What does a good plan look like

Glen Alleman (spelling corrected - sorry!) of Herding Cats has a nice piece that talks about planning, What Does a Good Schedule Look Like?

A good schedule doesn't tell what you want to hear, it tells you what you need to know, so [you] must PLAN FIRST

When I talk about planning, which I've been doing a lot lately, I often repeat the comment that goes something like

A plan is a picture of where you think you will go to reach your goal.  There will always be unexpected detours and sidetracks.  Without the basic plan, you have no idea which direction.n to go when the unexpected become today's reality.  [Attribution: many people who work in project management and repeat versions of this in conversations.]

The Alleman piece is loaded with bullets that describe qualities of a good schedule and tips to improve the credibility of that schedule.  I agree with many of his comments and don't find a few of them to be important (so far) in my work.  Please go have a look at it and think about what makes sense for you.

Based on my experience, I offer up this list of what a good planning looks like.

  • A project plan has a single goal.
  • A project plan is created by all the stake holders of the project.  The stake holders agree that the elements within the plan are required to achieve the goal.
  • A plan has to be both realistic and challenging.  We want to reach the goal as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality and safety. 
  • A plan has to make sense to the business leaders, the customers, and to the people expected to execute the plan.  (In other words, the stake holders.)  If it doesn't make sense, then people will do things the way they have always done.
  • The plan has to exist.  Planning can be a frustrating exercise.  Too much and the plan never gets built and people go off and "do something" while they wait for more direction.  Too little, and the plan doesn't give people enough direction.  It has to be good enough and then you need to execute against it.

One other element to all of this.  Planning is a very interesting exercise, particularly for people who are building real project plans for the first time (or for the first time in a new mindset).  However, without a reasonable project execution mechanism, much of the additional value is lost.

p.s. Alleman also has his differentiation between schedule and plan from a few years ago: Difference between Planning and Scheduling.  The short form: plan tells you where to go; schedule is the detailed route.

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