Building Awesome Plans Part IV (and a half) – Detailed Planning

Everything up until this point has been a ‘gut feel’ for what can be done, so the last section of the detailed planning stage is to understand the scope of the work more clearly and then map this work against the resources required so that you have a plan that is realistic to execute on.

This is important because firstly everyone who has half an ounce of ambition in them will try to do too much – like 200% too much. It’s not often I see people trying to do too little. I would say that most plans fail because people stretch themselves too thin and they get caught up in doing far too many things to a poor / ok standard, instead of fewer things awesomely. Choosing what ‘not to do’ is just as important as choosing ‘what to do’. Also I figure most people reading this need to manage upwards and will have to commit to dates for certain projects and a credible and realistic plan is key to being able to do so with confidence.

I’m going to be fairly brief in this post because programme / project management of a large group of people is a book in itself (one that I’m not qualified to write!). The key to being successful for the next set of steps is to have someone who is amazing at programme management lead this stage.

Understanding the scope of work

This first step is to better understand the scope of work for each project and the best way to do that is to go through every project and produce a design and technical brief. Once you’ve done this you can identify who will need to contribute to the work.

If you have a huge amount of projects you may find that writing a design and technical brief for all of them is going to take a ridiculous amount of time and be diminishing returns. When in that position you may want to decide that some of the projects are so standard that it’s easy to know who should be involved and roughly how much time will be required so you may want to skip the design and technical briefs for these. What I would say is that you should force yourself to do design briefs for at least the next 3-4 months worth of work so that the near term is as accurate as possible.

Organise and make available all of the design and technical briefs in a central location as this will make it easier for everyone when it comes to costing the work.

Costing the work

The first thing to do is identify what disciplines / teams need to contribute to each project. A kick off meeting with your management team and managers of other services teams is key here. Go through every project and discuss briefly what the requirements are and then go round the group and understand what teams will need to contribute. Don’t get caught up in trying to estimate man hours at this point, just understand who the project will touch. For example you may look at a web initiative and decide that 5 key teams need to contribute. Note them down.

Once you’ve done this, build a central spreadsheet which contains all of the projects with columns for each team as this will give you a framework for clearly identifying each team that needs to be involved. Where a team is involved, mark that cell with a cross.

Distribute the spreadsheet to all involved and then have everyone get to work speaking to the people who will actually do the work and getting man hour estimates from them. Plug them into the spreadsheet and you’ll then end up with a plan which clearly identifies which teams need to contribute with an estimate of man hours involved for each team.

This gives you a high level understanding of who needs to contribute to each project and how long it will take. It should start to become clear now how realistic your plan is. For example you may find that team x has 5 people in it and needs to contribute to 30 projects. Once you total up all of the man-hours required by that team it may be under, about right or massively over. If it’s over, you’ll need to consider what projects to pull – or indeed if you want to staff up that team so that you can do everything. Move things around or decide on how you will get extra resources until you end up with something that seems reasonable for all teams.

Detailed Project Management

I’m not going to try and describe this stage in detail because thats where your programme / project managers come into play. The man hour estimates need to be pulled into schedules, dependencies need to be figured out, risk profiles and contingencies identified etc.

Be prepared to make some tough decisions here about what you’ll move about or maybe even drop from the list.

Wrap up

Once you’ve gone through the above steps you’ll end up with a final plan that is mapped against the resources you have and most importantly realistic for your teams to execute on. Then there is only one thing left to do – execute brilliantly 🙂

In the next part of the series (Part V) I’ll cover some techniques for how to simplify what is likely to now be a complex set of plans aswell as how to define accountability clearly – essential for great execution.

I may also add a part VI and talk about some general tips for executing well and also some of the pitfalls I have experienced in the planning and execution so that you may avoid some of these.

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