A number of years ago my husband and I undertook a small powder room remodel. On the weekend morning we had set aside for this project I showed up in the powder room with a notebook and pen, whereas my husband appeared with a paint can and paint roller. Obviously, we were at very different points in this project. I was preparing to plan our strategy, organize and document our tasks and create a small project plan to guide us and my husband was “gonna” paint. My husband wanted to start the project, get to the ‘doing’ part instead of just the ‘talking’ part. I can’t really fault the sentiment. Sometimes the only way to get a project started is to jump into it. It is a sentiment shared by many in the project management world. Those who ascribe to the philosophy of limited planning feel that over-planning can lead to project failure and quash creativity. I argue that no planning can have an equally deleterious effect on a project. No planning means you can easily go over budget, miss deadlines, miss important tasks or task relationships. As with many things there is probably a happy medium that all project managers need to discover to find the right amount of planning.
The amount of planning needed varies depending on the type of project; some need to be more granular because of the project or the number of people involved or because of the inexperience of the people involved. If I list an “SEO” task in a website development project, this may not have enough detail for someone new to web development. An experienced developer can list off the SEO specific tasks easily. Despite the variances in projects that are some common project planning duties that can help a project go more smoothly and can help you decide how much detail you need in your project.
Every project has some initial decisions that have to be considered before determining how much planning needs to take place or where those specific details should be placed.
The first decision is to understand what is most important to the stakeholders; time, budget or quality? If time is most important than the project has to have enough detail to account for all the time that will go into the project. If budget is most important then you only need enough detail to make sure you can do this under budget.
The second key piece of information that can help you plan your project and can also detail the amount planning necessary is risk. What are the risks and how will you handle them? If you know the risks it can help determine how much planning needs to be done to address them. In the case of the bathroom remodel the biggest risk was getting paint on the cat. You can’t avoid that risk... it’s a cat. Since there was no way to plan a way out of that risk, I can ignore it in the plan.
Our third determinant is experience. If you have an inexperienced project team then you will need more detail in your project plan. If you have a very experienced team of developers then trying to list out every task is only going to annoy everyone and may very well stifle creativity as the developers will be more concerned sticking to your too detailed plan and not pursue ideas that may enhance the development.
The Beauty of Compromise
For our bathroom remodel we compromised, less because of any project management philosophy, but mostly for the sake of a peaceful remodeling experience and continued happy marriage. I documented the other tasks that needed to be done, estimated time to do these tasks and my husband put some paint on the walls.
For additional reference there here are some of the recent studies on planning.
By the way, the cat ended up wet and angry after rubbing up against the wet paint.