Running a project planning workshop

At the centre of every project there should be a plan.  This explains what activities need to be completed by when in order to meet the objectives / outcomes defined in the business case.  Having a credible plan is very important.  Knowing what needs to be completed and then tracking progress, allows the project manager to track progress and escalate where required.  If the plan is not credible, progress will very soon fall behind.  So investing the time to develop a good plan is important.

 

Unfortunately, many struggle to form a good plan due to a variety of reasons:

  • Plan developed by individual / in isolation with no engagement with other people who need to deliver key components
  • Not engaging the correct people so not all of the scope is captured within the plan
  • Estimates incorrect
  • External factors i.e. key holiday periods, projects using same resources, etc are not considered

There are many more.  All can lead to a sense of overwhelm in developing the plan.  The project manager is left staring at the screen wondering where to start.

A very good approach to developing the plan is by way of a planning workshop and breaking down the task so it is manageable and does not overwhelm.

Overview

A workshop is arranged with all the relevant participants with the objective to develop:

Short Term Plan

This could be the mobilisation phase, next 4 weeks, etc.  The intent is to focus on the activities that need to be completed in the near term as these should be known.

Longer Term Plan

This is post the Short Term Plan and can be for the remainder of the year, entire project, etc – whatever you feel comfortable trying to achieve.

During the workshop, the group agrees:

  • Key activities, deliverables and milestones
  • Associated risks, issues, assumptions and dependencies

The workshop needs to be held in a room with suitable wall space that can be seen by all participants as the workshop must be interactive as the information needs to be captured on the walls using the following resources that should cost less than $100.

Parcel Paper (the brown paper you use to wrap parcels that comes on a roll)

This is used to create a time line that can be stuck on the wall (this should be prepared before the workshop as you do not want to waste time creating during the workshop).  The paper is used to create strips across the wall.  On each strip a number of projects / workstreams are listed on the left going down the page.  The dates are listed evenly going across the page (note: make sure that there is sufficient room to add a number of items into each project / workstream under each date.  If you have a large number of project / workstreams, add additional strips underneath when you place on the wall.

Post-it Notes (ideally larger size and different colours)

These are used to record the different activities / milestones (where possible document known activities / milestones ahead of the workshop and have them to the side of the timeline ready to place). The Post-it Notes are then placed on the timeline in the appropriate place.  The action of placing some of the Post-it’s will prompt a discussion of what can / cannot be achieved and flush out dependencies.  Being Post-it Notes, they can be easily moved if and when a dependency is identified when planning subsequent projects / workstreams.

Where possible use different colour Post-it’s for different project / workstreams to make them easy to distinguish.

Marker Pens

Use these to write Post-It notes and capture risks, issues, assumptions and dependencies on flip charts (assumption is that most organisations will have flip charts so not in the $100).

Blue Tac

Used to stick the timelines to the wall.

Sellotape (stick tape)

Very important.  When the timelines are complete at the end of the session.  Use the tape to stick the Post-it Notes to the timeline so they do not fall-off when taking the timeline down (most meeting rooms will need to be used by other people so you cannot leave them on the wall).  This ensures that you then can document what was agreed during the session without missing Post-it Notes.

Energisers

People will start to lose energy, especially in long sessions.  Make sure you have some sweets in the centre of the table to give them a boost of energy when needed.  Also consider having healthy options, the effect is the same.

This should result in 2 plans being developed.  These can then be documented and published for review and refinement.

Benefit

The benefit of this approach is that a plan can be developed in a collaborative way with involvement from the appropriate stakeholders.  Seeing the plan visually will make it easier for people to understand what needs to be achieved by when and allow barriers to be identified.  Working this way is good for team spirit and helps ensure a feeling of common ownership – very important for success.

Summary

This is a very quick overview of a very powerful technique.  Used correctly, it really can fast track the creation of plans.

Ready Made Resources

If you are looking for a step by step guide, templates and video training on how to set-up and run a project planning workshop, you may be interested in the Project Planning Framework.