Chapter 5 – Project Life Cycle, Scope, Charters, Proposals

5.3. Planning

Phase 2: Project 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:

  1. Establish business requirements
  2. Establish cost, schedule, list of deliverables, and delivery dates
  3. Establish resources plans
  4. 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” (Merriam-Webster, n.d. a)  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, which provide 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, laboring 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.


Think about a time you planned a project. We have all planned projects whether big or small. Perhaps a trip? a wedding? painting your bedroom? building a patio?  When we plan a project, in our minds we all put together a plan. Have you ever used any of the planning strategies above before you started your project?  Example:  cost it out, decide who will help you, decide how much money you want to spend. Everyone has designed a project at some point in their lives. This form of designing projects is just more formal.

Human Resources and the Planning Phase

The Planning Phase makes sure everyone involved is available for tasks, and that everyone is working together to move forward on the work to be completed. Human Resources Specialists can help the Project Manager and the team define all the facets of staffing for the projects. These can include:

Time requirements for team members to complete specific tasks on the project?

Human Resources can assist the team in designing a chronological chart with time frames. Sometimes a Gantt Chart is developed. This is a bar chart that shows a project schedule, showing the dependency relationship between tasks and the current status of the project.  The Gantt Chart shows the start and finish dates, with names and tasks included on the chart.

There is software available for this type of planning that could include training, qualifications, and attendance. Or, Human Resources can create templates or word documents including the key aspects required in the planning

Does everyone have all the skills required? If not, help them develop the skills.

The skills for team members would be established before employees/consultants are hired for the positions.  However, the team needs to have job descriptions and specifications to help guide their work.  Also, team members skills may overlap, and to avoid conflict, the team’s skills are defined in their roles (who will do what?) to avoid duplication.

What is the onboarding plan to bring the team together?

Onboarding (define) is a similar process Human Resources would use when completing the recruitment and selection of hiring. They want to “bring on the right people” to ensure the project gets completed on time, on budget and within the scope of the project. The onboarding could include the importance and purpose of the project, who the stakeholders are, and define the roles. Team dynamics are important and team training could be included in the onboarding of the team.

How will performance be measured, both of the project and the team (individually and as a team)?

Human Resources can ensure a performance management system is set up initially, and that all team members are aware of how they will be measured on performance throughout the project.  Evaluation of the team is important to encourage high performance and behaviour. Before the “kick off” of the project, the team needs to be aware of their expectations, the standards of the project, who is supporting them, and any limitations that could be in place. The quality of the deliverables to the customer/stakeholder is significant to how well the team produces the product/service. As well, performance can be evaluated on team dynamics, and team strengths in group decision making, problem solving and conflict resolution. This evaluation would be conducted with the Human Resources Specialist and the Project Manager.

As well, individuals need to be evaluated on performance. This could involve an appraisal similar to a function of the employee’s performance review. The Human Resources Specialist would identify the team member’s strengths and weaknesses, and develop a plan of action during the project.  This would be based on how well the team members performed and allows for an assessment of the team members upon completion of the project. This performance review would be conducted with a Human Resources Specialist and the Project Manager.

Finally, the Project Manager needs to be evaluated on performance. Often, the Program Manager or another functional department stakeholder who has a vested interest in the project, along with the Human Resource Specialist, would evaluate the Project Manager. The same criteria applies to the Project Manager as to the team.  Were the expectations and standards met? Was the quality of the product and deliverables satisfactory? Beyond this, the Project Manager is evaluated on their ability to manage the team, network with stakeholders, manage the budget, lead and motivate the team, set priorities, work in an ethical manner, and have the ability to problem solve and make good decisions. Some other considerations for evaluation for Project Managers are: Did they innovate? Were they a visionary? Were they hands on/hands off? Were they flexible? Was there trust and loyalty (to the organization and to the team?)

How will results be measured, and how will the Project Manager and the team be rewarded?

Project results are measured through data collection, reports and analysis. Operations is generally involved in evaluation control through formal processes. This control holds people accountable, helps everyone stay focused, and avoid or mitigate problems. Human Resources may be consulted about these controls, and receive reports. However, where they are actively involved is through the rewards for the Project Manager and the team.

Rewards may be established at the beginning of the project. There may be monetary rewards through compensation rewards for individual achievement, or team achievement. There may be group-related performance pay schemes established. As well, there could be commissions, bonuses, or profit-related pay. Non-monetary incentives may be provided through time off, work flexibility and experiential rewards. Other non-monetary rewards could include tuition assistance, gym memberships or membership discounts. Other rewards built into the organization may be promotions when team members return to their regular jobs. Human Resources would be responsible to ensure all these rewards were granted to team members, as outlined in the Planning Phase.

How will the team be released back to their functional (regular) jobs; or be released from their contracts?

When the project wraps up, team members need to move on. For regular employees this means returning to their regular position within the company.  Releasing the team could happen all at once, or in stages, depending on the tasks involved.  Reassignment would be planned in advance by Human Resources. If a person was hired in a temporary capacity to replace project team members, they would be given notice. The project team member would return to their regular job. Human Resources may assist in re-orienting the employee back into the position if the project was for a long period of time. The employee would need time to re-adjust and the department employees need to adjust to having the employee back in the department. If the team member was a contract person, it simply means the contract is over. Sometimes, contract workers are able to find employment within the organization with the help of a Human Resources Specialist. Other times, team members a new project may become available; and the cycle starts over again.

How will safety and compliance be measured; and what is the plan for creating safety and compliance for the team?

Simply stated, the team members and Project Manager need to comply to all the safety and compliance standards and regulations that are built into the Safety Plan for the organization. Human Resources Specialists would conduct training sessions, or inform the project team of the guidelines.  The Project Manager’s role is to ensure that the team abides by the guidelines and enforces compliance.

How will time be managed for the beginning and ending of the project?

Human Resources may be involved in the Planning Phase with the Project Manager to develop a well-defined project plan that includes time lines and meets deadlines. It would be the Project Manager’s role to communicate the day-to-day issues related to time management to avoid delays. However, Human Resources could provide training for the Project Manager and/or the team in time management, communication related to avoiding delays, sending out emails ahead of time of tasks to be competed, how to make quick decisions, and problem solving that effective.