Many years ago, I did not consider myself to be a project manager. Throughout my career, I have thought of myself as an entrepreneur; a consultant; a pharmaceutical representative; a research analyst and a volunteer. But the more I learned about project management, the more I realized I had been acting as a part-time project manager all along.
You may not think of yourself as a project manager either. But if you are involved in projects or initiatives or events, you are dabbling in project management. Like most people who moonlight as project managers, there is a good chance you have not received formal training to aid you.
Let’s face it, there is a lot of low-quality project management happening out there. And who can blame these people? After all, they’ve never thought of themselves as project managers. On that note, my colleagues and I are determined to help people learn these critical skills in our “Project Management Simplified” program.
Today, I want to share the most important step in project management, which is upfront planning. Despite its importance, most people breeze through this critical step. Rather, they jump right into projects, eager to generate results. They may receive positive reinforcement in the short term when the whole team is highly focused and enthusiastic. But, over time, they tend to experience delays, cost overruns, disengaged team members and lower quality work.
Thankfully, some focused upfront planning can set your project up for success.
Here are 11 reasons why investing time in upfront planning will pay off.
1. Ensure key steps happen at the right time
There is nothing worse than missing or delaying a key step and then scrambling to catch up. Upfront planning helps to mitigate a scattered approach and ensures you tackle the work in the right order.
2. Improve communication and better manage expectations
It is hard to pause in the middle of a fast-paced project to assess and communicate project status. Planning upfront, on the other hand, allows you to communicate in a very clear way about how long steps take, who is involved, what steps depend on the others, what the costs will be and what the risks are. This benefits team members, clients and any other stakeholders.
3. Create an appropriate meeting schedule
Planning helps to build a meeting schedule aligned to project progress. This avoids having the team come together too often or too infrequently. Rather, meetings are scheduled in conjunction with accomplishing specific chunks of work.
4. Propose a more realistic budget
Planning forces you to drill down into the specific activities that make up a project. This helps you generate a more realistic cost estimate and budget.
5. Improve client satisfaction
Clients value transparency and predictability when it comes to projects. The more time we dedicate to upfront planning, the fewer surprises we have throughout the project. Planning allows for us to control for the known factors so we are better positioned to deal with the unknowns. The fewer surprises we throw at clients, the better.
6.Think more strategically
Establishing a project plan provides you with a system to track all of the little details. Then you can focus on working the plan you’ve established. You also free up critical headspace for valuable strategic thinking.
7. Support team development
Project planning helps to train less experienced team members. Involving them in the planning provides them with valuable insight into how the project will unfold. As well, the more we plan, the less we scramble. This frees up time for more teachable moments.
8. Capture learning for future projects
The act of planning prompts us to build on past lessons. Without taking time to plan and organize, we inevitably end up recreating work that has already been done in the past. Planning also provides us with a record to help streamline future projects.
9. Focus on high-value activities
Planning helps to identify the most important tasks and other opportunities. At the same time, this reduces time and energy spent on tangents. Keeping the team focused on high-value activities is the best use of team resources.
10. Reduce risk
Planning allows us to consider the pitfalls we might encounter in the project. Thinking through these risks in the early stages enables us to avoid or mitigate these challenges. It also prompts us to alert others and manage expectations accordingly.
11. Gain a competitive advantage
Project planning absolutely gives you an edge. I have seen multiple people benefit from career advancement at an accelerated pace because of a project management approach. Your competitors and even your peers may not be investing in this critical step and this becomes a prime opportunity to differentiate yourself.
Overall, there are undeniable benefits to upfront project planning. So before your peers cajole you into diving right into the work, encourage them to pause and invest in this critical step.
How do you manage your projects? Do you agree that project planning is the most critical stage in a project? What else makes for a successful project? I would love to hear your thoughts. After all, practically all of us do double-duty as project managers.