Do you hear groans when you ask people to help you put a project work plan together? Frequently planners dive straight into a planning tool, entering detailed tasks like crazy. No wonder planning has such a bad press!

A much more effective approach and more fun too, is to get everyone in a room, with a blank wall you can use, get a bunch of sticky notes and get busy throwing up ideas. Start with a hierarchical breakdown structure chart of the desired end product, connecting the sticky notes with lines.

Turning this on its side, even if you need to tilt your head, suggests the activities. So start a rough pert chart, still with sticky notes and lines. Keep it at a high level initially. Try a rough Gantt chart at a summary level, to see if the time-line makes sense. Play around with it, use pictures, have fun.

The group collaboration will be beneficial. It will generate and test ideas. Everyone will become more familiar with the project from the start. The value of this cannot be overemphasized for a good project manager. The session needs to be well facilitated, to ensure a useful high level project work plan is produced.

Adding the Detail

Once the high level project work plan has been produced, it can of course be plugged into the agreed project planning tool. Next step is to flesh it out with the detail.

A modular or component approach works well in a project context. Use the same method for the parts of the plan as you did for the high level. It was fun and beneficial, so why not repeat it at a lower level for each phase, project checklist, stage, work stream, team level or however you want to break the plan down.

Get a development team, for example into a room, just as you did for the senior stakeholders and get them to brainstorm their part of the plan in the same way. Going down the plan in this way ensures all the project people “buy” into the plan and the project, which is essential for success.

Gradually build up the detail of the project work plan.

A Peoples’ Plan

I am harping on about getting the people involved because if they see the project work plan as their plan, they are more likely to follow it. If you create a plan, even if based on your understanding of agreed requirements, it is your plan and people will find ways of ignoring it and “doing their own thing”.

Publish the Plan

Publishing the project work plan is just as important in project management as producing it. Make sure it is visible to everyone even remotely connected to the project. Use appropriate formats and levels of representation depending on the audience. People like to see plans, but in a format they find easy to read and digest.

For instance, don’t present the plan in what appears to be a “technical” format to a senior marketing manager. Take the time to get to know your audience and the type of information they are used to looking at and find beneficial. Otherwise, the project plan is likely to “disappear” because nobody is looking at it!

Publish amended versions of the plan to show progress or changes on a regular basis. Keep people up to date on how the project is going. Give them a peek at the plan!