Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Do you really need a plan?

This question comes up at workshops and in casual conversations about digitization. Is a plan really necessary? Can't we just "go" with what we've got in our heads on this project? We swamped -- how can we make time to do a plan?

There is the old saying -- plan your work and work your plan.

There is also the quote (attributed to Yogi Berra):
You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going because you might not get there. (My apologies to those outside of the U.S. who are unfamiliar with Yogi Berra and his unusual way of wording things.)
A plan tell you where you want to go with your project and the steps you need to take to get there. That is the essence of a digitization plan. However, in order to know where you are going, you must know where you are now, so the plan (the document) might also include information gathered on your current state as well as information you will need in order to implement a plan. With that information, the plan not only helps you plan your work, but ensures that the completed project will be want you want.

A plan also ensures that everyone on the project agrees on what the project is! You might think that your team agrees on what you are doing, but you really won't know for sure until you place something in front of them -- in writing -- that they have to approve (like a plan). When you say "we're implementing this plan -- nothing more, nothing less" then the hidden agendas and hidden tasks will start to emerge. (The "joy" of every project manager is having an approved plan, then -- in the middle of the project -- hearing of a critical task that was known by some, but not placed into the plan. The only way to avoid this is emphatically state upfront to your team that you will only fund and do what is in the plan.)

Yes, a plan takes time. There is no avoiding that. You can divide the work so that many people (a team) work on the plan. As another saying goes, many hands make light work. However, there should be one person whose responsibility it is to ensure that the plan is completed. That person will need to ensure that the other members of the team make their contributions to the plan. The person responsible will also need to ensure that the plan contains everything it needs and that it is approved by the team and by management.

How long will it take to write your plan? That varies by project. If you have all the information you need already, you might be able to write a plan in a few days. If you need to do research, then it may take longer. Some organizations combine their planning activity with training, awareness building, the gathering/adoption of standards and guidelines, and other tasks, which means that their planning process might take a year. I have also heard of projects that took even longer to create their plans. No matter how much time you spend on writing it, that time -- that activity -- will be valuable.

Finally, a plan is not cast in concrete. As the plan is being implemented, it may need to be changed with new or updated information. For example, your timeline might change as you gain experience during the implementation. You would then update your plan with the new timeline information. (Be sure to keep track of those changes, so you'll be able to know what the plan was originally and how it did change over time.)

Not convinced that you need a plan? Here is one last quote (just created): Your project exists if it has a plan.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I went from a job with a small company where there was never any hint of project management, to a much larger company, where there is an emphasis on project management. It does take some time out of your day, but an hour meeting once a week helps to solidify what the status is, and any critical objects coming up that may delay the end deliverable. A project timeline is invaluable to making sure the project gets delivered on time, within budget, and performing as initially proposed. If the task is significant break the main team down to sub groups who also have weekly meetings.