to exceed $10,000. Our planning and coordination will consist of the 4 member committee with oversight by the CEO. The party will include an open bar, plated meal, dessert and entertainment.

Just taking the time to craft that simple but important statement offers powerful guidance for the team involved in the project. Everyone understands the nature of the project, the time-frame, the resources, and the budget. 

Break the Scope Down Into Discrete BlocksĀ of Work

Project Managers create something called a work breakdown structure to describe in clear, actionable terms, all of the work of the project that must be completed by someone in a particular time frame. In your situation, the work breakdown might include:

  • Identify location.
  • Confirm availability of room and lock it in with a deposit. 
  • Select food options.
  • Confirm the bar and what the bar includes. 
  • Identify the dessert options.
  • Create and distribute invitations with food choices. 
  • Finalize food choices based on returned invitations.
  • Decide on the type of entertainment.
  • Review options for entertainment and select.
  • Confirm the dining room set-up.
  • Purchase table gifts for guests. 
  • Coordinate and deliver the event.

Project managers would develop this breakdown of the work of the project without consideration for resources or timing, but more in brainstorming format. Once all of the work necessary to achieve the project scope has been identified, it is time to put it in order, assign responsibilities and ask for time and cost estimates from your team members. 

Creating the Project Plan from the Work Breakdown

After completing the simple work breakdown identified on the previous page, you must now:

  • Confirm that all of the major items to achieve the project scope have been identified. 
  • Confirm who will handle what work items and create a responsibility matrix outlining the major work tasks of the responsible party. 
  • Request that each team member review their tasks, identify time and cost estimates, note deadlines, summarize resource needs and ensure that they have thoroughly evaluated the work they must are accountable for. 

Once the above steps have been completed, the project team should work together to sequence the events in the proper order, noting any conflicts for resources or potential scheduling challenges. A project manager would complete this step by developing a network diagram, calculating the critical path and then scheduling resources, often with the help of computer software.

For your smaller project using informal methods, a simple post-it note type approach of laying out the items in the sequence may be all that is necessary. This process will allow you to develop the complete picture of the steps involved and deadlines for planning and delivering a great holiday party!

Let the Work Begin

Now that you have taken the time to properly scope the project, identify the major tasks, sequence the tasks and evaluated time and resource requirements, you are prepared to put the team to work on their assigned responsibilities. Your role as the informal project manager is to monitor the work, support the team members and help identify and resolve challenges as they occur. A good project manager meets regularly with team members to assess progress and identify and navigate emerging risks. 

The Bottom Line

The same approaches outlined above can be applied to any project situation in your department or business unit. Develop a clear scope, identify the work, assign resources, develop estimates and a schedule, and then monitor and control the work. Your practices will be recognized and appreciated by the professional project managers in your workplace, and your results will be much better than simply jumping into the work without thinking it through.