Project Planning

13.06.2017 |

Episode #7 of the course Introduction to Project Management by John M. Smith


Welcome to the seventh lesson of the course. Today, we will learning about project planning.


Does Every Project Need a Plan?

My father used to flip houses. He was an inveterate non-planner. This led to a lot of “winging it.” To him, that meant figuring it out on the fly. To us, his sons, it meant late nights, extra trips to the lumber yard, and trying to keep up.

The heart of Project Management is to never wing it. Management means to have control, so Project Management by extension means having control over the project. Having a thorough plan is essential to meeting goals in terms of deliverables, schedule, and budget. Searching for resources at (or after) the last minute leads to unhappy customers, inflation of costs, and wasted resources.


Project Purpose

Building a plan requires defining the project’s purpose. What problem does it solve? What need does it fulfill? How does it add value?

A mold problem might entail a simple project, like “Clean mold.” But analyzing the purpose of the project can change what the perceived project deliverables are and where to start. Treating a symptom (outcome) instead of the cause (deficiency) means the project will need to be repeated, lessening its effectiveness (value-added).


The 5 Whys

“The 5 Whys” is a qualitative root-cause analysis. Starting with the problem, repeatedly ask, “Why?” The number is arbitrary; repeat as needed to find where addressing that stage of the problem fits best in terms of long-term-value-added versus cost-to-perform.

Problem: Mold

1. Why? Excess moisture.

2. Why? Excess humidity.

3. Why? Lack of ventilation.

Instead of “Clean mold,” our analysis has led us to project, “Add ventilation.” Continuing to ask “Why?” may lead to important factors of consideration and how they affect project requirements. Asking “Why” leads to the “What.” The project is the “How.”



The plan starts with the project’s purpose and defines the deliverables. These are the bookends. The scope represents the work to get from purpose to deliverable. It defines what the project encases, where it starts and stops, and the steps required. It also shows what is not included or is provided by others. This is the framework around which the Project Manager builds a team, creates a schedule, and assigns tasks.

The scope is often submitted to the customer up front and requires approval before work is performed. At times, a scope statement needs to be written up prior to initiation. It includes the project’s purpose and a scope outline highlighting resources, schedule, budget, and return-on-investment (ROI). This is known as a Project Charter and is one way that projects—particularly internal projects—get initiated.


Contingency Planning and Risk Management

A contingency is something that might happen. It is important to account for contingencies to reduce risk. Some contingencies might just need a backup plan, while others may need to be budgeted for.

Weighing the possibility of contingencies and putting protections in place for them is part of Risk Management. Often more of an art than a science, it requires thorough knowledge of the industry, environment, customer, and regulations. Businesses assign a risk factor to determine how much extra money is required for contingencies or whether they want to take on a project at all.


Scope Creep

Having a thorough and detailed list of contingencies and defining who is (inclusion) and isn’t (exclusion) responsible for them provides legal protection from costs associated with a phenomenon known as “scope creep.” Scope creep is the tendency that projects have of slowly adding to their scope as more needs are uncovered during the project’s life cycle, such as how a mold removal project can turn into a full bathroom remodel.


All Together Now

The basic components of project planning include defining the objective (the why) of the project (the what), assembling the project scope (the how), and including protections for contingencies (the what-if). In our following lessons, we will look in more detail at different parts of the plan and the tools used to manage them, starting with the Work Breakdown Structure.


Recommended reading

How to Create a Project Communication Plan

How to Define the Scope of a Project


Recommended book

Strategic Project Management Made Simple: Practical Tools for Leaders and Teams by Terry Schmidt


Share with friends