Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
The old ones are the best…????
So you nailed your Why and you have a mandate. But what happens next?
Well “Proper planning prevents *bleeeep* poor performance.” I mentioned in part 1 about the need to front-load your work with a good Why, to achieve great results.
It’s the same with your project.
If you don’t have a plan, how do you know what you’re going to do, when you’re going to do it and who’s going to do it? How do you know how long it’ll take or how much it’ll cost?
Drum roll please… I’d like to introduce you to our cutting-edge, never-seen-before, planning kit.
The Planning Kit
We all need a way of fathoming out big jobs and making it manageable or as the phrase goes:
How do you eat an elephant?In bite sized chunks.
Let’s look at the planning process in more detail.
Example – building a house
Q: What are the key tasks and activities you need for this dream home?
A: Well, I know I’ll need to get planning permission sorted. I’ve got to find contractors to do the work for, I need to dig the footings, I’ll need a roof, I need to design my kitchen etc.
There are a lot of ducks to line up for this dream home. You might also have some constraints to consider.
Maybe, Bob, your builder, isn’t free until October, but you know Bob’s the best man for the job.
You can’t control that. You’ll need to wait for him.
Likewise, you know that the planning cycle at your local council will take at least three months. Again, that’s a constraint, you can’t control that. It’s something that you need to build into your plans. You know that when the ready-mix concrete comes to fill in the footings, the footings will have to be dug and ready. Otherwise, that concrete’s going to set pretty quickly.
I just listed a load of jobs that need doing. That wasn’t the whole story; these jobs have a logical order.
The order of actions
You can’t put the roof on if the walls aren’t up yet.
You need to plaster the kitchen before you fit it and get the first-fix electrics done.
But what can you do? If you’re anything like me choosing colours and layout can take a while.
You could get the kitchen designed. You could choose your worktops and your tiles.
Not every task has to be done one after another. Use your time well.
1. Identify the key tasks and activities
- What are they tasks that need to be undertaken to make the change successful?
- How long will it take to implement the change i.e. what is the lead time?
- What constraints could there be?
2. Place the key tasks on the Plan
- In what order would you logically expect to undertake these tasks?
- Roughly how long do you expect each task to take? And when would it start? These give us our start and end milestones
- Are there any of the other tasks that are pre-requisites i.e., need to be done before another task? These are dependencies
- Are there key themes you can bundle tasks into i.e., all system related tasks – these are your workstreams.
Remember: A plan is only ever your best guess. It can and almost certainly will change.
What was the point in creating the plan then?
Because you must start somewhere. The real secret to delivering a great project is the Project Managers best mate, RAID (fear not, more to come shortly…)
Let’s take a closer look…
Here’s how the plan might look. Easy right?
Q: What if you don’t know what’s involved in building a house?
A: That’s ok, you’ve never built a house before. How would you know this stuff? You ask people who know more about it than you do: your mates, the builder, the trades people. You Google it, you read a book, you research it. Then you do your best to get the right heads around the table to work out what needs doing, when and roughly how long you can take.
It’s a team effort
You’ve worked together to figure it all out, your initial plan was your first, best effort. You won’t have thought of everything. You can’t know everything. Someone might change their mind. You might come across an unforeseen problem like a leaky drain when you’re digging your footings. It’s not all predictable.
“The better you handle the stuff that goes ‘off plan’, the more likely you are to deliver a great project.”
So, you’ve got a fantastic plan. Time to start actively managing that plan through to implementation.
Change will happen
You’ve spent a load of time making sure that your plan is right, you need to make as much time as you can managing off plan too.
What is certain in change is change itself. I guarantee stuff will come along and send you off track. And that’s where managing RAID comes in.
FACT: RAID is your biggest ally!
In life, I’m a very positive person but as a project manager, I am a bit of a doom goblin. That’s my job. I need to make sure that I capture everything that might go wrong in the plan that I’ve just created.
That’s why we identify risks and issues.
The difference between risks and issues
A risk is something hasn’t happened yet and that comes with a probability. Or a likelihood of that risk actually happening. And it also comes with an impact. What would it mean if it actually did happen?
That’s different to an issue because an issue has already happened. There’s no probability, it’s already history. There’s just an impact.
There’s been some exceptionally cold, frosty weather. That means that the brick work on the build has taken longer.
If I had identified that weather risk earlier and managed it a bit better, I might have talked to Bob about the impacts of bad weather before it happened. We could’ve agreed to put a bit of contingency time in the plan and managed expectations. I could have put some money aside because I know it’s going to take longer. Or, I might’ve just said, “Actually, Bob, if it happens, it’s fine. I accept that might have an impact to my project build.”
The key thing here is that at least I’m managing the risk. And by managing it, I’m stopping it from turning into an issue. If we talk about it upfront, at least there’s something that I could do about it to mitigate the impact of it happening.
A risk has not happened yet, an issue has happened.
And if I manage my risk really well, I prevent most of them becoming issues later down the line.
In life we make assumptions all the time without realising it. Projects are no different. Often in a very detailed, complex programme of change, you check all those assumptions that you’ve made. You’d validate them, make sure that they were right. But sometimes it’s just as easy to take that assumption and turn it into a risk and manage it that way.
So for example, in the house build, I might assume that the weather will be kind to me. Instead it’s better to turn that assumption in to a risk: ‘there is a risk that bad weather will slow down my build.’ That way I’ll face in to the what-if’s early on and manage it smarter.
Turn assumptions in to risks and manage them as you do you other risk and issues.
The last RAID item is D for Dependencies. Your electrician is dependent on you choosing the light fittings to do his job. If you don’t make those choices at the right time, she’s probably going to go onto another job and you could lose your slot time. A dependency is really just another milestone in your plan. It’s another thing that needs doing that perhaps you need someone else to do for you. That milestone could carry risks so you manage those as you would any other risks that someone is delivering that is likely to carry risks.
Another project acronym is RACI. RACI stands for Responsible Accountable Consulted and Informed. RACI is just a written list of who is doing what for you. It really is as simple as that. So just like you have teams and you help define roles in those teams, you try and get clear what it is that they need to do, you communicate that to everybody, a project is no different.
As a Project Manager, you can’t oversee the project AND do all the doing all the time.
It is, therefore, important that you identify who is doing what on your plan
- people are clear about what they need to do
- people are clear about what other people are doing
- no-one says … “oh, I thought Dave was doing that”
It’s important to write this down and play it back to the people involved in the form of the RACI.
You’re just defining who is doing what for you.
R – Responsible
So as an example, if you’re ‘R’ for Responsible, you’re assigned to do the work. That means that if you’re the Head Waiter and the dinner needs to be on the table at 5pm and it’s not there, until 6pm, you are responsible for its lateness! (It’s not about blame but you see where I’m going…)
A – Accountable
In the example above, if you’re the Head Butler, you might be accountable for dinner service overall but you’re not physically going to cook the dinner or bring it to the table yourself. But you are the name in the frame for making sure it comes together.
C – Consulted
Consulted would be someone that you just need to go and have a chat with…. It might be, “I’m going to make this change, is there anything that you need to tell me in order to land that successfully?” I’m going to consult with them and make sure that I’m clear on that.
I – Informed
Informed is ‘I just need to let someone know that I’m doing something.’ No one like surprises.
The key thing here: Agreeing all this up front, writing it down stops the awkward conversation further down the line that says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought someone else was doing that.” The time it takes to agree a RACI early on far outweighs the time spent arguing and delaying project progress later down the line.
You’ve got your mandate from your sponsor, you’ve got your amazing plan, you’re managing your risks and issues brilliantly and everyone knows what they’re doing.
Sorted. Then Charlie comes along with a better idea and he says,
“Actually, I want a gold-plated roof on that house.”
“Thanks, Charlie. That’s quite difficult to source. That might take me a little while and it’s going to be more expensive.”
This is where change control comes in. We don’t go through the whole change curve (anchor to intro section 1) again, where we get shock and denial and anger at this request that Charlie’s made.
It’s our job, as Project Manager, to lay out the ask, display what the impacts are, what it’ll cost and how much longer it’ll take. Then go and ask for a decision from the Sponsor.
Regardless of your opinion and whether a gold-plated roof is a good idea or not, we need to write it down and play it back to the Sponsor. If they agree, that will be the new way of your project. We record the change and we crack on. You’re unlikely to have a bunch of Charlies all the time in your project, but you are likely to be asked to make changes. Once the house starts to come to life folk will start to realise more about what they want and what they don’t want.
Governance and Reporting
Well, that was change control in a nutshell which is part of governance.
Folk can be allergic to the word governance. They tend to think it’s a heavy, bureaucratic annoyance. But really simply, this is just about your Sponsor and the person that you’re doing the work for and the person that’s holding the purse strings, knowing how things are going from the point that they gave you the mandate (anchor to intro section 1)
It’s just about making sure that you are telling them what the progress of the plan is. You might need some decisions from that person to help you move the project along. They’ll want to know about any risks and issues that threaten their plans. Usually, we only talk about anything that’s high-impacting or very likely to happen. We don’t normally sweat the small stuff with the Sponsor.
We’ll also talk about change control. You might’ve heard of things like steering group meetings. It’s good to have an agreed schedule of when and how often you’ll report back.
(more to come on this in the Manage section of Build)
Defining the outcome upfront
Closely aligned to the Why, this is key but often missed in change delivery. And that is…defining the outcome upfront using Critical Success Factors.
We’ve spent loads of time designing and building the house but how do we know when we’ve actually got the house that we set out to achieve at the very beginning?
It isn’t just about structure, it won’t just be about that gold roof that Charlie wanted. It’s also about how the taps work, does the toilet flush? Have we got the lights that we needed? Do your family say, “I absolutely love this house”? These are the things that we need to define right at the very beginning so that we know when we’ve got there, that we’ve done a good job, and these are called your critical success factors.
You’ve probably heard of SMART before: Specific Measured Achievable Realistic Timed. The more specific you can be about the outcome, the better. Define what it needs to look like so that you know that you’ve achieved it.
Communicate the change
One last thing before we implement is communicating the change. Some people will want to know what you’re doing so it’s important to define your communications plan. You don’t want to go to the time and effort of creating this amazing house without shouting it from the roof tops. You might want to tell your neighbours. They might need to give permission for the change. You might want to tell your extended family because you might want to just show off that you’ve got a nice new house.
Regardless, you need to share the information of the change that you’re making, with them.
- What is the purpose of the communication that you’re doing? Is it to show off? Is it a bit of a fanfare? Or is it to provide vital information that you need someone to do moving forward?
- Who is the audience? Generally, they fall into two camps: internal or external.
- How then do we actually communicate? The method in which we communicate is key. Are we going to do a big TV advertising thing to our external customers, or is it just simply an email to tell them what the change is
- Frequency and timing is also really important. We don’t want to tell people too soon in the journey because they might forget it by the time we do it. We also want to think about how many times we speak to somebody as well. We might need to land the message a number of times before we actually implement it. If you’ve been clear on your Why, this will help you. What is the change? Why are we making it? How are we going to make it? And who are we making it to?
Implement your changes
Here we are, finally you’re ready to implement your changes. This is where you get ready to launch it to the rest of the world. A key point here is this might just be phase one and generally, with a lot of the changes that we do, it’s good to always try and do some kind of pilot just to test that we’re doing the right thing before we go out to a bigger audience. In our house build, we might want to do the pool and the garden, second.
The key is, get it ready. Have we done everything that we need to do before we’re going to take it out to the outside world? Have we ticked everything off on that checklist? We want to get it out, we want to test it with a small audience first but then we measure how it’s going. So remember the critical success factors? Have we delivered with that small audience what we thought that we would? And if we haven’t, why haven’t we? Because that would help us get it tweaked and that will help us improve it, ready for us going again with a bigger audience.
It’s a wrap
Almost…there are just a couple of key things that often get forgotten, and probably one of the most important as well, is around closing down the piece of work. Making sure you revisit scope, your Why, what you set out to achieve. Have we done everything that our sponsor paid for and wanted us to do?
Get some feedback so it’s not just quantitative feedback for your critical success factors, it’s also qualitative. What did the family say? What did the customers say? What did the people that you work with say? Some of those will be lessons learnt. There’ll be some things that you could’ve done better. This is generally a little bit of a learning curve, delivering any change anyway.
You’ll definitely have some things that if you were going to do it again, you would do it differently. And the key thing is write them down so that next time you do it, you’ve already got those lessons learnt. You’re not doing them all over again.
Lastly you need to hand over the keys (metaphoric or real) to the owners. Make sure you transfer any knowledge, notes, key information to them and then lastly… celebrate. After all that hard work and effort, you deserve to celebrate your success, thank your team and get ready for the next big thing.
That is change in a nutshell.