Your customers and team members depend on your project planning acumen to provide work of value—whether that’s a well-attended conference, a timely cybersecurity patch or a benefits package that attracts top personnel. Though planning is essential, what matters most to the customer is getting that promised value faster. In other words, project planning and project delivery deserve equal attention.
Lots of factors hamper faster delivery. According to findings of a 2018 global survey Planview conducted of 650 professionals, those reasons often fall into three broad categories:
- communication-related problems (an increase in decentralized, virtual teams),
- people-related challenges (untrained and uncertified project managers), and
- process-related issues (inefficient work collaboration and too many disparate tools).
The survey underscores the time lost due to collaboration inefficiencies, with almost 25% of respondents estimating that their teams waste more than 20 hours per month in unproductive work, leading to missed project deadlines (54%), decreased project quality (35%), and projects over budget (26%).
However, in an agile project management environment that employs the appropriate work management tool, you can lead your team in solving complex problems and exploring constant improvements so that value can be delivered not only when expected—but before the bell. The iterative nature of agile means that project delivery can always be nudged into a higher gear.
So, if you’re starting a project or hoping to make your current project more efficient, here are six tangible takeaways to streamline project planning, optimize project delivery, and outpace your competitors.
Step 1: Define a Clear Direction
Kicking off a project can be difficult—it’s not easy to look at the big picture, map out where you want to go, and decide how you want to get there. But it’s much harder to start on a journey without a clear direction.
No matter your project—to create a promotional campaign for an upcoming event, design an app that promotes health and wellness, or streamline inventory practices—first you must determine what success will look like, whether that’s more attendees, more awareness, or more cost savings. You’ll also want to think through potential bumps in the process, which team members will be in charge of what deliverables, and how the process will be rolled out to customers.
Next, you should review your goals with stakeholders. A goal of that review should be the managing of expectations—not overpromising or overselling the project’s end results.
Fortunately, the more you get into the practice of project planning, the easier—and more efficient—the process becomes. “As you develop the habit of planning, the pain associated with it usually decreases,” writes Elizabeth Grace Saunders in a September 2016 article for the Harvard Business Review. “And the more positive reinforcement you get only increases, the more you do it. … The payoff of going through the pain of planning can be huge in terms of increased productivity, decreased stress, and most of all intentional alignment with what’s most important.”
At your next kickoff meeting, try starting with a project planning canvas—a visualization tool that can help you and your teammates develop a clearer vision of a project’s scope, goals and deliverables. (Download Planview’s ebook, “Get Work Done Faster: 6 Steps to Accelerate Project Planning and Delivery,” for a template.)
Step 2: Plan—But Stay Flexible
We all know that the “best laid plans” can easily go awry. Project planning in an agile environment doesn’t rigidly adhere to a plan at the expense of big-picture objectives. Instead, it’s adaptable and responsive to inevitable changes, such as a shift in scope, a modification in the timeline, or a difference in market conditions.
“Under the changing conditions of a nascent or recently disrupted industry, a rigid plan can become a straitjacket for the flexibility and adaptation which is required to succeed,” write Martin Reeves and Rodolphe Charme di Carlo in a 2017 article for the Harvard Business Review. “To take a historical example, centrally planned economies in the Eastern Bloc left no space for adaptation to even the simplest types of change, like variation in demand. This inevitably created shortages and over-supply of goods.”
Agile’s iterative process allows you to regularly adjust your long-term plan while sticking to detailed plans that fall on a shorter timeline. It also keeps this question top of mind: In the long term, what path would best enable you to reach your goals?
Step 3: Prioritize the Work
Struggling with what work needs immediate attention and what work can wait? Ranking a project’s priorities can overwhelm even the most experienced project manager. The good news is that gaining proficiency in this crucial decision-making skill can speed along the delivery of value to customers and stakeholders. Here are ways to conquer the prioritization puzzle:
- Break down tasks into individual steps, then set deadlines for tangible deliverables. Methodically knocking down those steps will give your team momentum.
- Leverage the specific abilities of your teammates to make certain decisions. For instance, are you unclear of the required approvals for a value analysis project? Are you torn over which sales managers should be interviewed to craft a sales deck? Listen to the members of your interdisciplinary team—they are experts in their respective areas.
- Push back against false urgency. You might have to have clarifying conversations with stakeholders who have their own ideas on how your project should be conducted—and in what order tasks should be completed. A priority discussion with these stakeholders can make them feel more in control and less likely to derail you on the journey to your goal.
- Make the decision-making easier by using a four-quadrant time management grid that underscores the urgent and the important tasks. (Download Planview’s ebook, “Get Work Done Faster: 6 Steps to Accelerate Project Planning and Delivery,” for a sample grid.)
Step 4: Make the Work Visible
Who’s doing what, what’s the status, when will it be done? Manage your team’s workload by creating a visual inventory of all the tasks and who’s in charge of completing them. This methodical cataloging can help you more easily see obstructions such as scarce resources, which you can solve by reassigning tasks or perhaps narrowing the scope of the project.
Agile project management tools such as digital or physical Kanban boards can make work processes easily visible to all members of the team. Kanban boards show what tasks are still in the backlog, what’s in process, and what has moved to the “completed” pile.
(Download Planview’s ebook, “Get Work Done Faster: 6 Steps to Accelerate Project Planning and Delivery,” for a team exercise to help visualize your work and workflow.)
Step 5: Manage Your Team’s Workload
Your role as project manager is to disperse your project’s workload and resources appropriately. Putting that information in a simple, centralized platform will help you gauge the commitments and capacity of everyone on your team—not just on your project, but across all initiatives.
These online work management tools include dashboards, Kanban boards, and Gantt charts, which illustrate a project’s schedule. Not only do these tools save time and spark more efficient collaboration, but their visualization features put your objectives front and center. They also make it much easier to see where bottlenecks are occurring, and which teammates are free to take charge of a few additional tasks. This shared view of key deliverables, timelines, and progress will help you make workload-related decisions more quickly and objectively.
(Want to learn more about the benefits of Kanban boards? Download Planview’s “4 Benefits of Using Kanban for Milestone-Driven Work.”)
Step 6: Monitor Real-time Progress
Agile project management helps teams stay responsive by encouraging the constant monitoring of their project’s progress. Regular tracking with real-time dashboards, automated reports, Kanban boards, and other agile project management tools enable all team members to see status updates in seconds, building awareness of where they should focus their attention or pivot to different priorities.
Continuous monitoring of a project’s progress is aided by the development of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that “help the project manager turn the scope statement into measurable objectives,” according to Kristine A. Hayes Munson in an article for the Project Management Institute. Everyone on the team should be able to articulate the project’s KPIs clearly and succinctly so that all stakeholders can feel a sense of awareness and control.
The ability to articulate goals and see how quickly projects move to completion can not only signal how well your team is hitting all the milestones, but it can also point out roadblocks before they get too big to navigate.
Looking for more how-to guidance on your journey to improve project planning and delivery? Download the eBook to get practical information on each of the six steps in this blog post, as well as helpful tips and shareable, printable versions of the tools mentioned here.