What is project planning, and how will it benefit your next project?
By: Leanne Armstrong
Eager to get to work on that new project you’ve just been handed? Before you put together a hasty to-do list and start firing off tasks to team members, step back and consider this: creating a project plan up-front will not only save you time over the long run, it virtually guarantees a more solid outcome.
What is project planning?
In basic terms, project planning refers to any and all steps taken to set a project up for success. More specifically, it includes clarifying the scope of work, defining your objectives, and creating an actionable task list.
As part of a much bigger process, project planning is only one of five key stages in project management – but it’s arguably the most crucial. Project planning is one of the basics of project management typically happens after the feasibility of a project has been determined, and well before it gets launched.
While many people think of planning their project in terms of laying out specific duties and deadlines, scheduling is only part of facilitating a new idea. It also includes summarizing and documenting how your project will be structured, executed, and monitored.
So project planning is really about outlining exactly what you and your team are going to need to accomplish and how you’ll achieve it, to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Why is project planning important?
Taking any great idea from concept to closure requires an organized approach to achieving goals. Once everyone is clear on the objectives involved, project planning makes it easy to break them out into step-by-step, measurable milestones.
Planning your project in advance means not having to worry about whether the right resources (people, information, and money) will be available when you need them. It also means being able to minimize or outright avoid potential delays caused by:
- disagreements over best practices,
- misunderstandings around timelines and deadlines, and
- discrepancies in terms of what constitutes a successful result
Articulating where you and your team need to get to by laying it out visually is the best way to create a foundation for your navigational plan. So while you can choose to develop your project plan manually, many business professionals rely on the convenience of multipurpose project mapping software.
How to invest in success with project planning
The more time and effort you invest in planning your project, the better aligned your team’s actions will be with their aims.
Project planning makes it easy to monitor each team member’s progress. And when you understand in advance what’s meant to be accomplished, when, and by whom, you can compare results to date with where you should be – allowing you to course-correct and keep your project on track.
One of the best reasons to use project planning is that it paves the way for project execution. The strategies you’ll put together during the planning phase of your project will help you:
- map out and refine your deliverables,
- manage your time, costs, and risks,
- exert greater control over internal personnel and outside suppliers, and
- provide practical guidance to your team – from implementation through to project closure
By providing a view of both your overall mission and the individual tasks and routings involved, cooperative planning lies at the heart of every project life cycle.
To get an even better idea of the important role it plays, let’s take a look at how project planning fits into the wider practice of project management.
A brief look at project planning in project management
Successful project management hinges on working through the five stages involved – initiation, planning, execution, control, and closing – on time, on point, and on budget.
Establishing the benefits of a new project during the initiation stage, for example, leads directly to setting relevant goals – and the tasks, checkpoints, and deadlines required to achieve them – during the planning stage. And how well you plan your project ultimately sets the stage for how well subsequent phases are carried out.
Let’s say you’ve been made responsible for creating a better employee onboarding experience.
Your company or department has determined that streamlining this process will save money and increase productivity, while creating a competitive advantage through retaining top talent.
When your team comes together to examine those benefits more closely, the project planning process that follows will inevitably make it easier to:
- clarify the overall purpose and scope of the project,
- transform that purpose into actionable goals, and
- develop concrete steps around shared objectives
Taking this time to thoroughly explore the deliverables for your initiative will also help you identify potential obstacles – in this case, hurdles in the hiring process – so workarounds can be incorporated into your project plan.
Benefits of visualizing the project planning stage
There’s no question that goal achievement is a critical component of successful project management. Many project leads, however, find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data, metrics, and variables involved in project planning.
It’s true that the more information you have to work with, the more options you’ll have to sift through and the harder it can be to:
- make key decisions,
- feel confident about your conclusions, and
- maintain your project’s momentum
One of the best ways to cut through information overload is with an efficient planning process that utilizes dynamic visualization to boost collaboration and improve communication with project stakeholders.
Regardless of individual knowledge or technical language expertise, visualizing project management improves understanding at the team level. And that’s an important consideration in a process like project planning where collaboratively inputting ideas, task assignments, knowledge assets, and success metrics is vital.
It can be tough to optimize productivity if your team is focused on the wrong things. And that’s why so many project managers take advantage of dedicated software to share tasks, timelines, and other project resources.
By organizing and incorporating data into Gantt charts, process diagrams, team calendars, and other work breakdown structures, for example, you can use visualization to provide everyone involved with a detailed, real-time view of your project.
Visual mapping software is a highly effective way for you and your team to:
- immediately see what’s relevant, what should be prioritized, and what can be let go of,
- discover connections between ideas, activities, and data that might not be self-evident, and
- do away with duplicate information
Below, you’ll find an example of a work breakdown structure template created using MindManager.
The main thing to keep in mind is that planning your project is likely to remain a work in progress right through the closing stage of your venture. You and your team will probably revisit and revise your plan multiple times, in fact, before achieving the outcome you’re after.
And that’s a good thing.
Because not only can the project planning process help you uncover hidden opportunities and identify potential red flags, it can improve the quality of decisions made by revealing the impact of any actions before you take them.