Project planning: where do you start?

Planning to succeed requires a good plan!

The first step to make before starting a project is to work out an estimate of the effort required to get it completed. An efforts estimate gives you an number that represents the "amount" of time that a project will take to get it completed. Once that information is available, you will then face the next stage: project planning. Unlike the initial estimate, that is all about "how much work" is needed, planning is all about "how and when to carry out that work". You need a plan, which will allow you to take the project from zero, to something complete.

The basics of planning

There are several issues that needs to be kept in mind when dealing with project planning. These are not always obvious, even to the more experienced project manager.

So, as a project planner you have all these elements, and you need to find the right balance and the best combination in each project. In the end, you have three main variables:

Each variable will be influenced by the many factors (see above), and things get tricky. With the wave of collaboration software, the focus shifted from complicated software that tries to predict absolutely everything, to team communication and collaboration. In collaboration software, the scope might be defined by the "task lists", and "duration" by the setting of predetermined "milestones". Effort can then be decided accordingly, and -- more importantly -- can be measured by using timers.

Why collaboration software works

Collaboration software is different to project management, as it tends to work on the principle that the "time" variable will self-manage, and that tasks are not strictly assigned to a specific person, but are 1) Bounced back and forth amongst team members 2) Discussed upon and worked on in a collaborative way. Once you have your project estimate, in classic project management you then need to decide "who" and "when". In collaboration software, both of them become very fluid: "when" becomes "when it's done", and "who" becomes "whoever is able to do it".

This means that:

Collaboration software for bigger projects

Collaboration software tends to work best with smaller teams working on small to mid sized projects. The nature of it implies that its team members need to communicate a lot, and trust each other enough so that bouncing a task is something done within reason, and woth good motivations.

This doesn't mean that collaboration software cannot handle big projects. It just means that bigger projects need to be broken down into smaller ones, which can then be handled by the same team, or (even better) different teams. The bigger projects can then be seen as tasks for the bigger picture -- a big picture which turns itself into a collaborative project, where each person is responsible of a specific task (even though bouncing tasks around in this context isn't exactly ideal).

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