Are your projects flowing smoothly? Are you assigning responsibilities, deadlines and tasks, but it is just a headache to keep up? A likely problem is that tasks are not getting handed off well or at the right time to others. Another problem may be that everyone’s priorities seem all mixed up, and one or two people or departments seem to be an enormous bottleneck. A project management system is not a cure-all, but it certainly is a start.
In marketing, I’m always amazed at the lack of formalized project management systems. Most marketers resist the idea, misunderstanding the role of detailed planning for marketing projects. They assume that the purpose of a detailed plan is the same as it would be for other repetitive activities like manufacturing. The purpose of a project plan in marketing is to coordinate many of the uncertain activities that happen. And possibly more importantly, a good project plan will coordinate the activities of your resource requirements. Not everything will be predictable, but if we can make even some of the unpredictable predictable, we will increase the likelihood of success.
Within a project plan, we can establish overall and individual process metrics. We will need metrics to produce information quickly. The value of these types of metrics is that they will allow you to take action during a project where and when you can still influence its success. Measurability is perhaps the most important feature of the project plan.
Project management covers all aspects of planning: coordinating activities and resources and forming a baseline from which to manage the project. This gives everyone involved the same reference point. Once a schedule is completed, it should be posted or made available to all stakeholders of the project. Constant updating should appear and be visible to all parties.
It is very easy for a team to want to jump straight in, generate a schedule and get on with the project. There is more to project planning than this. A project plan is an active document, and should be used to manage the process. A schedule is the translation of the project plan into individual tasks, identifying durations, responsibilities, start and finish dates, resources, flow and milestones.
Everyone knows we cannot do enough planning, but it’s the time factor that prevents us, right? How much time does it really take to plan? From my experience you should use a baseline of around 5% of your project’s time in planning. So if you have a project that will consume 400 hours, that would be 20 hours. Do you think that is unreasonable? Do you believe that a plan would produce fewer negative consequences, or less than 20 hours of non-productive, reactive activities, putting out fires?
Now, what happens if planning takes longer? You need to treat your planning process like any other process. Using a standard methodology, such as Lean Six Sigma and the toolset that it employs, will allow you the opportunity to get the most out of your planning cycle. It will improve your planning process, removing the waste that you have accumulated in it. I have found most companies actually enjoy planning, the collaboration and decision-making that take place during it. What everyone doesn’t like is the waste in planning, so get rid of it!
The first thing you can do is plan the planning process. Take 5% of your planning time to improve your planning. Set objectives, milestones, create key performance indicators and, most of all, create a standard work plan. After doing this a few times, planning will become very easy, intuitive and more productive. Consider that if you significantly improve your planning process, you will stop fighting such an uphill battle and create considerable down-flow opportunities of greater savings. Try it!
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