A Unified Model for Describing a Project Plan
This paper proposes a unifying model for project plans. A distinction will be made between the outputs of project planning and the project plan itself. The significance of this distinction is to allow projects of all types to be described at a high level, in a common language, regardless of the type of analysis used to develop the plan.
How do you describe a project plan to someone who is new to the profession of project management? Ask a dozen practicing project managers (PMs) this question, and they will each give you a different definition, based on their unique analytical approaches to project work. When asked to describe a plan, they will respond with descriptions of their planning outputs or actions.
Are all project plans different or are they the same? Are different things being planned for each project or are the same things being planned?
Is there a way to describe projects that is independent of the analyst? Can a plan be considered as something more general (or more specific, depending on how you perceive it) than the planning that supports it?
In this paper I will propose a unifying model for project plans. A distinction will be made between the outputs of project planning and the project plan itself. The significance of this distinction is to allow projects of all types to be described at a high level, in a common language, regardless of the type of analysis used to develop the plan.
This unified definition of a project plan helps PMs communicate strategy and objectives to stakeholders by separating the big picture from the myriad details. It allows discussion to take place at a strategic level, rather than getting bogged down by analytical details.
What Is a Project Plan?
Plans of all kinds, from vacations to construction projects, are predictions of the future. Plans relate to the efforts that will be made to achieve future outcomes. They are forecasts of the effort and events that are required to achieve the desired outcomes, given in terms of what needs to be done, by whom, when, and how.
Plans vary from one another in the types of activities involved and the degree of detail included in the analysis. They also vary in the uncertainty of the predictions of outcomes, because of the skill and knowledge of the analysts and the complexity of achieving the outcomes of the plan.
A project's plan is its execution strategy. The plan is the documented description of a chosen execution strategy for the project, written in terms of the work that will be done, how, when, and at what cost.
What Is Planning?
Planning is the act of analysis and prediction. It is through planning that an execution strategy is developed.
The term planning refers to the activities and efforts undertaken by the project manager and project team that lead up to the development of an execution strategy for the project. Planning is the act of developing and maintaining a strategy for executing a project.
What Are the Objectives of Planning?
The objective of planning is the development of an execution strategy that balances the considerations of the work that must be accomplished (scope), the schedule for its accomplishment (time), the resources that will be consumed (cost), and the uncertainty (risk) involved in the predictions of scope, time, and cost.
Planning produces plans or planning documents of various sorts, such as schedule diagrams, work flow studies, cost breakdowns, and spreadsheets of resource utilization, to name but a few of the possibilities.
What Is the Outcome of Planning?
The outcome of planning is a plan (a documented execution strategy) that is supported by myriad of planning documents.
It is through planning that confidence is developed in the predictions contained in a project's plan. The skill, expertise and rigor of analysis determine the uncertainty (risk) that remains with regards to the plan's predicted outcomes.
Project Plan Example
Below is an example of the project plan for the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces during World War II (an event commonly referred to as D-Day). (History buffs: please do not be offended if details have been missed or understated. I am merely trying to illustrate a point.)
You will notice that there are no planning details in this plan. A plan is complete without them. The plan provides an overview of the high-level strategy. Additional details are not necessary in order for the project's execution strategy to be understood by a wide audience.
The D-Day project plan illustrates the critical role of what I am referring to as a "project plan." This role is the illustration of an execution strategy at a high level; one that allows for an informed discussion about objectives and outcomes rather than efforts and actions.