Coming up with a project plan is a big undertaking. There can be a lot of moving parts to keep track of, and through it all, you’ve got to stay focused on the ultimate goal of getting to the finish line.
There are always plenty of nitty-gritty details to work out but take some time to consider the big picture. When you’re working on developing a project plan, keep in mind these five famous tips about planning and preparation.
1. “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” – Dwight Eisenhower
There are some choice quotes out there about the folly of making a rigid project plan, but emphasizing how plans can go wrong only tells half the story. Planning isn’t about trying to control future events – it’s a process of giving yourself a path to follow, matched with a clear picture of your destination. President Eisenhower knew that even though plans can go completely off the rails, it’s still important to make them.
One of the key characteristics of a good plan is flexibility. What does that mean, in project management terms?
- Plan, but expect the unexpected
- Formal project management processes are important, but…
- Project managers need the flexibility to deal with changing circumstances
- Scale activities up or down, to suit the actual needs of the project
Your project plan is not always going to happen just as you envision it. But once you’ve made a plan, you’ll have a framework for dealing with problems that come up, and a set of goals towards which to align your team. Having these is crucial to overcoming the difficulties and unexpected challenges any big project is undoubtedly going to encounter.
2. “Remember, teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” – Patrick Lencioni
You may be the team leader, but you’re still part of the team. If you want your team to trust your project plan, you can’t cultivate an air of being closed-off to feedback and criticism. Honesty, transparency, and open communication are key to building the kind of trust that motivates your team to put forth their best efforts to reach the end-goal.
Some leaders find transparency harder to offer their teams than clear communication, but transparency is hugely important. Hiding mistakes, intentions, and emotions from your team might protect your self-image, but the price you pay is a loss of trust in the project plan. It’s not worth it.
Here are a few quick tips for building team trust:
- Trust others for them to trust you. If you show your team you trust them, they’ll be more likely to trust you in return. You can show this by delegating important responsibilities to them rather than micromanaging for example.
- Be honest about financial results. Honesty about important information such as finances shows you trust your team to provide feedback and participate in finding solutions to any potential issues.
- Support your team’s aspirations. Ask your employees how they want to grow within your team and company. Demonstrating interest in their goals means they’ll trust you to care about their job satisfaction. Plus, employees who see themselves advancing are more likely to stay motivated.
- Admit mistakes. Your team will value the honesty, and be more motivated to do the same. Everyone appreciate a leader who doesn’t place the blame on others.
- Give credit where it’s due. Celebrate the individual victories of team members. Giving positive feedback is just as important as giving negative feedback for building trust, performance, and motivation.
3. “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” ― Henry Ford
A good project plan keeps everyone on the same page, and aligned on goals. If you clarify team goals and the steps to reach them, the rest will fall into place. Here are two quick tips for building alignment:
- Use a task-management tool: Managing your team and project via a tool like Trello or Asana means everyone on your team will have real-time updates on key info like project progress and task-handoff. No one wants to get lost in the depths of long email threads, so keep keep communication seamless with the proper tool instead.
- Plan sprints with your team: Meet once a week or every 2 weeks to prioritize tasks and discuss any discuss any potential roadblocks to task progress.
- Schedule 1-on-1 meetings: Team meetings are important, but at Unito we found that a weekly 1on1 between the manager and each employee can also go a long way. Such meetings give you a chance to discuss individual priorities and issues in more detail.
4. “Have a bias toward action – let’s see something happen now. You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step straight away.” – Indira Gandhi
The worst thing that can happen to a good project plan is when problems arise and everything stops moving forward. Sometimes, inability to move to the next steps of a plan becomes justification for not doing anything at all.
Don’t let your project stop when a blocker pops up. Figure out the steps needed to clear the path, and get back underway as soon as you can. Doing something is almost always better than doing nothing!
Here are some things to try:
- Use problem-solving techniques, like The 5 Whys
- Break stalled tasks down into smaller subtasks
- Practice blocker clustering, so the same problems don’t recur
5. A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.”
Like many great quotes you find on the internet, this one is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but it’s entirely possible he never said it. Nevertheless, there’s great advice in this one – you have to train your team and give them the proper tools to carry out their tasks as they execute your project plan.
What will ultimately get that tree down faster with less effort? A sharper blade. So what’s the sharp “axe blade” of your project? The right project management tools. Here’s a few to consider.
- GitHub: for code management and collaboration among programmers
- Asana: for facilitating team communication, time management, and task organization
- Wrike: a command center for project monitoring, scheduling, collaboration, and other workflow processes
- Jira: ideal for managing software development, tracking bugs and other issues
Great Plans Make Great Things Happen
Making a great project plan is never easy, but relying on a little wisdom from the past can help make the road to a solid, workable plan smoother. The tools, processes, and team members you pick to turn an idea into reality can only work effectively if they have a good plan to follow. Provide that plan for them, and you’ll be amazed at the results they can achieve.