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Project Planning – 2 Questions that Improve Results Every Time

June 29, 2010

Project planning.  A two word phrase that spans everything from
doing “it in your head” to complex gannt and mind map plans.  With,
all that variability, there’s a lot consistency as well, including the fact
that project plans can get stale and out-of-date pretty quickly after inception.

So here’s a quick blog on project planning and the two key questions that
I’ve found consistently improve your results, regardless of how you
approach project planning.  Let  me know what you think.

Two questions that improve any project planning effort.

1. The first question is simply this:  “How much face validity does
the plan have
,  to you… to others… in representing the key steps
needed to reach the outcome?”  This question is generally applicable,
but creates  the most  value when heading into uncharted areas,
creating innovation, etc.

Face validity is the sense you get when looking at a plan, that it
addresses the needed steps.  It makes sense.  If you had to bet your
lunch on it… you would take the bet. 

Here’s the real secret to face validity.  It’s outcome based.
The plan looks like it will realistically get you to the outcome. 

You might be surprised at how many people get lost when creating
a plan, want to make sure they include everything and lose the focus on
what’s the outcome” and “are we doing what’s needed to get us there.”
There really is no other basis for plan validity.  It’s what separates
forms and lists from a real plan.

2.  Here’s the second question: “Is it (the plan) working?” 

That conveys two things, which can be very difficult to get.
It conveys that you keep the plan open to adjustments.  Maybe I
should better write that as you keep hammering on and reshaping
the plan based on what happens mid-stream.

It also conveys that you’re getting data, updates, results, feedback
in a timely manner that let’s you respond to that question based upon
current data… nothing else.

You see I think most people mistakenly believe that project planning
is limited to the first part of a project.  Like there’s some point at which
you finish the plan, and then you just execute it from there.  I think
that’s a big mistake, at least it sure is on most of my projects.  I can’t
remember a single major project in the last 10 years that worked out
exactly according to the initial plan. 

If you don’t update the plan, it quickly becomes outdated and marginalized,
or drags the entire project management process down because  efforts
are aligned with an outdated plan that doesn’t reflect current realities well.

What if project planning keeps going until the project is complete and
you’ve done your “lessons learned” review?  For me, project planning
starts with a definition of outcomes, schedule and resources, but
continues throughout the life cycle of the project with a continual
reference to that key question – Is the plan working?

Bottom Line:
Project planning is mistakenly thought of as a phase at the front end
of projects.  I think it goes throughout the life cycle of the project and
is best shaped by two ongoing questions:
1. Does the plan have validity, does it make sense, will what’s included,
what’s focused upon, clearly get us to the outcome?
2. Is the plan working, have you checked, based upon what data?

Separate yourself from the crowd – keep it real and keep it current.

16 Comments. Leave new

Matias Leiva
April 5, 2011 2:07 pm

Mindmapping is great, and I have found a tremendous amount of valuable information on this blog. Your services look great!

Great copy, layout and design! Very well put togeter.

Thank you for sharing


Project planning is definitely an ongoing thing throughout the project because so many times something changes it can change daily even, people come up with better ways of doing things, people change their minds, etc. the tips that you suggest In your post are very good anf should be taken into account before doing any project planning.


It’s clear from the article that evaluating your progress along the way is as important as planning a project. But it can be difficult not to lose perspective in the midst of a complex project that has many tasks which are delegated to different teams / departments. It is even harder to measure efficiency or how fast the progress moving forward. It helps to be able to visualize the overall project and to see it via the software in the form of charts or some kind of visual aids. I wonder how this software works in that respect.


Nathan, you’re right, pictures are really helpful to spot trends and get a snapshot. I think ManagePro does a reasonable job at that, but its better at stretching from the overview to the specifics assigned to that next person that walks through your door or is on the phone.


You have a lot of good ideas here and you were able to get them down in print in a very professional manner. Project Planning can be a very time consuming job and it can be very tedious and I think you have explained that here. I appreciate the information you posted and look forward to your next.


Great job conveying your thought on paper, that isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but you did a great job here. I agree with the posted comment on September twelfth 2011 that project planning is an ongoing job with a lot of different twists and turns and different angles to keep track of. Great job keep up the good work.


When putting a plan together it would also be important to go over the “what if points wouldn’t it, kind of have a plan B in place. As far as the updates go would it be advisable to set up a blog regarding your plan so that you can use the blog as a consulting tool to kind of help you come up with ideas for changes or if the changes you are making would be good? I agree completely that project planning isn’t at the beginning of a project it is on going, and ever changing. Thanks for the advice given in your blog I appreciate it very much it will help me in my future endeavors for sure.


Abel, I couldn’t agree more. In my project details form, I have one field for the requirement spec, and the very next field is for listing obstacles that continue to emerge, because rarely does the original plan survive the entire project. I guess that’s one of the things that’s so helpful about ManagePro. It’s flexibility in allowing me or others to change the plan, and also document why, so that everyone is in the loop.


Having been involved with several business projects, I believe this information to be right on the mark. I was notorious for working so intently at the task at hand, that I would lose track of the outcome. I liken it to walking in a straight line, then closing your eyes and taking 50 more steps. I guarantee when you open them back up, you’ll be off track, even if its just a little. One thing I would have liked to see is discussion on the dynamics of interaction between members of a team assigned to complete a project. In my past experience this is, in my opinion, the most important thing to understand in order to stay on track and be productive.


Hi Marsha, good suggestion, gives me an idea for one of the next blogs.


I have worked in technology / software and web development companies where the progress of complex coding projects have gone astray and delayed their completion. This is rather easy to do when it comes to code development. And believe it or not, the cause of these problems has nothing to do with coding. The programming language is precise and its purpose clear. So it is not the code. The usual culprit is a lack of communication between management and the talent. Some good developers and programmers are sometimes poor communicators or lazy about documenting their tasks. That is why it makes sense to combine a good project management software program with some old school management techniques. I am talking about requiring face to face or web conferencing meetings which require the talent to communicate their progress verbally to management.


Thanks Teresa, you said it. Amen.


Project planning reminds me a lot of strategic planning. It is always best to write a few notes to keep you focused, have a plan in place before you start and always take into account the “what if’s. Being a project planner is a big deal and should not be taken lightly. Always ask your self is this working and what can we do better. I even like to set up a blog about the project to get outsider insight and counsel. You put together a great blog here and I look forward to many more from you.


Evaluating your progress through a project is a very important step as well as measuring efficiency and how fast it is moving along in it’s progress, does this software show you charts and graphs to help visualize that? You would also need to be able to make quick updates to the saved project and have it recalculate the flow days etc. to the end of the project because they can change on a daily basis. It would be nice if the software had the capabilities to factor in the “if this happens scenarios so you could have a plan “B saved as well. Great job putting all of this information together, project planning takes a lot of time and patience to do and it sounds like you have figured out a way to do that.


Sometimes the project manager needs to ask him / herself certain question(s) before finalizing a plan. It is a good idea to check that any dates don’t overlap with any religious, public, state, or federal holidays. Also, consider avoiding an overlap with any major sporting events, especially if you’re organizing or providing logistics for an event and looking to attract a predominately male audience. Other unexpected events could also cause traffic which could alter your plans or expectations (like a boat show). At the beginning of the calendar year, generate a checklist of all the upcoming holidays and events so that you don’t let one slip by you. Do it once and you’re list is done for the whole year. Just be sure to keep it handy, because as they say, “out of sight, out of mind.


I agree with these two questions answered it can tell you a lot about the effectiveness of the plan. If the answer to either one of these questions is “no or negative in any way then it is time to set down with the planner and start over from scratch. If the plan doesn’t work than you are not going to create any traffic and no traffic means no customers, no income. Your article was full of great advice thank you for taking the time to post it.


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