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The importance of planning in project management

When you begin a project, the temptation is to hit the ground running. It may be that you’re brimming with ideas, or perhaps the project is so similar to a previous one that you get going straight off the cuff. However, pressing the brakes and taking time to plan can be much more productive in the long term. Here, we look at why planning is paramount in project management.

An opportunity to collate ideas

Planning ahead of a project offers an opportunity to collect your thoughts, collate your ideas and put them in writing. This can help you later as it lets you consider a range of possibilities for each area of a project. Weighing up the pros and cons of your ideas at the planning stage means you can make well-informed decisions going forward.

What’s more, putting your ideas on paper will offer the opportunity to identify gaps in your knowledge and areas to research further. You may even delegate some of this research to an appropriate team member. Areas could include technical elements, or learning the industry better. Spending some time gaining knowledge at the planning stage is sure to be worthwhile in the long run.

Beyond your own ideas, it can be valuable to invite others’ opinions at the beginning of a project. Stakeholders, team members and clients alike may have ideas to input. This can be beneficial as they may well have an outlook you had not considered. There is always the risk that their viewpoints will conflict with one another, however, the decision making remains in your hands. It is often better to gather ideas early on, than have them cause bumps in the road further into the project.

Planning is a chance to reflect

Learn from the mistakes, failures or pitfalls of previous projects by taking the time to reflect. As the project manager, it is your responsibility to identify risks of project failures in advance. The sooner you spot the risks, the more time you have to mitigate or resolve them.

For example, if there was a lack of stakeholder interest last time, mitigate this with regular meetings to reiterate the importance of this project. Perhaps you’ve previously had communication issues amongst your team - integrate a communications plan this time around. This will minimise the risk of it being a pitfall further down the line. Or maybe you’ve had issues with scope creep in the past? Take steps to ensure there is good transparency this time around and that everyone is on the same page. A scope statement is ideal for ensuring this.

Reflection time during the planning stage offers you and the team a chance to change practices going forward in a new project. Learning from experience is one of the 7 Principles of the PRINCE2 model. The guidance is that project teams should take lessons from previous projects into account, and that a lessons log is kept updated for this purpose.

Drafting for success

A project manager’s role is to gain as much background information as possible to form comprehensive plans for a project going forward. This can avoid hiccups further down the line by preparing for and managing risk. An article published in 2012 on the PMI website found a positive correlation between planning and project success.

However, it was noted that this study had limitations and that it’s worthwhile considering how much planning is too much planning? Some of the literature studied suggested that over-planning came with dangers such as limiting creativity.

So what’s the alternative? There has been a recent rise in agile project management, which generally advocates less thorough planning and a more evolutionary process. It uses methodologies such as Kanban project management. Agile is said to be more efficient as it is less prescriptive and more flexible.

That doesn’t mean planning is less important with an agile approach. A plan should still be carefully considered, focusing on the timescale, budget, quality, use of resources and so on. It must still outline how targets will be achieved, but this should be with an adaptable draft, rather than a strict process. And initial project planning should be updated throughout the project.

Drafting a plan that allows for responsiveness is key for success. Take the time to reflect on past experiences to guide your processes. Also, collating ideas at the planning stage can be hugely beneficial. All round, effective planning at the beginning of a project is vitally important for achieving the best outcomes.