So okay, Microsoft Project is a super flexible tool in helping you as a project manager define your project tasks, dependencies, and resources. Quite frankly, though, the workplan you define in MS Project is only as good as the thought that goes into it. Too often I've seen savvy MS Project users completely bungle a project because, while the tool was being used appropriately, the workplan didn't make sense to the project team and didn't reflect what really needed to be done. The team consistently expressed confusion about what needed to be done by when because the project workplan wasn't reflective of the actual work which needed to be done. Great exercise in using MS Project, but poor execution of the project. Blech.
Unclear project objective - The team was not in unison about the objective of the project and what "done" looked like.
Poor task groupings - Tasks were grouped illogically to where each grouping didn't represent a project deliverable or easily definable milestone.
Stale tasks - Tasks in the workplan did not accurately reflect the current work to be performed. As things changed on the project the workplan didn't keep up with the changes.
Maintaining the project workplan became the focus of the project - Rather than focusing on the end deliverable, focus was more on defining the "perfect project" in MS Project. All the features of MS Project were exquisitely used, but the project imploded nonetheless.
As project managers, we all need to ensure that the workplan is a tool we control, not something that controls us. Many younger project managers seek comfort in tools and make the assumption that if the tool
is used properly then the project will succeed. Avoid this mistake by taking the following steps:
Ensure the project objective is easily articulated and understood by the entire project team - Physically write out the project objective and what success looks like for the project. Ensure the team understands the project objective and has no question as to the success criteria. Unless you've got clarity on the objective don't bother going further; you'll just be wasting your time.
Work backwards - Starting with your end deliverable, work backwards to define what things need to be done in order to complete the deliverable. Clearly think in terms of deliverables which can easily be tracked as to completeness. Continue to ask yourself, "For this task to be done, I need to have ________."
Equate logical task groupings to project deliverables - As you break down project tasks try to equate sub-tasks to specific project deliverables. As you define your workplan continue to ask yourself, "How will I know this task is complete?" and "What does the deliverable look like?". By thinking in terms of deliverables you also better ensure that your tasks better reflect the work needing to be done.
Keep it current - As things change on your project make sure your workplan accurately reflects what needs to be performed. Including stale tasks in your workplan creates confusion on the project team and leads to wasted time and money on your project. Do remember to baseline your project prior to making changes so you can see a history of what has changed on the project.
Keep focused on the project objective - This almost sounds like a "no duh", but too many times project managers get so immersed in MS Project that they lose sight of why the project exists in the first place. Keep the project objective prominently displayed as a reminder to you and the project team as to why you're doing the project in the first place.
Your project workplan is the backbone of your project. Ensure the work is clearly articulated, easily understood, and succinctly addresses the project objective. Fail to do so and you'll waste a ton of time and
money learning a painful lesson.
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