28 October, 2019

Project Planning Process: Navigate the Many Steps You Need

The project planning process can be daunting to a new project manager. And, indeed, to one with experience too. There are so many components, and steps to take.

So, in this guide, my mission is to simplify the project planning process as much as possible… without over-simplifying it.

And I have a second mission too. By clarifying how the process, I want to help you decide which project planning elements will be important for your next project, and which you can give less priority.

Project Planning Map

To help us navigate the project planning process, I have produced a map.

Project Planning Process: Schematic Flow ChartProject Planning Process: Schematic Flow Chart
Project Planning Process: Schematic Flow Chart
Click on the image to see it full-width in your browser

You can also download a PDF version of our Project Planning Process map.

Alongside this map, it can be helpful to use other work templates for project planning that can make your work planning a smoother process.

As we work through the project planning process, we will also check off the Knowledge Areas (KA’s) from the 6th Edition of the PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide). This won’t be in the same order as they appear in the PMBOK Guide. We’ll work from left to right across our map. But it will show how tis approach does cover all of the PMBOK KAs.

Project Planning Process: Navigate the Many Steps You Need

The Project Planning Stages

I’ll end this article by summarising how different guides to planned project management handle this process in their sourcebooks…

The Project Planning Guides

We will look at Project Planning in:

Before We Start…

I am aware that some people prefer to watch, rather than read. So, here is a video I made. Necessarily, it does not cover everything in this article. But it will give you a good overview of the principal points.

Project Integration Management – Overview of the Project Planning Process (PMBOK Guide Chapter 4)

The overview of the process is a part of what the PMBOK Guide refers to a Project Integration Management. This is where you will develop your integrated project plan, bringing together all of the elements we will look at below.

We have a comprehensive article on Project Integration Management, if you need more information.

For a small project, you’ll create a single comprehensive document that sets out your full project plan. For larger projects, the reality is more likely to be an interconnected suite of project planning documents.

But, the overview of that comprehensive document or suite of documents is what I’m representing with our project planning map:

Project Planning Process: Schematic Flow ChartProject Planning Process: Schematic Flow Chart
Project Planning Process: Schematic Flow Chart
Click on the image to see it full-width in your browser

Project Definition / Project Charter

The main starting point for your project planning process is a solid definition for your project. The definition needs to state what your project is, and what it is not. We document this in a ‘Project Definition Statement’, or a ‘Project Charter’.

The main elements of your project definition are your project’s:

You can click on each of the elements to see a short video that explains the term.

Project Scope Management

Project Scope Management (PMBOK Guide Chapter 5)

By the end of your Definition Stage, you should have a good idea of the scope of your project, in terms of both:

  • work to do (tasks, or activities)
  • deliverables, or products, to create

In the project planning stage, you will need to put precision on both of these aspects of scope. And the tool we use for that is the Work Breakdown Structure, WBS.

Two Approaches

As you will learn from the video above, there are two approaches to creating a WBS, dependent largely on which side of the Atlantic you are from. In simple terms:

  • In the UK and Europe…
    We use a WBS to decompose a project into activities.
    This means we can create a scope of work to which we will later assign resources and budget. From the activities, we can develop a Product Breakdown Structure (PBS) to articulate the project deliverables.
    We can create a schedule of deliverables from our PBS.
  • In the US…
    We use a WBS to decompose the project into products and their components.
    This means we then need to infer the tasks we’ll need to carry out to create each component, before assigning resources and budget.
    We can create a schedule of deliverables directly from this form of WBS.

We have a full guide to a Project Scope Management Plan, that I recommend, if you want to know more about this topic.

Project Quality Management

Project Quality Management (PMBOK Guide Chapter 8)

You could equally view the detailed specifications for your deliverables as part of your scope statement or part of your quality statement. Certainly designing-in the quality standards you need to meet is a part of quality management.

Your quality plan for the delivery of your project will cover two principal disciplines:

  1. Quality Assurance (QA)
    This is the process that should ensure that you deliver products that meet the specifications and criteria of your Quality Design process. Put simply, QA aims to prevent quality failings.
  2. Quality Control (QC)
    This process then samples deliverables retrospectively, to evaluate whether they meet your quality standards and, if they do not, places them into remediation. Put simply, QC aims to spot and remedy quality failings.

For more about all aspects of project quality management, do check out our article: ‘Project Quality Management: All You Need to Know‘.

Project Procurement Management

Project Procurement Management (PMBOK Guide Chapter 12)

When you have your WBS, you can create a resource schedule. This is a document that covers all of the (non-people) resources you will need:

  • Offices, factories, workshops, warehouses, and other real-estate
  • Assets, plant, and other capital equipment
  • Tools, communications, IT, and other non-capital equipment
  • Materials and other consumables

Some of this will be available to you from within your organization. Other elements will not, so you will need to buy them. This means developing a procurement plan, and may involve creating tender process to secure best value. To learn more about this aspect of resource management, you may want to read our full-length article: ‘Project Resource Management: A Comprehensive Guide [Part 1]‘.

As you’d expect, we have a comprehensive guide: ”Project Procurement Management [All the basics you need to know].

Project Cost Management

Project Cost Management (PMBOK Guide Chapter 7)

There are a number of ways to create a project budget. But none is more robust than creating a Cost Breakdown Structure (CBS) from your WBS. This will allow you to estimate costs for individual tasks (if you are East of the Atlantic) or for product components (if you are to the West). A CBS also allows you to apply contingency to your budget at whatever level you choose.

Some of your estimates will also flow from your resources schedule and project procurement plan.

From this, you can create your project budget.

If you want to know more about project cost management, take a look at our article: ‘Project Cost Management – The Essential Things to Know and Do‘.

Project Schedule Management

Project Schedule Management (PMBOK Guide Chapter 6)

Project Managers often see building a project schedule as the core of the project planning process.

The starting point is the tasks you need to accomplish. And you’ll either take these directly from your WBS (UK and Europe) or derive them from it (US). For each task, you will do two things:

  1. Consider its logical links to other tasks. These are called dependencies (click for a short video)
  2. Estimate the duration of the task (based on an assumption of the resources you have available), or specify the duration you want it to take (and later allocate the resources you’ll need, to achieve that)

Often, we also have a list or chart of milestones that informs your project schedule. Sometimes we start from this, rather than from the WBS.

Netwrk Chart and Gantt Chart

There are two primary ways that we represent a project schedule. They are like twins: each contains the same information, though the express them in a slightly different way.

Network Chart

A network chart represents each activity as a fixed box or circle (let’s ignore for a moment the ‘activity on a line’ convention). We then connect up the tasks with lines, in the logical sequence that we need to conduct them in.

There are two main conventions or creating a formal network chart, and the links below will take you to explanatory videos:

  1. Critical Path Method (CPM)
  2. Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT)

Gantt Chart

Gantt Charts are more common – particularly in smaller, less complex projects. These chart activities (from your WBS, if you are in the UK or Europe) against time. Each activity is represented by a bar, and the length of the bar represents the planned duration of the task.

For more on creating a Project Schedule, I recommend our article: ‘Project Scheduling: Your Essential Guide‘.

Project Stakeholder Management

Project Stakeholder Management (PMBOK Guide Chapter 13)

An important part of your project plan is your plan for engaging with your stakeholders. It is, after all, they who will determine the success (or failure) of your project.

Stakeholder Engagement - Mike Clayton

Having identified your stakeholders, and then analyzed them, the third step of the stakeholder engagement process is to plan how you will engage with them. You will base this on a range of available stakeholder engagement strategies. Do take a look at our article, ‘How to Plan Your Stakeholder Engagement Campaign‘.

Your stakeholder engagement plan, necessarily, leads to drawing up your project communications plan…

Project Communications Management

Project Communications Management (PMBOK Guide Chapter 10)

This part of your project planning process looks at how you plan to communicate with stakeholders. These include:

  • Sponsor and governance bodies
  • Project Team and collaborators
  • Customers, clients, and users
  • Any other internal or external stakeholders.

In your communications plan, you’ll want to consider:

  • Who you need to communicate with
  • What messages you need to communicate
  • The best media to use
  • What ‘tone of voice’ is most appropriate
  • When to make each communication
  • Who will take responsibility for each message
  • How you will evaluate the effectiveness of each message
Project Resource Management

Project Resource Management (PMBOK Guide Chapter 9)

We’ve talked earlier about non-people resources. Here, I want to focus on the people you need, to help you deliver your project: your Human Resources. And, yet again, we have a comprehensive guide: ‘Project Human Resource Management: A Complete Primer‘. It is a companion to our article on other resources: ‘Project Resource Management: A Comprehensive Guide [Part 1]‘.

You may already have allocated resources to each task (UK/Europe) or each product/component (US) of your Work Breakdown Structure, to create an Organizational Breakdown Structure (OBS). If not, now’s a good time to consider doing so.

This will help you to assign resources to the activities in our network or Gantt chart. Once you have done that, you may need to carry out Resource Levelling and resource Smoothing. I explain these terms in the short video, below.

Resource Matrices

One of the most helpful (and also easiest) ways to represent your resources is using some form of resource matrix. The two most common formats are:

  1. RACI chart (more common in the US)
  2. Linear Responsibility Chart (LRC), which is more popular in the UK

Both are equally good but, as I explain in the video linked above to the LRC, I think the LRC is a little it better. Please also note that many people now refer to the LRC as a RACI Chart!

Project Risk Management

Project Risk Management (PMBOK Guide Chapter 11)

Strictly speaking, risk management is not a part of the project planning process. Risk management is a project control. But, building a risk register and planning how you will handle risks is a vital activity that you do need to plan into your project. Here’s an introductory video to Risk Management…

Once again, details on risk management are outside the scope of this article, but we have plenty of resources for you:

Project Planning in the PMI’s PMBOK Guide

The Project Management Institute‘s (MI’s) PMBOK Guide 6th Edition is organized around two frameworks:

  1. 10 Knowledge Areas
  2. 5 Process Groups

There are 49 project management processes, split among the KAs and Process Groups, as illustrated by the table below.

The PMBOK 6th Ed Process Groups
The PMBOK 6th Ed Process Groups. There is a full size version in our PMP Exam Prep Guide

If you are studying for the PMI’s CAPM or PMP exams, you’ll need to learn all of these. But there is no merit in my plagiarizing the PMBOK guide and reproducing all that detail here!

The Planning Process Group

As you can see from the table, the Planning Process group is by far the biggest, with 24 project planning processes, across every one of the 10 Knowledge Areas. That’s the way I have organized this article.

Project Planning in the APMBoK

The Association for Project Management‘s (APM’s) Body of Knowledge, the APMBoK, is more concise than its American cousin. Chapter 4 (of 4) covers Planning and Managing Deployment and much of the project planning process is covered in sections 4.1 and 4.2 (with the overarching Risk Management, appropriately, in section 4.3 ‘Controlling Deployment’). Here’s how the APMBoK organizes this knowledge:

The links are to resources we have about those topics

Project Planning in the IAPM’s PM Guide 2.0

The IAPM has a slim guide that pares Project Management and project planning down to its basics. But, nonetheless, the guide is worth downloading (it’s free). The project planning process it contains is summarized in the diagram below…

The IAPM Project Map illustrates the essence of Project Integration
The IAPM Project Map illustrates the essence of Project Integration

Project Planning in PRINCE2

PRINCE2 is organized around seven each of:

  • Principles
  • Themes
  • Processes
PRINCE2 Methodology

We explain this in detail in our feature article, ‘PRINCE2 Certification: Everything You Need to Know‘. For a rapid introduction, take a look at our five-minute video, ‘What is PRINCE2’.

The seven processes are illustrated below. Project Planning is a part of the ‘Initiating a Project’ process.

The Seven PRINCE2 Processes

If you are interested in pursuing PRINCE2, do take a look at our roadmap and resource kit: ‘I want tohttps://onlinepmcourses.com/project-management-certification-programs/study-prince2/ Study for PRINCE2′.

What are Your Thoughts about Project Planning?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and questions about project planning. Use the comments below, and I promise to respond to every contribution.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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