Benchmark Business Group

The Dreaded Project Plan

August 8, 2017

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Previously, we discussed the need for project management skills in small businesses. We challenged you to define the point of view that a project manager needs to successfully manage projects in your business. This week we want to focus on the main structure that will help you, and your employees, plan out and execute the details of a project. This all-important document is the project plan, and a tool that is severely lacking in many businesses.

Having a project plan is the structure that a business needs to train their team on how to successfully plan and execute a project. Some of the issues we see that derail project plans include:
  • It isn't "Set it and Forget it": Project plans need to be ongoing documents that are updated as the project advances. Too often, they are started then abandoned. A great project plan is used from the initial concept all the way to the end of the project. It should be a living document that helps structure how you think about the work that has to be done. It will be updated, changed and adjusted to ensure that you are always on the right path to achieve the desired results. Project plans also make great reference materials for similar projects in the future.
  • One Size Doesn't Fit All: Projects range from simple to very complex. It's nearly impossible to have a template that fits all projects. Sometimes, the project plan will seem too detailed and formal. You might feel that it takes longer to fill out the plan than it does to complete the project. Other times, the project might be too complex and you'll see the need for additional elements.

    The trick is to start out with a project plan template that will fit 80% of the projects in your business. Then, as projects are either too simple or too complex, you can mold the template into something that works. Having the template to start with will not only save time, but will also allow you to ensure the right conversations are being held on what should or shouldn't be added to a project plan. Having a standard template ensures that everyone is on the same page, which makes it easier for employees to fill small roles in a project as needed, without missing key information or getting off track.  
  • Knowing What You Don't Know: The truth is that sometimes you don't know the answers when you start a project. Not knowing the answers is one of the excuses used to skip over having a plan. Instead, unknowns are a part of your plan as they become milestones that need to have steps assigned to them and/or they can become guidelines that clearly spell out how they will be handled for this project. This, of course, leads back to our first bullet point: project plans are ongoing and need to constantly be updated.

The real goal of the project plan isn't the plan itself, but the outcome of having the plan. It's a great tool, because it forces an ongoing conversation about the status and next steps of your project. A great project plan will lead a project manager to ask the right questions, drive the right conversations, and overall lead the project to a successful result.
So what is the best project plan?
It's one that you've customized to your business and your way of working. We've provided a sample template here, but the truth is the plan will only get better with time. As you use it and make innovations it will become the tool YOUR business needs. The project plan we've provided is comprehensive, and we will continue to explore it in our upcoming Business Owner Insights this month.

PS: Don't forget that once you have the project plan you need to innovate and train on the document! One of the great outcomes of having a project plan is you'll be able to see a project manager's strengths in planning a project as well as pinpoint what areas they need to improve. Our suggestion is to customize the plan, walk your project manager through it, and then have them fill out the plan on their own to review with you. This forces employees to take ownership of the project from the start. Once they've completed a first draft on their own, you can sit down with them and build out the project plan as needed.

PSS: Join us next week as we focus on business requirements and milestones. And don't forget to ask your Benchmark Business Coach to help you work through creating your customized project plan. If you don't currently have a BBG Business Coach, today is a good day to start building a business of value!

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