I have been thinking a lot about health insurance lately due to some changes in my life, and I’ve realized the value of having good insurance that minimizes my financial risks if I get sick or have an injury and need medical attention. I have also been doing a lot of project planning, and over time I have realized that planning is a kind of health insurance for your projects.
Consider the following scenario:
A company comes up with a grand idea, something that will really put their name on the map and bring in money. They are so excited about the idea that they fail to put the necessary time into planning its execution, and before you know it, things are out of hand. The project is failing, a lot of time and money have been wasted, and the company is left wondering what in the world went wrong.
That may seem rather dramatic, but honestly, some version of the story above happens all the time. I’ve even seen it happen on my team here at 212 Media Studios. Proper planning is not completed before people start working on a project, and it causes many problems later on. Running across a multitude of questions and waiting for answers slows down development, and making incorrect assumptions about what a client wants leads to endless changes down the road. We learned the hard way that correcting part of a project is much harder than doing the whole project correctly the first time. In order to prevent such situations in the future, we began to do careful planning of our larger website projects, and completing planning documentation for those projects became part of my job.
In the month or so that I have been involved in planning, I have already seen many benefits.
Exposes unanswered questions.
I may think I completely understand a project and how it should be implemented, but once I start thinking through all the nitty gritty details, I realize there are still a lot of unanswered questions to be addressed. Addressing them in the planning stage allows implementation of the project to happen smoothly rather than being interrupted over and over again while waiting for a question to be answered. It is also likely that the answers to one question will affect other parts of the project, and those changes are much easier to make in a plan than they are once those parts of the project have already been implemented.
Prevents incorrect assumptions.
I cannot tell you how many times I have been working on planning for a project and assumed that something should be done one way when the client actually wanted it done another way. Catching these types of incorrect assumptions in planning is another way to prevent yourself from having to go back and redo part of a project.
Helps with idea evaluation.
When you first think of an idea, you are very excited about it and have a hard time thinking of any way it could possibly fail. Planning can point out places for improvement, things that need to be changed, or parts of the idea that need to be forgotten. It might even show you that the idea should be completely dismissed because it just isn’t practical. If you skip planning, you may end up spending time and energy on an idea that in hindsight is not quite as great as you thought it was.
Prevents project creep.
Have you ever started a project, and somehow over time it grows larger, less focused, and less effective than it originally seemed? This is project creep. It happens when you continue adding on to a project over time until the original focus is completely lost, and you end up with a piecemeal final product. Careful planning and reasonable dedication to the original plan can keep project creep from happening and give your project a greater chance of success.
Much like health insurance doesn’t prevent you from getting sick or injured, project planning will not solve all your implementation problems. You will still encounter issues you weren’t expecting, and you may have to adapt your original plan. However, it will minimize the overall cost (time, energy, and money) of those problems, just like health insurance minimizes how much you pay for medical treatment.
Want to start with project planning, but don’t know where to begin? Here are some project planning resources:
I would suggest you find a planning process and planning documentation that you like and then customize both to fit your company. You may not need every step and every document, or you may need extra steps and documents along the way. Perform some trial runs with the process and documentation you like the best, and then decide which parts you actually need.
Does your company use project planning techniques? Have they been effective or ineffective? Share in the comments below!