The Roman aqueducts. The Colosseum. The Eiffel Tower. Rarely does something brilliant come to fruition without a solid plan. A plan is simply a blueprint for the expected result.
While you might not be working on the next great architectural structure, your business is no less relevant. If you are going to accomplish great things in your business, then you need a solid project plan to help you envision the process from beginning to end.
While project planning might sound simple, it is possible that you feel a little writer’s block, or you are unsure about where to begin. But there is no need to panic! Here are five things you can do that will make the project flow as efficiently as the waters through the aqueducts.
First: Determine the Objective
What is the purpose of the project?
The objective is what you aim to accomplish. This is also known as the goal. So, what exactly are you trying to accomplish here with your project planning, and what is the purpose of starting this project? Are you an architectural firm, but would like to start a building division? Are you a digital content producer, but would like to try your hand at creating print copies for distribution? Be specific about what it is you want to do, and that will give you a clear target to shoot for.
Second: Determine the Product
What will you accomplish from this project?
Your objective is like the “X” on a pirate’s map – the end goal. Once you know your objective, you can start specifying what it is you’ll produce. Let’s say there’s an architectural firm that would like to start a building division. They would first identify what types of structures they plan to build. For example, if the architecture firm typically designs custom residential homes, they would mention that in the product section of their project planning. So, their next plan is to build custom those residential homes.
When we look at “what will they accomplish from this project,” obviously they aren’t going to jump in and start throwing houses together. First, they’d make decisions about everything else before the building begins. The digital content producer would identify the type of content they create, and on what mediums they would print (paper, canvass, etc.). The product drives the project, so be clear about what it is that you tend to produce. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a mess mid-project.
Third: Determine the Scope and Sequence
What will you cover? In what order will the project flow? What is the timeline for the project?
Some people know exactly what they want to produce at the end, but have no idea how to go about doing it. That’s why project planning is so important—it helps you determine the road map for achieving your goals. Here’s a tip – start with your first step. Envision what you need to do first—before anything else can be done—and write that down.
If you don’t know what to do first, then you’ll need to research it! The best person to ask about something is always the person who has done it successfully. And don’t be shocked if that person tells you that he/she failed a bazillion times before succeeding.
After identifying step one, move on to step two. Repeat this process until you have identified each step along the way. This can be a long and painstaking process, which is expected when people start projects, they are venturing into new territory. But don’t let this dissuade you from moving forward! Once you finish this piece of project planning, you’ll feel ready to begin the project.
Fourth: Determine the Players
Who will be part of the committee or team for this project? How will you assign roles?
A great visionary knows the right people to put in place to accomplish goals. Those people will be the project planning committee or team members. So, who do you envision on your team? Picture those dedicated individuals who see things through and pick people who think outside the box. Picture the people who bring a can-do attitude and remain upbeat, even when the cards are stacked against them. Now, shove them all together in a still frame, and you have your team for this project.
Once you know who you want on your team, you’ll need to assign roles. It’s not a bad idea to ask for people to volunteer for the tasks they want, because we know people are happier when they’re doing something they love. If no one volunteers for a particular role, you may need to assign someone to the role. Remember to highlight the reasons why that person is perfect for the role, instead of just demanding he/she take on that responsibility. After you have all your team members in place, scan the roster, and fill in the gaps as necessary.
Fifth: Determine the Resources
What are the materials and/or funds needed to complete this project?
The old adage says that you have to spend money to make money. There’s a lot of truth to that. Producing something is inevitably going to cost you in one way or another, whether it’s money, time, or materials. So, figure out what this project requires those terms.
Project planning helps you identify the resources needed and how to obtain them for achieving your goal. If the project requires nothing more than money, then how much money will you need? How do you plan on getting funding? Do you already have the funds available, and it’s simply a matter of allocating them to this project? Or, do you need to request approval for the funding – meaning, paperwork needs to be completed to move forward?
Some people don’t think of time as a resource, but the thing to remember is if you use the time for one task, you’re potentially pulling it from another. Think about this in terms of the committee members for this project. If they weren’t on this team, what would they be doing? Undoubtedly they would be working on something else that is driving the business forward and helping turn a profit. So how much time are you willing to take out of each member’s day to complete this project? Time is another critical piece to consider.
Besides money and time, you’ll likely need materials for your project as well. Materials could be anything from paper and pencils to the software you use. List anything and everything you need for the project because the more you anticipate, the better it’ll be for your budget. It’s better to have extra money on the front end that you can cut back over time. Opposed to the opposite – finding out you need something further for the project, which could throw off your budget and stall the project.
Depending on the type of project, you may feel like you already have everything needed to accomplish your goal. As lovely as that sounds, make a list anyway! The reason being, once you see it all laid out, something will pop into mind that you hadn’t thought to include the first time around.
The Project Planning Template
Now, it’s absolutely possible for you to plan projects by starting from scratch each time, but another option is to use a project planning template. Do you remember way back when you started your business? Did you use a business plan template? If so, you might remember the format and function of the business plan template. The purpose of a project planning template isn’t so different from a business plan template. Their sole purpose is to make your life easier. It helps take the guesswork out of project planning but also gives you a readily-available document to access on a moment’s notice.
Many different types of project planning templates are available online, but you may choose to create your own custom template specific to your line of business. It’s not uncommon for people to take a project planning template and make some changes to ensure they’ve covered all necessary items. This makes the template just right for their business!
Don’t Cry About It, Copy It
When all is said and done, project planning should not be the hard part—the project itself should be the thing that requires your blood, sweat, and tears. Nevertheless, thoroughly planning your project will hopefully reduce some of your stress and anxiety so your blood, sweat, and tears aren’t shed in vain. Remember to avoid trying to reinvent the wheel. Don’t be too proud to use a project planning template, because there is no shame in replicating something that has been done well.