Have you ever felt like you have it all sorted out starting a new project? I mean goals, objectives, deliverables, a team and a schedule. But then, an unexpected change ruins your carefully prepared plan.
If that’s the case with you, don’t panic. With these tips for flexible planning, you can adjust your plans and be ready for changes.
Before I will dip into it, I’d like to tell you why introducing flexible project management approach is so important.
How can you benefit from flexible planning?
Flexible planning allows managers to plan the workload and resources more accurately while running multiple projects. Often there are a lot of variables that can’t be predicted – especially in software development or agency environment. It may affect your project budget, timeline, and last but not least – the deadline. Flexible planning prevents managers from sticking to the old plans and lets you act accordingly to all of the unpredicted changes.
Flexible planning tips
1. Take external events into account
Assessing external dependencies allows you to uncover things you can’t control.
Two examples of external influences are of course time and money—which you normally take into account while estimating a project—but also events like national holidays or sick leaves of your employees.
Facing dependencies that are beyond your control, try to control them for the best outcomes. Events such as national holidays, for example, are something you can easily check upfront, as suggested by the PMI as listed by the PMI:
- Find events like national holidays or employees’ days off occuring during a project’s life-cycle.
- Define groups of employees unavailable due to an event (e.g. if you work with remote teams).
- Calculate event’s impact on your project’s progress.
- Calculate overtime due to lost progress and include it in your plans.
2. Uncover risks and challenges
Recently we’ve listed common resource management challenges. Here are some of them:
- Recognizing the right skills for the project.
- Aligning team’s availability and capacity with project’s schedule and managing the workload.
You should be able to list all of your available employees and then pick the ones that are the best fit for your project. But what if some of them gets sick or decides to quit? Are there people able to replace them? If not, is there a possibility to hire somebody else e.g. a freelancer?
Knowing your limitations, you may come up with different scenarios and find solutions for them in advance: :
- Create a RACI chart to have a clear overview of responsibilities across your team.
- Have an overview of all your employees, preferably with skills or positions included.
- Come up with a list of employees who are able to enter a project in case one of your team members becomes unavailable.
- Calculate the effect of different outcomes on the project, team and workload.
You can also create a work breakdown structure (WBS) to list all activities in the project, assigning possible risks to each one of them.
Another way to uncover potential risks is to look at historical data. Simply go through your past projects and examine the challenges you have faced. Then, evaluate if there’s a chance that they might occur in this project as well and prepare responses.
3. Frequently verify client priorities
Preparing for the project, you have probably created a high level plan including project goals and dependencies.
What you should also do is to plan frequent updates as to your client’s priorities, so you can verify if there are no potential changes to your schedule.
This way you make sure you’re on the same page with your client and assure that the plan stays in line with their expectations.
4. Draft alternative scenarios
Reviewing alternative scenarios allows you to manage your project with more confidence.
First, examine your project’s critical path, which is a breakdown of all tasks and dependencies between them. Find causal dependencies and tasks that are crucial to the project delivery. Then, find the tasks which may float, meaning that change in their delivery won’t affect project’s overall success or impair its timeline. Many Project Management tools allow you to label tasks, which makes keeping track of the critical path easier.
Outlining the measurable actions and milestones, and then adding floating tasks, you can see how possible it is to change the order of the tasks or juggle resources if needed.
5. Include meetings with your team and client in your plan
Setting frequent meetings with your team and client will help you to stay in the loop, and uncover risks and challenges as they occur. Include these meetings in your plan before the project starts and notify your team and client when and how they will be held.
What meetings should you include?
Scrum meetings like daily, sprint planning, sprint retrospective and sprint review are meant to keep you informed about the project’s progress. These meetings also help you to learn about any obstacles your team faced, so you can act on them and find solutions to the problems.
Meetings with your client allow you to keep them informed about the progress, but also to get their feedback, which you can include right away, rather than having to re-do the work later on.
Monitor your project and adjust your plans if needed
Creating a project plan upfront doesn’t mean you don’t have to revise it later on.
Flexible planning means you’re able to have a high level project plan in place, but also know how to adjust it, monitor it for risks and challenges, and improve when needed.