Planning

Definition

Planning determines what is to be delivered, how much it will cost, when it will be delivered, how it will be delivered and who will carry it out.

General

Planning occurs broadly at two levels; policy and delivery.

At the policy level a series of plans set out the principles of how each aspect of the work will be managed. These plans include documents such as the risk management plan, quality management plan and benefits management plan. They are sometimes referred to as strategies (e.g. the benefits management strategy).

The policy-level plans set out procedures and processes for each aspect of management. They list preferred techniques, including templates for documentation and defined responsibilities.

At the delivery level, documents will answer such questions as:

  • Why? – a statement of the reasons the work is required. It includes a definition of the need, problem or opportunity being addressed.
  • What? – describes the objectives, scope and deliverables of the work, together with their acceptance criteria. It also describes the success criteria for the project and the key performance indicators (KPIs) used to measure success. The ‘what’ needs to take into account any constraints, assumptions and dependencies.
  • How? – there may be alternative ways of achieving stakeholder requirements. The chosen method should be documented along with reasons for its choice.
  • Who? – the project organisation is defined along with key roles and responsibilities, together with a plan defining the resources that will be required and how they will be acquired.
  • When? – a project schedule that includes key milestones, phasing and detailed timings for the activities required to complete the work.
  • How much? – including budgets and cash flows for expenditure and, where appropriate, income.
  • Where? – the geographical location(s) where the work will be performed and the impacts on the costs and personnel factors.

All of the delivery information is developed in outline form during the concept phase of a project or programme. This is usually referred to as the project or programme brief.

When senior management give approval to proceed, detailed documentation is prepared in the definition phase. This is then referred to as the project or programme management plan.

On larger projects and all programmes, it is unreasonable to develop detailed schedules for the entire life cycle. The later stages of work will be subject to change, as a result of altered requirements and performance in the earlier stages.

It is common to apply the principle of ‘rolling wave planning’ where earlier stages and tranches are planned in more detail than the later ones.

It is important to share the management plan with all stakeholders so there is a common understanding of what the requirements are and how they will be delivered.

Although the project or programme manager owns the management plan, it should be developed with the wider team. Some specialist planning expertise may be provided by a support function. This removes ambiguity, sets expectations and develops commitment to the plan.

Once agreed, the management plan provides a baseline which is periodically reviewed and updated with rigorous change control. It forms the basis of gate reviews where the continuing viability of the work is assessed.

By its very nature, delivery planning is speculative. It involves looking into the future and estimating what will happen. Estimates will be based on whatever data is available and expertise in its interpretation and application.

The more data that is available, the more accurate the estimates. Inevitably, in the early phases of a project or programme, there is less data available than in the later phases. This results in an estimating funnel as shown in figure 3.6.

Figure 3.6: Estimating funnel

At the end of each phase, estimates can be refined and the difference between the maximum and minimum reduced.

There are three primary methods of estimating:

  • comparative;
  • parametric;
  • bottom-up.

Comparative, or analogous, estimating uses historical data from similar projects or programmes to extrapolate estimates for new work. Past estimates are scaled according to scope and complexity to produce new estimates.

Comparative estimating is most appropriate when data is available from a few instances of similar work.

Parametric estimating uses defined parameters by which work can be measured (e.g. the area of a building or the number of function points in a computer program) and uses the results to predict values in the current work.Parametric estimating requires an extensive database of past estimates of similar work.

Bottom up, or analytical, estimating uses a detailed specification to estimate time and cost for each component of the work.

Project

When a project is part of a programme or portfolio, or if it is being conducted in a mature P3 management organisation, the team will have access to initial, policy-level planning documents. It is then up to the project management team to tailor these to the specific needs of the project without breaching the principles that provide consistency across the organisation.

Delivery plans will be at their most detailed in the project dimension. Regardless of whether they are stand-alone or part of a programme or portfolio, it is always the projects that deliver the outputs.

Detailed techniques such as product planning for scope, critical path analysis for time scheduling, or Monte Carlo analysis for risk, will be the basis for preparing the project delivery plans.

The output of scope management is a specification that may be presented as a product breakdown structure (PBS) showing the deliverables and a work breakdown structure (WBS) showing the work required to produce them. The planning process will add management activities to the WBS to show the work involved in managing aspects such as risk and communications.

Projects range from the simple to the highly complex. Plans must reflect the nature of the project. Over-complicating the plans of a simple project can be as damaging as over-simplifying the plans of a complex project.

In the early phases of a project, both comparative and parametric estimating methods can be used. As the definition phase develops a product or work breakdown structure, bottom-up estimating can be used.

Single estimates do not allow for human error or limited data. Three-point estimates use optimistic, pessimistic and most likely estimates for packages of work that, in turn, allow a statistical analysis of the overall project estimate.

Programme

The primary focus at programme level is to plan the interdependencies between the component projects and show how project deliverables are transformed into benefits in a timely and productive manner.

The policy-level plans developed by the programme will form the basis of the policy-level plans for each component project. Whilst consistency is desirable, some flexibility is necessary to accommodate the different technical contexts of the projects.

Delivery-level planning must take care not to include too much detail of individual projects and thereby remove autonomy from project management teams. It must focus on key milestones such as deliverables and interdependencies.

Maintaining a consistent planning approach across the programme is an important responsibility of the programme support function, particularly when organisational planning standards have not been prescribed. Consistency is needed to ensure that data from individual projects can be aggregated to provide an overall picture for the programme.

Some benefits realisation will continue once the programme organisation has been disbanded. It is important that benefits realisation plans are formally handed over to the business-as-usual units which will be responsible for continuing benefits realisation.

Programme estimates will comprise two main elements: estimates of the individual projects and estimates of programme and business change activities. The aggregation of estimates from component elements of the programme will represent different phases in the estimating funnel, so great care must be taken in communicating estimates comprising differing degrees of certainty.

Programme planning must set out consistent estimating techniques to allow aggregation where required.

Portfolio

When projects and programmes are delivered through a portfolio, it is important that the portfolio-level planning sets governance standards. The portfolio support function will be responsible for auditing adherence to policies and providing assurance to the portfolio management team that the work is being managed consistently and competently.

High-level planning represents a large part of the portfolio management function. The processes of defining, categorisation, prioritisation and balancing are all largely planning processes. The delivery of outputs and benefits is mostly delegated to the component projects and programmes.

Estimating for the portfolio as a whole would be a largely fruitless process because of the variation in certainty and context of the various projects and programmes. In some cases, it may be possible to aggregate estimates for areas within the portfolio aligned to specific objectives. All such estimates must carry careful explanation of their inherent uncertainty and variability when communicated to stakeholders.

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