3.3. Planning

After the project has been defined and the project team has been appointed, you are ready to enter the second phase in the project management life cycle: the detailed project planning phase.

Project planning is at the heart of the project life cycle and tells everyone involved where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. The planning phase is when the project plans are documented, the project deliverables and requirements are defined, and the project schedule is created. It involves creating a set of plans to help guide your team through the implementation and closure phases of the project. The plans created during this phase will help you manage time, cost, quality, changes, risk, and related issues. They will also help you control staff and external suppliers to ensure that you deliver the project on time, within budget, and within schedule.

The project planning phase is often the most challenging phase for a project manager, as you need to make an educated guess about the staff, resources, and equipment needed to complete your project. You may also need to plan your communications and procurement activities, as well as contract any third-party suppliers. The purpose of the project planning phase is to:

  • Establish business requirements
  • Establish cost, schedule, list of deliverables, and delivery dates
  • Establish resources plans
  • Obtain management approval and proceed to the next phase

Merriam-Webster’s definition of planning is “the act or process of making a plan to achieve or do something.” This suggests that the ultimate goal of planning is the plan itself. It also presumes that once a plan has been formulated, you only need to follow the plan to achieve the desired outcome. That’s fine for ordinary conversation. But when we begin to think about living order project planning, a more expansive understanding of the nature of planning emerges. In living order, planning is a process that prepares the project team to respond to events as they actually unfold. The whole point of planning is to develop strategies to manage the:

  • Changes to scope
  • Schedule
  • Cost
  • Quality
  • Resources
  • Communication
  • Risk
  • Procurement
  • Stakeholder engagement

Planning results in a plan, but the plan is not an end in itself. Rather, a plan is a strategic framework for the scheduling and execution of a project. It’s only useful if it includes the information team members require to begin moving forward. And it only remains useful if team members modify the plan as they learn the following about the project:

  • Key constraints such as the timeline, cost, and functional requirements.
  • Information on project system issues, such as workflow and milestones, provides a broad look at the project as a whole.
  • Plans for periodic check-ins that allow participants and leadership to re-evaluate the project and its original assumptions

Die-hard geometric order planners take a deterministic approach, labouring under the false notion that once everyone agrees on a plan, the plan itself determines what comes next. Indeed, it is tempting to think you can nail down every detail at the beginning of a project and then get going without looking back. But effective living order planners understand that, especially early in a project, these details are nearly always provisional and subject to change. Thus, effective living order planners stand ready to alter their plans in response to what they learn in changing conditions. They also understand that the context in which a project unfolds has varying levels of detail and variability, with potentially thousands of decisions made over the project’s life cycle.

As Alexander Laufer and Gregory Howell explained in an article for Project Management Journal, a project leader’s work is founded in uncertainty (Howell et al., 1993). Uncertainty is not an exceptional state in an otherwise predictable process of work, they argue. Instead, it is a permanent feature of modern work. What’s more, the longer the time between planning and implementation, the higher the uncertainty surrounding individual activities. Naturally, the higher the uncertainty in a project, the more difficult it is to plan and the less effective the plans will be at articulating actions and outcomes. Finally, they emphasize that no amount of planning can eliminate the variability intrinsic to the work of a complex project.

6. Project Planning” from Technical Project Management in Living and Geometric Order, 3rd edition by Jeffrey Russell, Wayne Pferdehirt and John Nelson  is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

8. Overview of Project Planning” from Project Management – 2nd Edition by Adrienne Watt; Merrie Barron; and Andrew Barron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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Essentials of Project Management Copyright © 2021 by Adam Farag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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