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Planning in Project Management: 9 Critical Questions to Ask

Project management creates the framework for planning, managing, and measuring projects. It allows project managers and other executives to see how each project fits together within a portfolio to meet company goals and objectives. It also helps to evaluate high-level return on investment (ROI) and evaluate the impact of projects as they are changed or added.

Project management team discussing project planning questions

Planning in Project Management: Project Planning Questions to Ask Before Getting Started

As you get started with project planning, you need to answer some essential questions. Asking the right questions — and getting the answers to these questions — will help make everything run more smoothly.

Q: What are the goals of this project?

Perhaps the most important question of all is what’s the goal?  A firm understanding of why a project is being launched will help you keep your team on track. Without first defining what constitutes project success, it’s impossible to accurately measure performance.

Establishing clear metrics for how you will track performance is a key part of your project management plan. That requires clearly defining project objectives at project initiation.

Q: Who are the key stakeholders?

You also need to define the stakeholders that will evaluate the plan. For a successful project, key stakeholders must be aligned. It’s easy for projects to get off track when people have different goals. For example, a CFO might be focused on reducing labor costs while production managers are more interested in improving productivity. While there’s certainly a middle ground to make both stakeholders happy, these goals can be conflicting if not flushed out ahead of time.

Q: What are the timelines and key milestones?

Every project has a deadline, even if it’s flexible. It helps early on to identify the hard dates that are associated with a project. As you build your project execution plan, you need to evaluate capacity and resources against your due dates to make sure you can meet them. But first, you must establish when phases of the project need to be completed and whether there’s any wiggle room on dates.

This can be especially important if you have to shift resources due to changing priorities.

Whether you use a Gantt chart or formal project portfolio management software to track your timelines and deliverables, defining your milestones ahead of time will help your project team better stay on top of the project schedule.

Deadlines must be continuously tested to ensure they are realistic given the resources, capacity, and financing available.

Q:  What are the potential obstacles?

While you can’t predict every potential problem that might arise, you can certainly anticipate some potential obstacles and potential risks associated with your project based on your experience.

Right now, companies are dealing with extensive supply chain problems. During the onset of COVID-19, supply chains saw massive disruptions. While things settled down for a while, these disruptions have been increasing since the start of 2021. What happens if you can’t get the materials and supplies you need to meet your project timeline? Anticipating such a delay in getting materials can help you prepare contingency plans in advance.

If contingency plans are not identified, the entire project can get sidetracked. This can also create a ripple effect across multiple projects. When you start working on project management planning, it helps to brainstorm potential problems and how you might approach them.

Other potential obstacles might include:

  • Scope creep
  • Priority conflicts
  • Key employees leaving
  • Weather interruptions
  • Poorly-defined approval process
  • Financing

When PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) evaluated more than 10,000 projects, they found that only 2.5% of companies completed 100% of their project goals. The remaining 97.5% failed to meet their initial targets, deadlines, or budgets.

Anticipating potential disruptions that can derail a project helps you be better prepared to manage through them. While you can’t plan for every contingency, you do need to pay attention to the more common ones during your project planning process.

Project management scheduling concept with Gantt chart planning with tasks and milestones to monitor progress and deliverables with manager team in background working on computer in office

Q:  Where does this project fit within our portfolio priorities?

Most people involved in the execution of a project are focused on the delivery and completion of their project. However, most organizations today are juggling multiple projects with different deadlines. No matter how large a company is, there are finite limitations to resources and capacity, which can create natural conflicts between projects.

When you create a project plan and define the scope of the project, project managers must have a solid understanding of where each project fits into the company’s overarching priorities.

Q: How are we communicating?

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), more than half of all the dollars at risk in any project are due to ineffective communications.

“Organizations cannot execute strategic initiatives unless they can effectively communicate their strategic alignment and business benefits.” – Project Management Institute

Studies by PwC show that effective communications help team members stay on top of projects and can result in a 17% increase in project completion within budget.

So clearly, communication planning needs to be part of the project.

Defining how and what you will communicate at each project planning phase is essential to risk management. Status reports are good, but real-time data using project portfolio management software is a more effective way to increase visibility for key stakeholders. When team members know where projects are and have the information they need, everything happens more efficiently.

Q: How do we deal with scope creep and changes?

Scope creep happens in more than half of all projects. That’s a scary thought. Some 52% of all projects have additional deliverables, features, functions, or changes that go beyond the initial goals and objectives.

Poorly defined projects foster scope creep. That’s why it’s so important to bring together key stakeholders and agree on project goals and objectives. This gives project managers an objective way to evaluate any additional requests against project goals.

Scope creep can be nefarious in its ability to derail deadlines or cause cost overruns. Setting up guardrails at the beginning of projects to protect against unnecessary scope changes is imperative. The time to bring up concerns about project scope is before the project begins.

During project execution, there are often times where changes or additions are legitimate. Not everything can be anticipated ahead of time. Other times, team members involved in the execution realize there may be things that need additional attention. Project managers need an easy way to evaluate the importance of changes and the impact on project deliverables and deadlines. PMs also need to analyze the impact of scope creep on resources and capacity as it impacts the entire project portfolio.

When changes are identified or requested, there should be a formal process for requests. Require everyone, including the big boss, to document their change request with supporting information on the reason behind the request. Then, have a system for approval that requires PMs to sign off before anything can happen. Even if the requested changes are important, the project manager still needs to evaluate them against goals and objectives and how changes will impact the bigger picture.

Project management team updating planning schedule with Gantt chart on computer at the office to communicate on task progress and plan the next deliverables. Program manager and assistant discussing

Q; What resources and capacity are available for this project?

Managing resources and costs is a delicate balance. When plans include a list of available resources, it’s easier to balance workloads and increase productivity. Take an inventory of the available resources within your organization. Do you need to supplement the current resources?  Does this mean hiring more people, finding specialists, or engaging outside contractors to augment your team?

As you plan your project, resource management software can help define gaps in planning that may prevent you from delivering a project on time and within budget.

Strategic capacity planning helps you maximize utilization to avoid task clashes and bottlenecks that can slow you down.

Q: How do we better plan, manage, and track projects?

Project portfolio management can get complex quickly, especially as your project grows. You need an efficient way to juggle strategic capacity management and resource management with tight project controls.

You also need a centralized way to view your resources, capacity, and projects in one place to make it easy to evaluate the impact of each project versus the overall portfolio. That’s where project management software, such as Cora PPM, creates the framework for effective project management.

Choosing the right project management software is crucial to making everything work smoothly. Continuing to manage projects on spreadsheets, word documents, and emails is fine for very small organizations, but as companies increase in size and scope, projects become more complex and it becomes more difficult to manage resources.

You need project management software that:

  • Connects and streamlines disjointed processes
  • Creates a single source of truth for better decision-making
  • Provide data visualization so you always know whether you are moving in the right direction
  • Real-time data to reduce reporting time
  • Complete visibility at the portfolio and project level
  • Track governance and provide assurance

With a holistic view of project costs, data, project information, and their inter-dependencies, you can implement better project controls to keep things on track.

Want to learn more about Cora enterprise project and portfolio management? Contact the project planning experts at Cora today.