Planning risks and rewards

There is only one time when it is possible to state the cost and end date of a project with certainty: when it is complete. No matter how well supported it is, every assertion until then is an estimate. Even if a customer or supplier wishes to fix a price or the deadline is "of the essence", too much can change for anyone to treat the budget or timescale as anything more than a target. A target and a plan, however, are two very different things. A target is an objective or a goal. A plan should describe how that goal will be met.

Targets such as dates and budgetary figures are easy to set, and because they are, in the desire to meet them a project can become driven by urgency and economy rather than pragmatism and balance. All too often, projects fail because a target was mistaken for a plan.

In cultures where there is an urgency to see results, the benefits of planning are often forgotten until it is too late. In many instances plans are not produced because it is thought there is not enough time to think ahead. A former colleague of the author once ruminated that his organisation never appeared to have the time to plan, yet it always found enough time to do the project twice.

In organisations where projects are small or familiar, there is sometimes a feeling that there is no need to plan. The risk of the absence of a plan is not thought to be great enough to warrant creating one. But this does not recognise the high likelihood of change. Even small or simple projects or those similar to some undertaken previously can be affected by change. The time given to drawing up a plan is time used to understand how different the world is since a similar project was undertaken and how much more it may change during the life cycle of the next.

For many people, including some project managers, planning is either too difficult, too unpleasant or both. Not everyone has a natural aptitude for planning, nor does everyone enjoy it. But project managers must understand the importance and benefits of a plan if they are to fulfil their role competently.

A plan has many benefits. It can confirm whether or not the identified targets are achievable, and if they are not, the plan can provide the evidence for further debate. A plan can be used to express a clear and commonly understood approach to the project. It can help to identify its risks and to establish the factors on which success will depend.

A Monty Python sketch, "The 100 yards for people with no sense of direction" (in Silly Olympiad), in which the competitors run off in different directions, illustrates the way in which many projects are conducted. Time is invested in creating a plan, yet when approval is granted to move from initiation into the delivery stage, the plan is abandoned and chaos ensues. A plan has the added advantage of providing a means for keeping a project on track. In short, a well constructed plan is essential.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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