The official project management plan is logically critical to the success of any effort and should be reflected in your project management tools. However, too many organizations keep their plans restricted or hidden for various reasons. This almost always sacrifices focus and productivity. The fifth insight that helped our projects exceed expectations was to have a very visible plan at every stage of planning and execution.
Always Have A Visible Plan – Even While Initially Planning
In The Official Plan: Four Project Management Plan Secrets we touched upon the notion of always having a current plan and making it available upon request. One other problem with official plans is they often come with a “waterfall process” mentality. The thinking goes that you must start your project with a 100% complete plan and then should never change except under dire conditions. You then go and execute the plan.
What we observed, and practiced, was that the plan was always a best effort, based upon what we know now. We would do the planning in bursts – usually over a few days or weeks. We then had a plan with everything we knew at that time. We would inevitably be asked when we would have a “final” plan. We would tell folks that we have a plan right now, and point to it on-line. We would get skepticism. They all knew that plans changed for months. We would tell them this is what we currently plan to do, and if it changes, we will update the plan and coordinate it with everyone. In a waterfall mentality environment this was heresy.
Interestingly enough, with a little persuasion, most folks would quickly buy into the notion to plan against a project plan that would change with time. What was novel was that we proposed this approach (which was politically risky) and then to back it up we kept our plan visible on-line and didn’t pretend there would be a final, unchanging, plan (except when the project itself was finished). We also backed up our current plan with hard work and with lots of collaboration so that the plan was as complete as it could be today. (However, see “Get The Project Schedule Right!” where admitting a plan was not 100% complete was another form of heresy.) We also made sure that any changes to the plan went through the appropriate approval process and were well coordinated.
The best project management tool we’ve found for such a plan was to have it as visible and available as possible. Too often, as plans are being made, the authors of plans like to keep them in their hip pocket as they try to develop and get support for them. We would hear the refrain “we’ll let you see the whole plan as soon as we finish it.” We found that keeping the plan on-line (as a draft and with an “as of” date) worked very well. We even had people upset because we published on-line, where everyone could see it, something that was not a complete and approved plan.
The problem with “as soon as we finish it” is that often there is no such thing as a finished plan. A real plan, being used by real people for real work, is rarely fixed. The basic assumptions may not change much – which is an important observation – but the details may change often. Communicating and coordinating these details is what was most important. When you don’t have your plan out front then the current or past plan is often carried out by everyone (see Yes Virginia, There Is A Project Management Plan). Yes, there is often a plan people are following even while you are trying to “finish” your plan. We would rather have them working against the latest version of our plan.
Publish The Plan For Everyone To See
Keeping the plan available and visible is especially critical in a large organization or one that is geographically dispersed. This is another key point. Too often we assume we know who it is that needs to know our plan. In fact, many people – many more than you would imagine – probably both want to know and need to know the plan.
Everyone works better, or can work better, knowing what it is the organization is doing, even in other departments. It may be a corollary to “Wisdom of the Crowds” but we’ve found it always useful to publish to as wide an audience as possible (including plan updates as they happen). It helps a lot when what is published is in fact the plan – which should go without saying, but I’ve seen “faux plans” published to everyone while the “real plan” was kept within a smaller group. Publishing the plan widely we’ve found is another source of increased productivity. We often found folks doing great things out in the corners of the organization, because they happen to know the plan and took the initiative because they had insights we as the planners did not have.
When we got people all on the same plan we’ve always seen productivity go up, milestones readily being met and more folks all pulling in the same direction. It still has to be a good plan, but the way it becomes good is in large part by making it visible to everyone during planning and during execution.