My boss approached me about coming up with a project plan as our accounting department transitions to new software early next year. This is a new challenge for me, but one I’m ready to tackle. What advice do you have for me about setting up a project plan?
Ready to Plan in Raleigh, NC
Setting up a project plan? That’s terrific! I’m sure you’ll find it an exciting and interesting challenge. Since you seem new to the ground rules of project plans, I thought I’d start with the basics. Every great project plan begins with a solid foundation and works up from there.
Setting up a project plan means starting with goals. If you’ve studied basic goal setting, you probably know the crucial difference between how to set goals and how NOT to set goals. Once you’ve set those SMART goals and long-term targets, further break them down into quarterly goals and action plans. These bite-sized steps help you and your team set up a firm pathway to follow on your project plan.
Successful action plans require REAL action. The action happens mainly by developing lists of actionable items, identifying top priorities, coming up with a unique theme to drive engagement. To gauge success, you must determine how to measure the achievement of each goal through key performance indicators.
But the breakdown doesn’t stop there. You’ve got to keep moving forward, and the key to moving forward at this point in the game is to create a solid project plan. Identify the ground rules and drive your department toward successful implementation. Let’s start with the basics of setting up a project plan.
Ground Level: What IS a Project Plan?
If we break down the anatomy of a project, we see it has a defined beginning and completion time. Most projects entail a specific scope of work or activity within the parameters of budget and time constraints. Usually, there is a defined outcome or goal.
To accomplish ANY project efficiently, you’ll need to use a project plan. Now, a project plan isn’t necessarily a specialized or clearly defined document or outline. Project plans entail identifying key initiatives (itemized goals you’ve set for your company) and implementing ordered steps to help you achieve them. A project plan is created by making a list, putting together a procedure document, using project planning software, or working through brainstorming sessions with your team.
Also, project plans should outline the assignment of responsibility for the completion of a given project and a realistic due date. When referring to the project plan, your team should know who must do what to achieve the goal.
Last but not least, the project plan will identify the context of the budget for the specific project. Keep in mind, the budget may be rigid or flexible, and in the form of both time and money.
The Rules of the Road for Setting Up a Project Plan
Before you start developing real project plans, it’s helpful to review the ground rules of project planning.
Here are the basic rules of successful project planning:
- Avoid too many cooks in the kitchen. The number of employees assigned responsibility for a project may vary from 1 to 7, depending on the size of your company. Anything larger and you should consider breaking up the initiatives into smaller pieces.
- Assign and rely on project managers. If you don’t have people to help your team by serving as project managers, you may need to add another strategic objective. Hire people to fill the role (remember it’s all about having the right people on the bus).
- Cross-train and promote cross-functionality. Teams, and even team members themselves, should learn to become cross-functional whenever possible. Everyone who is impacted by the project should be involved. Enlist the help of SMEs. Get your IT team on board. Ask for input from your sales teams.
- Remember, outside perspectives are valuable. Involve those on the periphery, even if there is no direct impact. You gain insight from boots on the ground. For example, marketing might see a PR opportunity in IT development for customer service. Finance might find a way to gather data more effectively. Customer Service may share customer feedback to direct sales response for communications.
- Communicate roadblocks throughout the company. When you reach a barrier or stuck point, it’s time to ask EVERYONE for input. Offer people an opportunity to contribute and ask for feedback. The ideas you’ll hear will amaze you—many of which may have never crossed your mind! Maybe everyone won’t offer the right answer, but it will get the wheels turning on an alternative solution.
- Think of the outcomes for the whole company. Remember, your objective is to improve the business overall—not just your group or department. A great idea in Sales may look like a nightmare to Finance, and vice versa. We’ve all had the experience where someone comes up with a “great idea” that frustrates everyone else.
As a leader, I’ve always followed the rule, “You can’t make your job easier if it makes someone else’s job harder.” This rule helps people think more critically about the potential changes necessary and how to accomplish project objectives in different ways. Thinking outside the box is terrific, as long as you’re not putting someone else in a bind.
Plan with the Big Picture in Mind
A project manager needs to remember that you don’t want just to move work around; you want to streamline it throughout the organization. When you create your project plan and enlist the feedback of your team, reiterate to everyone to keep the guideline in mind.
Focus on the broader outcomes and long-term business goals for your company. How will these results look in two years? Five years? Ten years? How will this change affect customers and other key stakeholders? Will it impact other departments (like IT)? It’s important not to become too single-minded on your objective and miss the whole story.
Integrate project plans to support your goals. An individual plan shouldn’t conflict with another company-wide objective. Set consistent initiatives. For example, if the initiative includes the aim of closing more sales, it shouldn’t raise a credit risk the company isn’t willing to assume. However, it’s perfectly logical to say closing more sales means we need to adjust our risk evaluation and change pricing to accommodate it.
Setting the criteria for an acceptable sale—however profitable or risky—should be independent of the initiative to close more sales.
Project planning is a big responsibility, but it sounds like you’re up for the challenge. If you want to make changes in your department, you must implement a plan, before leaping. Remember, as Harvey Mackay said, “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”
Best of luck to you with setting up a project plan for your team!
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