Planning a Project

Project planning is one of the keys to the success of a project. Many of the project artifacts build upon one another. The project team starts with the project charter, and then builds the work breakdown structure and a schedule using the following steps:

  • Obtain the project charter from the sponsor/stakeholder (sometimes the PM may help develop the charter).
  • Build a project scope based upon the project charter.
  • Decompose the scope into work packages.
  • Assign the work packages to their owners.
  • Work package owners build activity lists.
  • Activity owners estimate or calculate activity durations (Bottoms-up Estimate).
  • Activity owners sequence activities (often as a team).
  • Identify and document dependencies.
  • Build a schedule based on the above steps with some scheduling tool (post-its or some automated scheduling tool like Microsoft Project or Project Workbench).

Knowing which artifacts should be used as inputs to others makes building each artifact easier and more efficient. Project teams often struggle with the level of detail in the artifacts, saying “We cannot build the charter yet, because we do not know enough.” It is important to remember that they are not set in stone. Changes can be made as new information becomes available, as long as the change management process is used.

The project charter authorizes the project manager to proceed with the project. The project charter can be seen as the official sanction from management to allocate the personnel, resources, and time to complete a project. Typically, the charter is written by the project sponsor. The project manager may be engaged in the charter discussions; however, it is usually handled by the sponsor.

Scope Statement
After the charter is created by the project sponsor, the project manager is aligned, the project team leadership is staffed, and more planning takes place. While the project charter defines the “What” of a project, the project scope statement amplifies the “What” to confirm there is a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished. In many companies and organizations, the teams already exist. For example, you may have an IT (information technology) project team that is responsible for all development work for a particular application. When a charter for work is approved, the project manager for that team is given the charter and instructed to begin work. The next step is to build a scope statement. The project manager creates the scope statement using the charter as an input. The most effective strategy is to build the scope statement in a project team meeting. That way, the subject matter experts (SMEs) will be able to provide crucial details. This strategy also gives the project team a sense of ownership in the project from the very beginning. Once the scope statement is created, all of the key stakeholders must approve it. The scope statement is usually created using the project charter as an input.

It includes four key components:
1. Project Description – This section is typically an amplification of the project mission from the project charter.
2. Project Product – This section is typically an amplification of the product description from the project charter.
3. Project Deliverables – This section outlines the major deliverables of the project.
4. Project Objectives – Objectives should have an attribute, a yardstick, and an absolute or relative value. They should include (at least) cost, schedule, and quality measures.

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

After the scope statement has been approved, the team begins to identify the work packages that must be completed to deliver the project’s scope. This identification often occurs in a brainstorming session with the project team. These work packages are collected in a work breakdown structure (WBS). While the project charter and scope statement define the ‘What” of a project, the WBS breaks down the “What” and establishes “How” the deliverables will be developed to produce the expected outcome.

By using the scope statement, the project is decomposed into smaller work packages. The end goal is to identify each work package at a granular level in which the work can be recognized by the stakeholders. The smaller work packages facilitate control of the project and improve communication about the project.

The indentation and hierarchy of the WBS is dependent on the complexity and size of the project. A large, multi-faceted project would likely involve three indentations, while a smaller project would likely have fewer.

Ultimately, the WBS facilitates the responsibility assignment matrix’s mapping of duties and responsibilities.
Steps to Building a WBS:
1. Start with the scope statement of the project.
2. Decompose the scope into work packages that develop the deliverables.
3. Arrange the work packages without regard to timing or dependencies.
4. Tabulate and indent work packages according to granularity level.

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