April 29, 2017


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Planning for Project Success

When looking at Project Planning, an important output of the planning process, is the Project Management Plan. This article will discuss what the Project Management Plan is, why fully understanding the Project Management Plan is essential to both project success and PMP Exam success,  what subsidiary plans and documents are, and once approved how changes are made to the Project Management Plan.

What is the Project Management Plan?

project planningAccording to the PMBOK® Guide, the Project Management Plan is “the document that describes how the project will be executed, monitored, and controlled.” Objectives of the Project Management Plan include documenting assumptions and decisions, communicating how the project will be executed, and documenting high level goals, costs, and milestones. The Project Management Plan is much more than a single document that is created and set aside. It integrates subsidiary plans and documents, it is created during the Planning Process Group and is expected to be updated as the project progresses. It is a living document.

Why the Project Management Plan is essential to both project success and PMP Exam success?

That is because it is the “go to” document used to answer questions during the project, and understanding what kinds of questions it may answer is vital to both project and PMP Exam success.

The Project Management Plan should be able to answer why a project was sponsored and what problem it is expected to resolve or what value the project is expected to add. It should describe the work to be performed and what the major deliverables or products are. It should identify who is involved in the project and what their responsibilities are and how they are organized. It should define how the work is to be executed in order to meet project objectives and how any changes will be monitored and controlled. If all of these are included in the Project Management Plan, then you will be able to answer the why, what, who, when, and how type questions that may arise during a project.

What are subsidiary plans and documents?

These are most often outputs of the other Planning Processes. For example, the Cost Management Plan is an output of the Plan Cost Management Process. It describes how project costs will be planned, structured, and controlled. It is considered a “subsidiary plan” to the overall Project Management Plan. Subsidiary plans are all of the “plan” outputs from the Planning Processes that include Scope Management, Requirements Management, Schedule Management, Quality Management, Process Improvement, Human Resource Management, Communications Management, Procurement Management, and Stakeholder Management. The subsidiary plans may be defined at a high or detailed level depending on the type of plan, the specific needs of the project and the requirements of the performing organization.

Subsidiary documents are the baselines developed as part of the Planning Processes. They include the schedule baseline, cost performance baseline, and scope baseline. Don’t forget that the scope baseline also includes the scope statement, WBS, and WBS dictionary.

How are changes made to the Project Management Plan?

Changes to the Project Management Plan are made through a Change Control System. This system consists of methods to request, review, and approve changes. When Requests are done, they are reviewed by the project manager, project sponsor, select set of stakeholders, or change control board. Once a change is approved the Project Management Plan is updated. Changes that are not requested through the Change Control System or approved should not be implemented. Including unapproved changes will let the project go out of control.

The Project Management Plan is a vast topic. There are many other facets such as the other inputs besides subsidiary plans and documents, how it is used to communicate how the project will be executed and controlled, the importance and usage of a Project Management Information System, and the formality of the Project Management Plan all of which are vital to know and understand for the PMP Exam.

A few additional aspects to keep in mind when studying the Project Management Plan are that it is typically a formal written document, that it guides project execution and control, that it is approved by the project stakeholders, and that the project cannot start until the Project Management Plan is approved.

In order to understand this topic completely read the Develop Project Management Plan section in the PMBOK® Guide. Then explain what a Project Management Plan is, how it is developed, and how it is changed to a friend who is not a project manager. Because if you can explain it clearly to them, then you fully understand it yourself; and use a Project Management Plan for your projects because practice makes perfect when it comes to the PMP Exam.

7 Steps to Becoming a Better Project Manager: Part 2

This is Part 2 of the series on: The 7 Steps to become a better Project Manager. Please read Part 1 before you read the remaining steps to help you be more successful as a project manager.

4.      Create a Project Plan

This refers to the Project Management Plan, and subsidiary plans, such as those for resources (project organisation), risk management, communications, cost, change management. etc.  It goes without saying that detailed work is required for estimates, budgets, schedules, quality and so forth.

5.      Execute the Project Plan

Once the plan is created and a baseline agreed upon, execute the plan. During the execution, measuring and controlling against the plan should be taking place. In my experience, I have found that weekly feedback and controlling against the plan work best. At your weekly meetings allow the team members to provide feedback about work done in the last week and agree on the work that should be done for the next week or two. Always make sure that they know what the due date for the next milestone is.

As a project manager you should always expect change and plan for change. Embrace change requests as long as they are shown to add value, and track them against the agreed baseline.

6.      Identify and manage Risks and Issues

A risk is an event that has the potential of impacting your project, either positively or negatively. An issue is something material that has occurred and must be handled. (An issue is sometimes referred to as a risk whose time has come) Each project will have unique risks (positive ones may be termed “opportunities”). Risks and issues should be recorded and strategies for them agreed upon and tracked. They should be actively and regularly discussed within the project team.  Done well, risks and issues management can aid a project manager enormously.

7.      Project communication as the golden thread

Communication is at the heart of all your activities as a project manager. Whether you are tracking risks and issues, creating your plan and its detailed sub-elements, reporting progress or running a governance group or anything else, your ability to communicate effectively with people at particular points in time is vital to your success. “One size does not fit all” is a useful maxim to consider for communication. It is a blend of art and science, and getting it right will play a large part in your success.

These are the seven steps that, if done well, can positively influence a project’s success. The steps are not all that is required, but mainly a focus on some key areas to keep an eye while managing your projects.

For more information about project management best practices, please also look at the following project management articles covering topics like Project communications management, stakeholder management, project closure and many more:

Project Management topics (please leave comments and let me know what you think)

About the author: Linky Van Der Merwe is a Project Management Consultant and an IT Project Manager with 16 years IT industry experience and 12 years Project Management experience.

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