The project planning process is the most crucial stage of any project because it sets the foundation for successful project execution. During this phase you will create a roadmap that will guide the project team throughout the project’s lifecycle.
The most important thing and the first thing you should do is define the project’s objectives. These should be outlined in the brief in a clear, concise way so that you can both understand and articulate the desired outcome and deliverables the project aims to achieve. If you are unclear on anything, the project should not kick off.
Once you are at an understanding of the goals and deliverables, you need to start outlining the project scope. This will define the boundaries of the project, including what will be included and what will be excluded. Said another way, you need to restate the project’s boundaries and deliverables, and define the project’s constraints. Let’s dig in here for a second.
OK, now that we know what we’re trying to achieve, we have our deliverables clearly itemized, and we’ve identified our constraints, it’s time to lay out a work breakdown structure, or a WBS. This is the action of breaking down your scope into smaller, manageable “work packages.” These packages break the scope down into tasks, subtasks, or activities, making it easier to plan, assign responsibilities, estimate resources and track progress.
Let’s look at an example. If your final deliverable is a logo, you might have a WBS that looks something like this:
Briefing > Inspiration > Concept Development > Sketching > Design > Refinements > Finalization
In this case, you can see that each work package is dependent on completion before moving on to the next one. This is called a dependency. For example you can’t move on to the Sketching phase if you haven’t completed the Concept Development phase. Understanding these dependencies is crucial for scheduling and sequencing activities in a logical and efficient manner. Now, within each work package listed above, you can create the tasks required to satisfy the scope of each work package. An example might look something like this:
Note: all four of these tasks are grouped under the Design work package. These are also sequenced where you can’t move on to the next task before completing the one prior.
Now that we have our tasks laid out, it’s time to estimate resources required – will you need a copywriter? Or an animator or editor? Your tasks should inform what disciplines you will need to complete your project. Additionally consider equipment, materials or anything else required to complete the project. An example of this might be a product shot that needs to be procured from your Product team.
Based on your WBS and resource estimates, it’s time to estimate the time needed to complete each task or activity. Consider each task. For example, designing 5-7 logos could take someone ~24 hours (that’s about 4 hours on average per logo). If you don’t know, you should consult with your Creative Director or with those doing the work (i.e. a designer or copywriter) to ensure you’re providing adequate time to complete each task.
All the above planning has now prepped us to create a project schedule. Using your WBS, resource estimates and time estimates, you can create a formal project schedule which outlines the start and end dates for each task, linked dependencies, and identified milestones and deadlines. Gantt charts are a great scheduling tool used to visualize this project timeline.
Tip: Consider other projects going on for your team. While the 24 hours scoped for the design task is technically three work days, your designer probably has other projects and project milestones she or he has to complete, so this 24 hours of work should be given more than three business days to complete.
Tip: Add – and I can’t stress this enough – padding to your project. Usually starting at the delivery date, add a week of padding (aka no work) and then start your workback schedule. When something goes awry, you can always pull from this bank of time without significantly derailing your project.
At this point you should already have your resources in mind and now you should be formally assigning roles and responsibilities to team members. Each task or activity is assigned to the appropriate individuals or teams, considering their skills, expertise, and availability. Clear communication of responsibilities helps ensure accountability and effective coordination. And you now have enough information to accurately fill out your RAM! More on that here.
Tip: Cross-reference your team’s OOO schedules and company holidays.
One of the last things you’ll need to assess are risks and mitigation strategies. By identifying potential risks and uncertainties that could impact project success you have the opportunity to get ahead of these issues, create contingency plans, and manage expectations. For example, remember that product shot that needs to be procured from your Product team? Perhaps this may not be ready until much later in your project timeline. Consider using an FPO (for placement only) image and then “drop in” the final later, before final delivery.
The last thing you’ll do is create a project plan document. These can take on many forms, but essentially, all the information gathered and created during this phase is consolidated into one place. This could be a standalone document or a ticket in your project management tool, but it will serve as a reference for the entire project team and stakeholders, provide a clear overview of the project’s objectives, scope, deliverables, schedule, resources and risks.
Congrats, you’ve now successfully planned your project.
The project planning phase is critical for setting a project up for success. A well-thought out and comprehensive plan increases the chances of achieving project objectives, minimizing risks, and delivering the desired outcomes within the allocated resources and timeframes. Happy planning!
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