Welcome to the grand planning, project manager
Planning. The most annoying, yet incredibly brilliant aspect of project management. Have you noticed that since early childhood, you have heard the term “planning” way too many times? It’s everywhere: games, movies, your life – everything has a plan. That’s just how things work.
Let me be the bad guy and shatter your expectations right from the start: However good you are at planning stuff, even if you are the genetically modified ancestor of the world’s most incredible strategists and planners, it’s not going to work. Yep, sorry guys.
But don’t go closing your browser window just yet. There is always a way out. Yes, life always turns out to be so that our plans don’t really go as planned, but it’s your job to make things work. What you need to do, is make sure you take into account each detail, think about every possible issue, have an answer for each outcome and always have an alternative way to deal with things that unexpectedly pop out to make your life miserable.
Let’s get down to business. In order to make a decent plan that is stable enough to withstand attacks coming from nowhere and flexible enough to dodge attacks you can’t afford to take, you will need a few things.
Step 1: Work Breakdown structure
This is where you want to start. Work breakdown structure is a technique (like a ninja!) that allows you to break down the whole project into smaller, autonomous parts that when combined together, form the end deliverable. This isn’t planning yet. This is the preparation for planning.
WBS is useful because it allows you to lay the big picture right before your eyes. This will help you understand just how much time, resources and budget you will need for every small part. Then you can just add up everything and have all the numbers. After you know all the numbers, you can start distributing tasks. Pretty neat start.
Step 2: Become a God in the matter
After you breakdown the work, you need to learn everything associated with the project. I literally mean every, single, damn, thing. You need to become the all-powerful master, the god of your project in terms of knowledge.
Learn about everything: the strengths and weaknesses of your team members, what kind of problems can you encounter, how you deal with those, how you deal with problems that can arise after those problems (problems within problems), etc. Get to the point when it will be hardly possible to think about what you don’t know about the project rather than what you do know about it.
Step 3: Plan like Darth Sidious
If you are a Star Wars fan, you know what I am talking about. That guy had a plan for quite a few galaxies. He restored the power of the Sith and wiped out the Jedi order (almost), singlehandedly. This doesn’t mean that you have to join the Dark Side, but thinking way outside of the box will come in pretty handy.
One important thing to note is that you should always plan from “the worst case scenario” point of view. Actually, let’s make that “the worst ever possible case” scenario. Thinking the other way around will not do much good: if things go well, there is nothing to worry about, your team might not even need a project manager in this case.
But when things go wrong, this is where you need to step in and shine brighter than the sun during a dark day. Plan for budget cutting, sudden workload shortage (sickness, vacations, etc.) software problems, clients changing their mind all of a sudden and whatever else that comes to your mind. Make your team proud.
Step 4: Focus on the goal
Much like the evil emperor, you need to focus on the goals of your project. Whatever you do, has to lead to achieving them in the most effective way possible. Be careful and don’t get into much detail, otherwise you risk to lose yourself in an ocean of trouble you don’t want to be in.
Another important thing to remember is not to get self-satisfied too soon. Even when everything is going well, things might turn ugly pretty quickly if you are not careful. Be on a constant lookout for trouble. Don’t worry, you will have more than enough time to relax and enjoy your victory after the project is completed successfully.
Step 5: Get a backup plan
Plan A has a pretty damn high chance that it will go wrong at some point. That’s why you need plan B. There might even be times that you will be able to smell that plan A will fail, maybe because it is too optimistic. Surely, you don’t want to change plan A just because you think it will fail, but if it does (you knew it) you will be able to back it all up with plan B.
A good way to do this, is go in completely another direction. If plan A fails, there is a good chance that you looked at the matter from the wrong angle. In this case, try shifting the plan upside down and following another logical route. This will increase your chances of completing stuff successfully.
Step 6: Get a backup plan for your backup plan
Okay this is a joke, that’s what you guys thought right? Wrong, it’s not. It’s a necessity (okay maybe I am being a bit too paranoid). But let’s just think about this for a moment: In the worst case scenario, what happens when plan B fails? You need to be ready for it. Plan C doesn’t come into play all that much (maybe because you did so well preparing plan A and B), but sometimes it’s the only thing that will save you from total disaster.
Plus, you put so much time and effort into making plan A and B, and if those fail and you don’t know what to do next, you will regret not investing a bit more time into plan C. Even if it comes down to project cancellation, it has to be a part of the plan.
Get a backup plan for your double back up… okay, okay, I agree that’s enough -)
You get the point though. While knowing that there is a very good chance that your plan won’t go as planned (what a paradox), you can still make it work, because you prepared for everything, even for the failure. That’s one way to show who’s the boss here!