Project planning does not refer to individuals projects only, but also to your strategy de succesfully manage and deliver internal and external projects. A project planning strategy should provide people guidelines and best practices, but should also be flexible enough to be changed when required.
To address these challenges , you need to take into account the following:
1 Before you begin, try to estimate the potential of the project. In other words, ask yourself if it's worth doing it. It may seem like a great idea but ask other people, including customers and employees, not only executives and project managers. Ideally, this should happen even before you sign a contract with a customer, but if the contract is already signed, the evaluation of the potential of the project is still important. You may or may not be able to change the contract or some of its clauses, but you'll at least have a pretty good idea what to expect.
It helps to be aware of what the project will not to. If possible, this should be also shared with the customer in order to avoid unrealistic expectations.
2 It helps to have different plans depending on the type of project. You may even need different plans for the same type of project. For instance, implementation will be different in the cloud versus on premises.
3 Create templates for different project plans so you can combine them for complex or custom projects. The screenshot below shows the example of a simple implementation project. You may need separate plans for professional services that may be sold separately, product customization, etc. For more complex project which require some or all of these activities, templates can be combined as needed.
4 Identify the core team but also any other people that may have an impact on the project. Remember that impact can also be negative.
The document below shows how different people from your company can be visually assigned to projects based on their roles, as well as people from the customer's side. The second page shows a table with strengts, weknesses, and the internal and external competence perception for each employee. Using the table, you can easily understand which people may be the best choice for each project, depending on it complexity, on the customer, or on its priority.
5 Try to understand what are the risks for the planning of each project. You may not be able to avoid them but you at least know what to expect
The simplest way to determine project risk is to track the delivery of similar types of projects and see which changes may have an impact on that type of project. The more information you have, the easier it will be to understand what happens most often and is likely to happen again.
Your experience and intuition can definitley help you estimate risks, but it's useful to document your hypothesis before the start of the project and see how it compares with reality. By doing this constantly, you may understand which are the strenghts and weaknesses of your risk estimation capabilities - you may be either too optimistic or pessimistic, put too much (or not enough) emphasis on some market trends that prove not to be so important after all, etc.
For software vendors and resellers, there are a few categories of factors than need to be evaluated to estimate project risks:
- employees - their qualifications, availability, and motivations can have a serious impact on the delivery of projects
- management - your own business processes, workflows, and management style can put projects at risk
- business strategy - defines how you approach customers after the sale and sets the stage for the delivery (see Customer On-Boarding)
- technology - either the technology you deliver or the infrastructure already in use at your customer's site
- partnerships - partner reliability and their ability to deliver and cooperate with you can be critical to projects
6 Tracking deliverables is an obvious necessity but it also helps to track changes during a project. Things that may seem insignificant to you like replacing the project manager may have a negative impact in the project. Here's a simple tool to track project tasks, deadlines, duration, etc, but also changes to the project. At the end of the project, you can compare the initial plan to the actual plan and see how well you managed the project.
7 Use all the data you capture to see if you can determine trends in your ability to deliver projects. You may notice that something negative happens too often do you may need to change your plans
8 Adapt your project plans to what you find or based on new business directions that your company decided to adopt. When you make changes to a template, always keep the original template. It will help you understand the evolution of the project plan and you can also reuse old templates.
9 Allow for a period of transition when changes to projects plans are implemented so that people can get used to them. It also allows you to fine tune the changes.