When you hear the words ‘project planning’, what do you think about? In my experience, most people immediately think of the age-old Gantt chart.
Now, let me make this clear from the start: Gantt charts are important and useful. However, what I commonly observe is a misunderstanding of their role in the planning process. On this basis, let’s first look at what planning is.
As defined in APM’s Planning, Scheduling, Monitoring and Control (2015): “Planning is the process of identifying the methods, resources and activities necessary to accomplish the project’s objectives.”
Planning therefore isn’t simply a case of producing a list of activities, establishing how long each of them will take and then putting them in the right order. These activities do form part of the planning process, or more specifically the scheduling part, but before a project team can undertake scheduling, they must first decide how the project outputs are going to be achieved.
So, what does planning involve then? Planning projects involves, but is not limited to:
- researching the contract documents
- understanding the scope
- identifying stakeholders and their requirements
- defining the structure of the project
- identifying the resources required to deliver the project
- defining, and in some cases creating, the processes required to undertake the works
Let’s break this down further.
Understanding what the contractual documents are asking you to deliver, and how you will deliver it, should be one of your first tasks. What have you signed up to? It’s not uncommon for a work-winning team to tender and win the contract before handing over to a live projects team to deliver it. Therefore, it is important to have a robust handover between teams.
Different contracts have different requirements, and that’s before the contracts are amended via ‘Z- clauses’ (NEC contracts, for example). Not only will the documents inform you as to what you need to deliver, but they can identify risks and opportunities to log and address as part of the planning process.
Some stakeholders may have been identified during tendering. However, it is still paramount to review the list and understand the requirements. Stakeholder engagement may identify restrictions of working or an increased amount of communication and reporting requirements. This could affect how and when you undertake the project activities.
In some cases, the work breakdown structure (WBS) is defined by the client. Where it is not, it is important to understand how the project will be structured. Does it align with the cost breakdown structure? Does the expected team structure work with the WBS or do you now require additional resources to manage discrete work packages?
The complexity of the project may mean that more resources are required to deliver the works. Are these resources available? Does the type of project or contract require a particular skillset? NEC contracts have more emphasis on processes and notifications and therefore require more resource time to maintain than other contracts.
What are the reporting requirements for the project? Does the contract require specific processes, such as earned value management? Are there additional health and safety requirements to be followed? All these processes can influence time and cost on the project.
As highlighted above, scheduling tends to be more towards the ‘what’ and ‘when’ on the project. Planning is more about the ‘how’ and ‘why’.
Understanding that you need to commission a new system over two weeks is one thing (scheduling); knowing how the commissioning process works, and how it affects the wider project (planning), is another thing altogether.
So, what about these Gantt charts then? As highlighted at the start, schedules are important, but they are a byproduct of the planning process that pulls it all together.
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