Business Today

Creating a project plan

The secret sauce of a project is in its planning.

Saumya Bhattacharya | Print Edition: August 23, 2009

Two years ago, when Punebased Zensar Technologies acquired New York-based firm ThoughtDigital in a $25-million transaction, CEO Ganesh Natarajan’s team envisaged every possible glitch. The acquisition process took eight weeks as planned.

The final stage of the cross-border acquisition was people integration estimated to be accomplished in six months. At this stage, the project plan went into a slight scramble. The sheer scale of people integration issues caught the Zensar team unawares.

“Everything else was taken care of but we did not envisage the enormity of people integration issues,” says Natarajan. The crossborder acquisition took 10 months to close instead of the planned six months.

While this was a large project with complex interactivity, more definable smaller projects also carry the risk of going awry either in terms of time, cost or quality—the three related variables that most often determine what is possible for you to achieve, says Management Consultant Mary Grace Duffy.

The lifecycle of a project passes through four phases: planning, build-up, implementation and phaseout. Project managers often run the risk of wasting time and money by designing a solution that is too simplistic, too complicated or too late.

According to Duffy, often project planning is ignored in favour of getting on with the work. Before you begin, take time to determine the real problem the project is trying to solve, says Duffy. Every project goes through a five-step planning (see Plan Piece by Piece).

To navigate these steps, Duffy suggests a SMART way: Be Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-limited. According to her, the success of a project plan will be defined by how well you meet your objectives. “The more explicitly you state your objectives at the outset, the less disagreement there will be at the end about whether you have met them,” says Duffy.

That will also ensure smooth planning for starters. Still, well-planned is not even half-done. Be ready to deal with the unexpected as the next three phases of the project get going.

Plan piece by piece

  • Define the real problem
  • Identify the stakeholders
  • Set objectives
  • Prepare for trade-offs
  • Define activities

Use the work breakdown structure

  • What is Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?: It is a tool for developing estimates, assigning personnel, tracking progress, and showing the scope of project work.
  • What does it do?: It divides a complex activity into smaller tasks, continuing until the activity can no longer be subdivided. At that point, you have defined each task in its smallest—and most manageable—unit.
  • How does one create a WBS?
    • 1. Ask “What will have to be done to accomplish X?”
    • 2. Continue to ask the question until your answer is broken into tasks that cannot be subdivided further
    • 3. Estimate the time and cost to accomplish each of the tasks

Source: Managing Projects (Harvard Business School Press)

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